YoungEun Kim
Selected Works
Work List

Reference Voice
Three-channel sound installation, score
16 min
Dimensions variable

Why are most of the automated voices we hear female? In this work, I investigate the intersection of voice automation technology and gender. Researching the close relationship between the two, I came up with some "conditions," including physical traits commonly attributed to feminine voice, stereotypes around it, and critical interpretations on femininity and technology. I then asked a composer to create a composition that reflects these conditions.

The resulting piece is performed by a non-female singer, who attempts to mimic the female voice. In addition to standard singing instructions, the composition includes gender-ambiguous sounds such as click consonant (i.e., "tsk tsk") and sibilant. The composition and the singer's assimilation exemplify the performativity of gender—how gender is performed in proximity to given norms. The work brings awareness to these norms and conditions that frame femininity.

<Things to consider for composition>

1. The vocalists’ range should be between 180 Hz to 250 Hz, which is the typical range of a female speaking voice.

2. The Korean language version of Apple’s AI assistant, Siri, features only a female voice option, unlike the versions of some other languages. In addition, AI assistants developed in South Korea are also given a female voice by default. Developers tend to choose a cheerful and amiable voice of a female in her 20s—the vocalists should aim to emulate these vocal characteristics.

3. In 2016, Microsoft launched a chatbot named Tay that identified as a teenage girl. Tay was shut down only sixteen hours after its debut. The chatbot was designed to learn human language openly through texts and tweets on the Internet, but was inadvertently taught the language of white supremacy, misogyny, and anti-Muslim hate speech. As a result, Tay blindly posted hate speech toward feminist groups and POCs, leading the developer to quickly terminate the program. The length of this piece is sixteen minutes as a tribute to Tay’s brief existence.

4. In 1996, Bradlow published a study that female voices can be more easily understood due to gender differences in oral structure, allowing females to pronounce richer and more exact vowel sounds. Whether intended it or not, the results of studies like this often serve to provide a biological basis for electing to assign a female voice and identity to machines. In 2019, Sophia, an AI robot, was asked during in an interview: “Do you regard yourself as male or female?” to which she replied, “Female.” The interviewer asked again: “Why do you think you are female?” Sophia’s response: “I'm a robot so technically I have no gender, but identify as feminine and I don't mind being perceived as a woman.”
The all available vowel sounds excerpted from Sophia’s answer above provide the lyrics for this piece: A, E, I, O, and U.

5. It is hard to distinguish the gender of someone who is whistling if listening only to their whistle. The same goes for tongue clicking. Unless it is a speaking or singing voice, it is impossible to assign a gender to most sounds that are produced with the mouth. In this piece, the vocalist should produce diverse sounds other than speech or singing (e.g. whistling, tongue clicking, kissing, sucking through teeth, etc.)

6. The voices heard in this piece may not sound feminine or they may be heard as forcedly feminine. Some may regard that vocalists’ attempts represent the current sonic world of AI technology, which is not gender-neutral and has tended to develop machines that emulate a female presence. Others may consider that this piece reflects the way machines learn and extend human bias, and respond in a human voice. Still others could perceive that the voices present a clumsy human version of "Q," which is the genderless voice created in 2019 to counter AI gender bias.


#1-5 Installation View at Nam-Seoul Museum of Art, Seoul (Photo by David Cardonal)

2 min 42 sec Video Documentation 

Red Noise Visit

Single-channel video, stereo & binaural sound, excerpted news articles and essays, aluminum frame, headphones
12 min 6 sec Dimensions variable

This work spotlights two contrasting sounds that had existed during the modernization of Korea. The first of these sounds is the siren, remembered in particular contexts as the “noon siren” and the “curfew siren.” Sirens effectively synchronized daytime laborers’ daily routines and maintained control over their evenings across successive historical periods, from Japanese colonial rule to U.S. military control, and mid-century wartime up to the age of dictatorship. Over the course of 36 years, the curfew siren in particular gradually instilled within the nation a strict temporal discipline, dominating the space, time, and minds of individuals. In Osu-myeon, Imsil-gun, Jullabuk-do, Korea, stands the tallest red brick watchtower in existence, built during the Japanese occupation to surveil residents. After Korea’s independence, it began to function as a siren tower. The story within this work begins with the echoic memory of local residents, recalling the siren in tandem with the rigid visuality of the red brick tower and gradually expands to the story of the curfew siren.

The other sound was that of the radio. It produced sound that gathered listeners unseen, within the darkness that fell after each curfew siren. It was at times deliberate propaganda directed between the South and the North. It was also sometimes a regular broadcast signal that had unintentionally crossed past borders. In an age of strong anti-communist sentiment, it was illegal to listen to something like the radio, which operates midst a field of blurred spatial boundaries. Therefore, listening to the radio was always a secret, individual experience. The story within this work is about the memory of a former spy during the ’60s, who would listen to the broadcasts from the South while in the North. At that time, the perceived sound of all radio signals was labeled by a press as “Red Noise.”

Two vexed sounds—two “red noises”—one oppressively striking down upon the flow of time, the other permeating across spatial borders. What traces did the siren leave on individual lives after acts of forced collective listening and temporal suppression? On the other hand, how did radio galvanize the rebellious imaginations of secluded listeners?

To get closer to these sounds of the past, which are realistically well out of reach, I researched news articles, interviews, and essays describing echoic memories of the siren and radio. I then arranged excerpted text from the sources above into video; the texts illustrate the memories of various speakers and distinct perspectives. Using electroacoustic techniques, and recorded voice and found objects, recomposed siren and radio sounds are juxtaposed with the video.


*This video features binaural audio recordings. For the best listening experience, listen with headphones.

