By Mindy Abovitz for Tom Tom Magazine | Photos: Chulgi Hong
A month ago artist/musician Jee Sim gathered 19 high school students to re-envision a tower in the foothills of Nnayng’s hiking area, in Seoul, Korea, as a gigantic drum. With a commission from the Anyang Public Arts Project (APAP), Sim installed contact mics on the surface of the tower walls and floors. She then had the students drum the surfaces. What resulted was an epic aural wash blending tradition and history with innovation and contemporary music.
What was the goal of the piece? The goal of the piece was to produce pulsing beats out of an industrial structure by collecting and amplifying the sound of mountain’s energy and spirit which the tower is situated on.
How did you come up with the idea for this project? Did you see the Tower first or have the idea first? In my recent projects, I have collaborated with drummers to create sound performances by using the interior elements as drum surfaces. For this project, “Peak”, I was very fortunate to work with Anyang Public Arts Project (APAP) with their program titled, “Public Story” which focuses on revisiting the architectural structures that were designed and built for the 1st APAP’s curation back in 2005 and involving Anyang city’s residents to participate with invited artists to produce public art pieces. I immediately envisioned the tower, designed by MVRDV, as a gigantic drum.
Was it difficult working with that structure? The structure was a lot bigger in real life than I saw in the photograph, so the students had to move and run a lot more than I expected. The structure is made of metal and wood providing different sounds which was amazing and difficult at the same time. During the piece, the students ran down the tower from the top and continuously dragged the drumsticks on the metal railing to create xylophone like sound, which was echoed through the trees and surrounding hills. When the students were on the ground level to play the tower, they had to play the metal poles softly because of its harsh sounds. We made our own mallets with fabric and duck tape to make the sound rounder.
For those of us who weren’t there, how would you describe the piece? For the intro, I sang a slowed down version of “Wind” by 70’s Korean psychedelic rock vocalist Kim Jung Mi. During the conceptual stage of the project, I learned that there were a lot of songs which were banned during 70’s in Korea. Through wind like movements danced by the students, I wanted to dedicate the performance to the banned song, and bring back the wind in another form, drum dance.
What was preparing for the performance like? A lot of practices went in for the performance. We would practice at school, and we would practice at the site. The weather was changing, and the sun was setting earlier, so we had to stop practicing once it started get cold and dark. we shared delicious meals and snacks together. We came up with costume and make up. We made our own mallets with fabric and duck tape to make the sound rounder.
What was the process like? Drumming is a main part of Korean traditional dance, and since the students major in Korean traditional dance, I decided to adopt what they have learned in school. A part of the piece had a version of Sam Go Mu, which is a drumming dance by playing three standing drums. For this piece we choreographed Sam Go Mu to be performed on the floor of tower peak. Instead of playing standing drums, the students played the floor surface as drum. The dance movements were choreographed and fine-tuned by their teacher Aekyung Park.