Presented at the newly inaugurated building of SONGEUN in Seoul’s Gangnam district, YoungEun Kim’s most recent solo show, “Frames of Sound,” mines the history of South Korea to speak to the ways in which music migrates and how this circulation can articulate the intricate entanglement of imperial histories, aesthetic education, and the sensing subject.
The works in this exhibition probe how sonic and acoustic cultures have been transformed by the violence of colonial ventures. The seventeen-minute video Brilliant A (all works cited, 2022) offers an account of the arrival of the first piano in Daegu, South Korea, which was brought by an American missionary. The piano was used to introduce the pitch A, the standard by which instruments are conventionally tuned. In Ear Training, Kim considers the collision of aesthetic education with Korea’s military history. The work simulates pitch-perception exercises that were designed in Japan during the country’s occupation of Korea: Students and army officers were made to listen to the drone of army planes and asked to notate what sounds they heard. A Story of Oseonbo: Sounds Lost in Translation explores the shift from gueum, a symbol-based grammar for music notation, to the more rigid and abstract staff-based system used in the West. The move away from the Korean vernacular acoustic annotation in turn affected what tones can be heard and appreciated.
In other works, Kim gestures to the first recording of a Korean traditional song, which was documented by American anthropologist Alice Fletcher in 1896. Fletcher’s team captured the sound using a cylinder that prints notational marks on a wax surface; over time, these marks fade, resulting in discordant noise. For the single channel video, To Future Listeners I, the artist attempted to retrieve music from a similar wax cylinder by subjecting the sound to a noise reduction app. In To Future Listeners II, the artist sings the song in her own voice, her works forcing us to hear the dissonances in the histories of sound in South Korea.