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Eddy Kwon at Wilder Main – Bells, Strings, and Something Divine

by Saffron Forsberg



On Friday evening, I glided out of Wilder, almost delirious. Composer, performer, poet, curator, and choreographer Eddy Kwon had just performed There is a pattern, slow to a full room of entranced participants. I call us participants because I didn’t feel like an audience member before Kwon, but rather someone on the other end of an intimate conversation. A rare participant, rather than a mere witness.

Eddy Kwon, for the uninitiated, is a Brooklyn-based artist who, in her own words – or rather, her website’s – “is inspired by Korean folk timbres & inflections, textures & movement from natural environments, and American experimentalism as shaped by the AACM.” Her work is bodily and participatory, and as such, distinctly interdisciplinary. Alongside Oberlin's own Modern Music Guild, Kwon created and performed an original piece, prior to her own solo set. The opening piece was composed collaboratively at her Thursday 12/2 afternoon workshop, The Ceremony is You, which was open to the public and sponsored by MMG.

Photo courtesy of Joshua Reiner

The collaborative set ambled between full and subtle, rich and sparse. Undulating strings, resolute percussion, glimpsing vocals, and buoyant flurries of piano framed the piece, complementing Kwon’s playful musical practice. The instrumentation was distinctly in-conversation, not led by any one sound or approach; in effect, it was a composition with its own sense of weather. Cries of brass awoke among nimble strings. Storms of sound mounted and swelled from the otherworldly into the strangely familiar. Wincing drafts of voice veiled the room. Was I imagining that humming or was it actually there? And why didn’t it matter? At the piece’s conclusion, Kwon smiled at us sagely as MMG scurried to collect their instruments in preparation for her solo set.

Kwon’s Wilder Main was a sacred space, somehow. White petals covered the floor. The artist had us sit in a large circle, facing one another, and, when it came time for her solo piece, she circumambulated the room with bare, stockinged feet. Outfitted with bells, she whistled at first as though calling to familiar birds, then succumbed to the warmth of her profound vocals: sometimes, as high as her tinkling bells or sparrow calls; other times, low and textured, thrumming between English and Korean, laughing then wincing, gasping, chastising, whispering, and laughing again. Even in her moments of anguish, Kwon invokes a peculiar and salving warmth, holding her violin as though she were not performing with it, but simply allowing it to speak.

Sometimes this warmth came through in the way she angled her jaw skyward, eyes wet and calling for something divine. Other times, it was in the way she looked to us, her participants, as though to a friend or self or child. “Your life does not have to be a delicious sticky-sweet secret,” she told us, and I felt that familiar tightness near my cheeks that means I am grinning against my will. At one point, with our only instructions being “there is a pattern, slow,” Kwon passed us a small dish full of delicate buds and petals. In her careful practice, Kwon cultivates a rare, bleeding intimacy: that of, at once, an oracle and a long-lost friend. “There is a sweetness in a death,” she said, and we knew she was right about that, too.

Kwon’s performance last Friday was, frankly, one I feel completely in awe of having attended. During my time at Oberlin, I’ve joined audiences before many sets, large and small, light and profound, but I know Kwon’s will be especially memorable. Her artistic practice does what many hope to do, but few succeed in doing with such simplicity: something divine. Seldom does art enter the stomach so brightly and immediately.

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