Inside the Hyper-Instrument: Unsuk Chin's Double Concerto
Lee, Jong Eun
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The Korean Unsuk Chin (b. 1961) has received numerous prestigious awards and accolades for works that explore new sonic worlds and attempt, in her words, to "blur the differences, the boundaries, between the `natural' and the `artificial'", combining these to create living musical processes inhabiting musical structures based on the principles of architecture. Her particular interest in the color and plasticity of sound is well reflected in her five concertos, in which the virtuosity of the soloist is not merely a display of flashy technique for its own sake, but a vehicle towards the creation of a complex, unified sound mass. Chin's approach to the concerto genre compels the soloist(s) to participate in the gestation and unfolding of a larger sonic world defined largely by timbre, wherein sound character becomes an essential constitutive component. This tendency is most evident in Double Concerto for prepared piano, solo percussion and ensemble (2002), a work partly inspired by Balinese gamelan traditions. Double Concerto deemphasizes the contrasts between the soloist and orchestra, melding solo and ensemble timbres into a composite organism the composer designates as a "hyper-instrument." The preparation of the piano with various metallic objects pushes it towards the more purely percussive end of its spectrum. While the solo parts require exceptional virtuosity, Double Concerto features very few extended solo passages of the type customarily encountered in the concerto genre. Instead, Chin is chiefly concerned with sound color and percussive timbre in a work that evokes gamelan music without imitating it. Working organically from a relatively restricted palette of resources, Chin elicits complex forms, shapes, and timbres from the tiniest particles or grains, morphing and evolving recurring materials into fresh guises displaying a remarkable variety of sonic character. This dissertation discusses the sources of Chin's inspiration for Double Concerto and provides an analytical overview of the work, illuminating the means by which the composer manipulates timbre and texture to create an integrated sonic mass characterized by constantly shifting sound colors and kinetic rhythms.
- Music