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​국립국악원 매거진 [국악누리] 

2023. 5/6월호


The Operose World Called Inspiration, LEE SUNMIN


Music Critic


Magazine 'GUGAK NURI'

(National Gugak Center)

2023. 5+6



There were times when I had a bee in my bonnet about inspiration, for a time to think for writing was far more painful than a time to write something actually: times of repeated writing and deletion, times to find a clue by alternating between books and music, and times that elapse helplessly with nothing done. Inspiration, which comes after sustained efforts and failures, sometimes gave me an answer to my questions, and sometimes changed the direction of my question completely. Going through this process, I came to find small conviction, and then my writing would move somewhere at an extremely fast speed.


Only after I got considerable experience of writing, I became convinced that inspiration is not sacred, but secular. I came to have an idea that inspiration can be effective when I don’t stop opening myself toward the world. Musicians also seemed not to be much different. A book titled Sparks of Genius, a study on creative people in various areas, says, “For at the level of the creative process, scientists, artists, mathematicians… use a common set of what we call “tools for thinking,” including emotional feelings, visual images, bodily sensation, reproducible patterns, and analogies. And all imaginative thinkers learn to translate ideas generated by these subjective thinking tools into public languages to express their insights…” That is, musicians also don’t simply wait for inspiration. They continuously think about, acquire, and train for methods of translating their insights into their own languages.




Germany Hamburg and Seoul-based gayageum player Lee sun-min points out museums as the most inspirational spaces for her. She says that she meets artists who were most influential in their time and finds various questions from their works. Might she have been interested in the order and meaning of museums that arrange anew the fragments of the past and history? Might she have felt the weight of sublime time from relics that have been withdrawn from nowadays everyday life? The traces of long times spent in museums have become the source of inspiration for her, and have led to her special affection toward gayageum, which may be said to be her identity.


Lee Sun-min’s ‘NEON’ project is a project that started from 2019 in order to seek the diverse creative languages of modern gayageum. Based on the exploration of electronic music, it combines gayageum performance with it, and shows music that penetrates minimalism, neo-classicism, and ambient music. The first work was published at the orchestra studio of HfMT Hamburg in collaboration with composer Lee Sung-hee. It is a work that suggests intuitively where her music started and where it will move.


Being attracted towards old ones is clearly detected from ALTES LIED: Old Song, her second work in collaboration with composer Y. Sook-young. This album, which consists of 6 tracks in total, shows Lee Sun-min’s inner story and taste well. The music video of Invitation, the title track of the album, was filmed at MK&G Hamburg, where Lee Sun-min spent a lot of time and got inspiration. The old black-and-white photographs appearing throughout the video are public works shot from 1909 to 1945 and owned by the National Museum of Korea, and were visualized with a slide projector after going through Lee Sun-min’s own mounting process. Lee Sun-min created ALTES LIED: Old Song on the basis of inspiration drawn from photographs she collected firsthand. She combined personal taste and thinking originating from the space of a museum into her music and video.


Recently, she has attempted the combination of photo collage, video, and installation as well as music. She also held a solo exhibition of her third work ALTES LIED: Old Song that shows her perspective on ‘Korean beauty,’ with photos she shot on her own in Andong as motifs.

Lee Sun-min’s music is quietly redolent of past memories, the memory of a favorite space, and scenery like a watercolor painting. The sounds of gayageum spreading with echoes and the fragments of electronic sounds rolling neatly also slowly drift and fade away. All her interest in old and worn things is expressed in her music as well. The poem that she liked so much that she transcribed it several times became the title of the title track of the album. How about appreciating a verse from the poem that gave Lee Sun-min inspiration, together with her music? Will it not give more understanding about the operose world called inspiration, the world of Lee Sun-min?

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