Okkyung Lee is a Korean sound artist, cellist, composer, and improvisor, also known for her collaboration with artists as Arca, David Behrman (Silver Jews), Chris Corsano, Mark Fell, Ellen Fullman, Douglas Gordon, Jenny Hval, and many more. She released the new album Yeo-Neun which is out via Shelter Press. Full streaming is available below.
Okkyung Lee is widely regarded for her solo and collaborative improvisations and compositions, weaving a continuously evolving network of sonority and event, notable for its profound depth of instrumental sensitivity, exacting intellect, and visceral emotiveness. ‘Yeo-Neun’, recorded by Yeo-Neun Quartet – an experimental chamber music ensemble founded in 2106 and led by Lee on cello, featuring harpist Maeve Gilchrist, pianist Jacob Sacks, and bassist Eivynd Opsvik – represents the culmination of one of longest and most intimate arcs in her remarkable career. A radical departure from much of the experimental language for which she has become widely known, it is equally a fearless return.
‘Yeo-Neun’ loosely translates to the gesture of an opening in Korean, presenting a window into the poetic multiplicity that rests at the album’s core. Balanced at the outer reaches of Lee’s radically forward thinking creative process, its 10 discrete works are born of the ambient displacement of the musician’s life; intimate melodic constructions and deconstructions that trace their roots across the last 30 years, from her early days spent away from home studying the cello in Seoul and Boston, to her subsequent move to New York, and the nomadism of a near endless routine of tours. At its foundation lay glimpses of a once melancholic teen, traces of the sentimentality and sensitivity (감성 / Gahmsung) that underpins the Korean popular music of Lee’s youth, and an artist for whom the notions of time, place and home have become increasingly complex.
Elegantly binding modern classical composition and freely improvised music with the emotive drama of Korean traditional music and popular ballads, the expanse of ‘Yeo-Neun’ pushes toward the palpably unknown, as radical for what it is and does, as it for its approachability. In Lee’s hands, carried by a body of composition that rests beyond the prescriptive boundaries of culture, genre, geography, and time, a vision of the experimental avant-garde emerges as a music of experience, humanity, and life. Meandering melodies – from the deceptively simple to the tonally and structurally complex – slowly evolve and fall from view, with the harp, piano, and bass forming an airy, liminal non-place, through which Lee’s cello and unplaceable memories freely drift.