Stefan Hakenberg

Lee YunKyung's "Space Tuning"

An Essay on Listening to a Sound Installation

Music, in general, is sound in time. A piece of music is finite. It has a beginning and an end. Once it has come to an end, it remains in our memory where it usually takes on a life of its own. In our minds we still hear its sounds: we can hum its melodies, act out its gestures, or clap its rhythms. We can keep on doing so as if there was no ending to the piece, finding ourselves only limited by mental fatigue.
Composer Lee YunKyung's sound installation "Space Tuning" does not have an ending or a beginning. When the gallery opens each day to the public, "Space Tuning" is already, or still, there, softly buzzing with the sounds of vibrating electric insects alighted on metal wires strung in all directions through the barely lit basement space.
Mixed in with this sound we hear the scratching of a fixed wire on a small spinning temple bell coming from a dark alcove connected to the main room by an open doorway. This alcove has a different character than the main room. Toned down to an even darker mode. Being smaller, it resembles a contrasting, yet connected "middle" section of a composition. On one of the alcove walls is the shadow of the lit wire scratching the edge of the turning bell, giving the impression of a moving figuration accompanying the irregular melody of the scratching sounds themselves. Thus the scratching wire is the common source of the melody and the accompaniment making this section a tightly knit entity in the tradition of the Viennese schools of composition. With regards to the whole of "Space Tuning" the motif "wire" is not only the root of the "middle" section but also of the main "strung wires" section in the central space of the gallery.
Listening to a composition performed, and remembering it, are two characteristically different actions. A performance is finite and sequential. In order to savor the particular relationships of two sections, it is not common to pause a performance, to replay an earlier section of the piece, and then continue from where the performance was interrupted. In our minds, however, there is no necessity for such continuity. We can change the tempo of the composition we are contemplating and we can jump around within it, leaping over sections, fast forwarding, or slowing down to rethink a passage note by note or upside down. We can enjoy relationships between parts that are far apart from one another during a performance. We can discover structural features that were not obvious in the interpretation we heard. During a performance of a piece, the structural elements of a composition are a function of time; they have a sort of individual half-life in our memory as the performance continues, whereas in our memories, they are a function of our interests. We can focus on a side aspect and write a dissertation about it, but leave major aspects of the composition without being reflected upon. In a performance that can not be done. A performance always needs to address every aspect of a composition. The defining role that time plays for the performance of music, however, does not necessarily exist for the appreciation of music in our minds where we can juggle around all possible parameters of a composition.0
"Space Tuning" occupies almost the whole gallery space. Very quickly, we find our playful, curious selves engulfed by the structure as if entwined in strains of thoughts. We can move around in it, look left and right, and focus here and there to appreciate its construction of similarities and repetitions. The dim light and the fact that the wires are strung throughout the space in every direction, however, demands attention that takes away from the mere contemplation of sensations and impressions. One has to be alert. Otherwise one is doomed to run into a wire with the result of not only hurting oneself, but of possibly even damaging the installation.
"Space Tuning" is capturing like a maze. It forces itself onto us capturing our attention and suggesting directions or ways of movement. We can follow the wires with our eyes, or we can physically duck to pass under a wire to arrive in the bordering segment cut out by the wires. But there is no jumping around. We move more slowly within the structure than outside of it, just like the sung word takes more time than the spoken word pronounce. The other end of the structure now seems further away than at first sight. We move carefully and follow the directions of the structure just like we give in to the passing time when listening to a concert performance. The experience of time in "Space Tuning" becomes more noticeable through a reference, a tape loop that plays back an announcement and an audience reaction at a fixed time interval.
"Space Tuning" lays out its entire structure in front of our eyes like a sculpture. In appreciating it, though, we get tangled in what is rather a musical experience. One possible first impression of "Space Tuning" is that of a giant string instrument. The wire strings and their metal resonator plates in "Space Tuning" vibrate and we can hear their montones and feel their quietness by touching them. Only our own excursions into the structure, during which we get closer to ringing objects and investigate them with hands and ears, let "Space Tuning" take us in and move us in its particularly musical way.

Memory and the sequence of components in a piece of music have a very important function in human cultures. The sequence helps the memory. In trying to remember the next word of a song, it often helps to repeat the whole song from the beginning. With the melody comes the memory of the word. This is an important device in oral traditions.