Johns Hopkins Gazette: December 12, 1994

Dual Major Allows Kim to Explore Korean Roots
By Ken Keatley

Charles Kim, a native of Houston, is an American composer of
contemporary classical music, heavily influenced by such
minimalists as Philip Glass and John Adams.
     It is, however, with an early 20th-century
composer Hungarian B‚la BartĒk that 22-year-old Kim shares a
special kinship.
     "BartĒk actually went into the Hungarian countryside and
researched the traditional music," explained Kim, during a break
Tuesday morning from classes at the Peabody Institute. "He
created a blend, successfully in my opinion, of Western and
Hungarian styles. So that s a definite influence on my work."
     Earlier this year, Kim a dual major in composition at
Peabody and computer science at the School of
Engineering produced a BartĒk-like blending with his musical
composition for soprano and computer-controlled electronics that
in his words "brought me closer to my Korean roots."
     His 15-minute piece, "Does Spring Come to a Lost Land?" was
set to a Korean poem of the same name by Yi Sanghwa. Written
during and about the decades-long Japanese occupation of Korea in
the first half of the 20th century, the poem is, said Kim, "about
people who have lost their country, their freedom, and still have
     Kim wrote the piece to honor his parents, Yu Sang and Jin Ae
Kim, who endured that tumultuous era of Korea s past before
immigrating to the United States. 
     "Growing up in America, I wasn t interested in Korean
culture," said Kim, who wrote the piece using funding from a 1993
Johns Hopkins Provost s Undergraduate Award for Research and
Excellence. "But before my senior year of high school, my parents
forced me to go with them to Korea, and something awakened in me
     That "ancestral calling," Kim said, prompted him to immerse
himself in Korean traditional music and art, an experience that
culminated in "Does Spring Come to a Lost Land?" 
     The composition, which Peabody professor Geoffrey Wright has
described as "a powerful demonstration of how the expressiveness
of the artistic spirit can be enhanced by the sensitive use of
advanced computer technology," has earned plaudits for Kim and
Peabody voice student Hyunnah Yu, who has performed it three
times in Baltimore this year.
     "What the piece did for me was perhaps an opening up to an
exploration of new styles that I can pursue," said Kim, who plans
to study composition in graduate school following graduation next
spring. "I had never written using Korean traditional forms to
this extent."
     Aside from its cultural collaboration, the piece was an
important step in the blending of electronic music with live
singers. Kim, writing for voice for the first time, had to
determine how to get his computer-generated music to mesh with
the expressive nuances of Yu s performance.
     He chose to pre-record the computer tracks and some of the
vocal parts onto tape, using a keyboard and IBM computer. During
performances, Yu s microphone is connected to a pitch-recognition
device via digital signal processing software. The result is that
the notes she sings are automatically recognized, and
computer-generated harmonies are provided in real time along with
his "orchestra" of computer sounds.
     According to Wright, "Traditionally, in this field
performers had to pace themselves to the metronome-like
regularity of the computer s clock, which often resulted in a
stilted, lifeless performance. Charles  solution was elegant and
     Kim, who has been a percussionist in the Peabody Symphony
Orchestra and the Johns Hopkins Symphony Orchstra, doesn t
compose solely for electronic, computer-based performances. He
has written for live orchestras, but "I like the feeling of
control I have with electronic music. Having your piece read or
performed by an orchestra is like giving your child to a day-care
center where they know nothing about him."
     Kim is planning future Baltimore performances of "Does
Spring Come to a Lost Land?" and hopes that it will reach Korean
audiences, perhaps in churches.
     His current and future projects will continue to explore a
variety of musical styles and computer techniques.
     "I m proud of my heritage, but I m not willing to label
myself as a Korean-American composer. That would mean I would be
expected to use Korean styles exclusively," said Kim. "I don t
want to limit myself that way."
     But now that he s embraced his Korean heritage, he won t
turn his back on it, either.
     "Combining Western and Korean traditional styles in my music
is an experience I d like to pursue again."
     Kim s academic achievements are significant, too. Carrying
as many as 22 credit hours per semester, he is a regular on the
Dean s List and has been nominated (with four other
undergraduates) for USA Today s 1995 All-USA Academic Team. He
also finds time to polish his computer skills as a system
administrator for Peabody Academic Computing.
     One of but four students currently pursuing dual majors from
Peabody and the School of Engineering, Kim has a perspective on
Hopkins life that few other students have experienced.
     "I like the blend of the two schools, but neither is a very
relaxed environment," he explained. "At Hopkins we re all
neurotic. Everyone is concerned about GPA, especially in
engineering, and at Peabody everyone is concerned about

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