Interview with Okkuyng Lee, an experimental cellist, for Flowers In a Gun.
Anna: You background is in classical music, but your writing incorporates traditional Korean music, jazz … noise. How did all of these come to shape your work?
Okkyung: It’s not like I am trying to come with a fusion of those. It’s just what I grew up with. So when I play and improvise I think those come up really. And I think when you improvise the whole thing is about your identity as a whole. So it’s not even that you can really choose. And especially when I write music it really comes up.
A: And what is your writing process? Especially given that improvisation is such an important part of what you do. How do you balance written out music and leaving space for improvisation?
O: It really depends on who I am writing for actually. Sometimes I want to write something that’s completely written out, more like traditional jazz. In a terms that there is the head, then improv section, and then you play the head again. Or there is structure.. For example, yesterday [the first set with Ches Smith] was a mixture of structure and improvisation. Especially when you know somebody, know that person’s background, that person’s playing, so you can imagine things, and how that person functions …. Some of my friends read music, some don’t. I have to make sure that I can come up with something that they feel comfortable enough with. So they can play MY music, but also something that THEY like to do. So sometimes I really have to make sure that there is enough space, really absolutely free space … because some people .. that’s how they like to work. And other people like more guidance, so it really depends.
A: And do you usually write with particular musicians in mind?
O: Yes, usually. Obviously there are times, like this group that I am doing on Friday, more like jazz … well not really, but you know – more typical written out section and cello. I knew that it was gonna be guitar, drum and bass. But usually I know each person’s style … I have to figure out how well the people will work together, and how they work and try to make the best out of it. So yes, most of the time I have people in mind.
A: How did your residency at the Stone come together?
O: Well, it’s been more than a year already. When The Stone opened in 2005 and I curated, I didn’t really play. I selected the musicians and at that time I tried to book as many solo performances as possible because I am really interested in solo shows … And this time … There are people like Theo Bleckmann that I never played with but we would always talk about doing something together and people like C Spencer Yeh … . I really like what they do and they happened to be in town. Also bringing Ikue and Vijay together, I don’t think they ever played together. So I just wanted to come up with different projects. I didn’t go for variety, for the sake of variety; it just worked out that way. I don’t know that many things that I am really proud of, but in the last 14 years that I moved to New York I have been very fortunate to work with really different people, from different backgrounds. So I thought it would be really nice to bring some of those people together. So again, it’s really the people, people that I wanted to play with. People come first.
A: And did you write pieces specifically for each musician that you are playing with?
O: No, the only people that I wrote for was Ches yesterday and the group that I am performing with on Friday. And the duo with Michelle Boulé, the last set on Sunday, it’s also a piece. But other than that it’s mostly improv.
A: Then I am really excited about tonight!
O: I’ve been playing with Vijay since 2002 I think. And Ikue … I met her pretty much when I moved to New York. So I’ve worked with both of them, just separately. So something should happen …
A: I am really curios about your album Ghil and the recording process. It’s a very unusual way to cut a record. Can you say a few words about it?
O: Well, I really gave Lasse [Marhaug] 100% trust, 150% trust. Because how it happened, he told me that he wanted to record a solo of mine before Stephen O’Malley asked me. And he said up front that he wanted to record my cello not in a typical way of recording the cello; he really wanted it to sound raw, visceral, noisy. And I said “Yeah, sure.” Because he is a dear friend of mine and an amazing musician. And then basically he told me “Ok, we are going here and you will play. And then we go somewhere else.” It mostly happened in Norway, mostly in Oslo. We recorded about three hours worth of material and most of it I never really heard. I only heard what Lasse sent me. Funny thing I was really just playing acoustically; I wasn’t listening to any of the recording. It was only Lasse who had his headphones on, so he was listening to it, how it sounded. And I had no idea. And this was really smart of him because I think that if I had heard how I was playing it probably would have changed my playing. We finished in June 2012 and then just a couple of months later Stephen got in touch with me and he asked me to do a solo record for his label. And I told him that actually I have one if he wants it. And so it just all kind of came together.
A: What are some of the projects that you are currently working on?
O: Actually this quartet that I am doing on Friday, that’s more tune oriented. I think I want to have a band! So I think I am going to focus on it and try to develop it … Also in March I did this multimedia project, it involved video, and stage set, and lighting …That I really liked, I got a lot of satisfaction out of it. It’s different than playing. So I want to do more of that somehow. And I also want to start working with Korean traditional musicians, which will take me a long time because it means that I have to get more involved, meet more people and spend more time in Korea. Eventually.
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On August 9, 2014, another young, unarmed black teen was murdered in America at the hands of police in the small suburb near St. Louis. Michael “Mike Mike” Brown, 18, died after being shot at least six times by Ferguson police officer, Darren Wilson.
Since, the justifiably angry community in Ferguson has risen up to demand answers. Their peaceful protests have been met with a militarized police force that is fully equipped with tanks, police dogs, tear gas, curfew, assault rifles and riot gear. Reporters and journalists have been threatened on air. Most recently, the National Guard has been called in to “restore peace to the area” and there has been another death at the hands of police. All the while, mainstream media has been documenting what’s happening in Ferguson as ‘rioting.’ Let’s be clear, the people in Ferguson are not rioting, they are rebelling!
We will be selling Don’t Shoot tee shirts to support the people on the ground in Ferguson. 100% of the sales will go to the organization Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment to help with bail, legal support, supplies, and organizers on the ground.
"Where You From" -Bambu
I’ve been feeling this album a lot this week. Just wanted to share.
55 years ago, Hawaii became a state. That’s some complicated ish. The #HawiianPatriots Project exists to connect folks to voices in the community.
As with all Kamakakoʻi endeavors, the #HawaiianPatriots Project is a collaborative, community-driven effort that aims to amplify the voices of our lāhui. #HawaiianPatriots indirectly stems from the March 2014 Kāmau a Ea 3 Governance Summit where participants were asked to identify materials that could be offered to our lāhui as educational resources.
Another side effect of what’s going on in #Ferguson is the closing of schools. Here’s a handy infographic from the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education.
A crowdsourcing page has been set up to feed the students of Ferguson who would normally receive free or reduced lunch! All donations go to the St. Louis Foodbank. -JS
From Elon James White Tuesday night.
This better have hundreds of thousands of notes at the end of the day or else
Made by Rick Quan.
Long overlooked by this country, the U.S. Labor department finally recognized the work and sacrifice done by the Chinese railroad workers who help build the Transcontinental Railroad. On May 9, 2014, they were added to the Labor department’s Hall of Honor. Hear from Deputy Secretary of Labor Christopher Lu and from the worker’s descendants.