Calmness. I've always loved the noisier parts of Okkyung Lee's work, but this is just beautiful. Every time I'm lulled by the apparent footsteps across the listener, there's a surprising moment that throws one over the edge. An almost balladic musical narrative.
Springing from a decades deep body of work, defined by a rigorously singular and adventurous approach to sound, cellist, composer, and improvisor, Okkyung Lee, returns with Yeo-Neun, her first outing with Shelter Press, and arguably her most groundbreaking and unexpected album to date.
A vital, present force in the contemporary global landscape of experimental music, 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 2016 and led by Lee on cello, featuring harpist Maeve Gilchrist, pianist Jacob Sacks, and bassist Eivind 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 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 musician’s life; intimate melodic constructions and deconstructions that traces 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, the harp, piano, and bass forming an airy, liminal non-place, through which Lee’s cello and unplaceable memories freely drift.
Remarkably honest, unflinchingly beautiful, and creatively challenging, Shelter Press is proud to present Yeo-Neun, an album that takes one the most important voices in contemporary experimental music, Okkyung Lee, far afield into an unknown future, bound to her past.
Mastered and cut by Rashad Becker, housed in reversed-board printed inner and outer sleeve with artwork by American photographer Ron Jude.
released May 8, 2020
Harp: Maeve Gilchrist
Cello: Okkyung Lee
Bass: Eivind Opsvik
Piano: Jacob Sacks
Composed and produced by Okkyung Lee (ASCAP)
Recorded and mixed by Jeff Cook at 2nd Story Sound Studio / Linden Underground
Mastered by Rashad Becker at D+M
Photographs by Ron Jude from Other Nature, 2007
(Kingman, AZ l Calistoga, CA l Marfa, TX)