#1-4 Installation View at Visitor Welcome Center, Los Angeles (Photo by Ruben Diaz)

#5-7 Installation View at Arko Art Center, Seoul (Photo by Kyung Roh)

4 min 34 sec Video Excerpt 

Link to complete work 

Guns and Flowers

Horn speakers, speaker stands, amplifier, sound
Sound: 4 min loop
Dimensions variable

This work examines the DMZ loudspeaker wall's transmissions from the South Korean border into North Korea and the bizarre sensation underlying the transmissions.
According to several news articles and interviews on the event, the transmissions of propaganda had been heard as far as 24km from the loudspeaker wall. This action by South Korea disgruntles the North, instigating the latter to demand respect for its distressed soldiers. Furthermore, North Korean refugees themselves have stated that the broadcasts were ineffective and simply annoying. The contents of the broadcasts included: information about South Korea, the reality of North Korean society, weather forecasts, and popular South Korean songs having nothing much to do with ideological propaganda.

I focus my attention on the fact that everyday, popular love songs can be engineered for use as an anxiety-inducing weapon against foreign peoples. I also reflect here on the mechanisms of listening. Vibrating air is perceived as a tactile sensation with its source of energy working remotely to beat one’s eardrum—just as a bullet shot from a distance has a physical effect on its target. What interests me is the use of song as a psychological, auditory, and tactile device that reveals this sensory network by means of fear. What is also unveiled is the contradiction between purpose and method. Through sculptural method and listening, I sought to recreate the event of experiencing song used as a bullet of sonic warfare.

The dominant frequencies of audible sound are heard intermittently or felt as vibrations to people in distance. These resemble a dense mass or sharp thorn when represented visually on an acoustic spectrogram. I gathered the shapes that emerged out of a particular love song, and cut out and reproduced white and pink noise. Then lastly, I reconstituted these as rhythms. These fragmented sounds, in contrast to the full emotions of love songs, kindle a scorching tactility.


#1-5 Installation View at SongEun Art Space, Seoul (Photo by Jaebum Kim & YoungEun Kim)

Guns and Flowers : Sculpted two love songs #19
Horn speakers, amplifier, sound
Sound: 5 min (2:45 min playback, 2:45 min silence)
15” x 15” x 13” for each    
Dimensions variable
Installation View at Visitor Welcome Center, Los Angeles (Photo by Ruben Diaz)  

1 min 23 sec Video Documentaion 

Flesh of Sound

Speakers, plywood wall
6 min 12 sec
Dimensions variable

This work began from an interest in the power of collective voice as a nonmaterial tool utilized to re-contextualize song. Participants of any demonstration, regardless of the occasion, often bring with them a song or excerpted phrase, completely out of context, made appropriate by the physical and material properties of the collective voice. Songs used during protest stand as potent symbols, reinforcing strong emotional bonds among protestors. Much of the time, new songs are written for the occasion. Other times, however, the collective selects a pre-existing, arbitrary tune to serve a revolutionary purpose.

One song, in particular, the “Happy Birthday To You” song, sung during the Hong Kong Umbrella Movement, became the accidental song of choice by protestors. During the protest, an unintentionally pressed megaphone button caused the accompaniment part to sound, leading to enthusiastic applause and a mass sing-a-long; the song instantly acquired symbolic power through a collective voice. Following this event, each time the protest reached peak unruliness, a minority of protestors would begin singing this song, quelling the curses and shouting, ultimately transforming the whole atmosphere.

Placed in the context of this work, a single, humming voice begins the melody, gradually enriched by an additive process of layering more voices and melodies atop the humming. The process presents the shift in the way song is embodied across the spectrum spanning from a singular voice to a collective body.


Flesh of Sound #19
Speakers, plywood wall, scores and news articles printed on tracing papers, wooden frame, sound 
5 min
Dimensions variable
Installation View at Visitor Welcome Center, Los Angeles (Photo by Ruben Diaz)

#4-5 Installation View at Art Space Pool, Seoul (Photo by Chulki Hong & YoungEun Kim)

$1’s Worth
3 channel sound installation synchronized with a video & 3 respectively looped videos
Speakers, monitors, drawings, acoustic foams
Dimensions variable

In this work, I focus especially on one particular characteristic of sound, its non-materiality. In an attempt to materialize sound, concrete units of measurement—namely, length, height, and width—are applied when transforming it. I purchased various pop songs from an online music store for $1.29 per song, and substituted the above-mentioned units for the sound file’s time, pitch, and frequency range. These substitutions were done not according to the scientific standards of acoustical studies, but rather, according to commonly used terms by which laypeople understand and describe everyday objects. I then accordingly reduced each song’s time, pitch, and frequency range, creating three new versions respective to each dimension, with each version worth one dollar.

Three speakers assigned to time, pitch, and frequency cycle through the versions of every song, and accompanying tutorial videos (yet vague tutorial) demonstrate how each sound is sculpted to its final form.

Sound cannot be seen or touched; thus, it is difficult to discuss and confirm its lasting existence in terms of visual or tactile perception. This work exhibits the process of materializing sound as a medium by means of embodied physical measurements.

The motivation for this work is based on my experience over the years in dealing with sound as a primary material and subject. Each time I attempt to convey how sound occupies physical space and how its apparent non-materiality can act physically on the world, I instead experience my own inability to communicate within an ocularcentric art system. From this, I have created a work in the form of an ironic tutorial attempting to establish temporal common sense on the material properties of sound.


#1-4 Installation View at Leeum: Samsung Museum of Art, Seoul (Photo by Hyo Jung Ahn)

#5 Video Still (by YoungEun Kim)