Joo Won Park is a composer of computer and electro-acoustic music combining orchestral instruments with interactive computer programming, field recordings, modular synthesis, and sometimes outright noise. Each piece incorporates sonic elements meant to push the listener’s ear into new, unfamiliar territories, as his bio says “to make everyday sound beautiful and strange so that everyday becomes beautiful and strange.” If you ever have a chance to see him perform live, don’t be surprised if you see a mechanical cat dancing to a modular synth breakdown.
You buy a new album, or hear a new piece for the first time, describe your routine/experience of its first listening.
If possible, I try to find a quiet space where I can listen to the album/piece without distraction.
I try my best to just listen (not looking at phone, talking to other people, etc.). I would like to listen to music as a main activity. We are used to listen to the music as a background (e.g. cafe) or part of a multimedia/multi-sensory work (e.g. movie). I try to avoid such situations.
On subsequent listens to that same record/piece, which aspects of the music do you focus your listening on. How does your listening perspective change over time?
I try to hear the efforts and skills of the artists. I believe that a great recording captures more than correct notes and flawless executions. I also try to listen to the production qualities/techniques that captured or created. These are some of the efforts I make when I like a new piece of music on a recording.
My perspectives of a piece of music is constantly changing due to change in my accumulated experience and education. We hear as much as we know. When we train our ears, we can hear things that were not recognizable or noticeable in the past. There are many pieces that were uninteresting to me when I was a teenager but became my favorites as I grew older. The opposite experience also occurs quite often.
If you could choose your favorite listening environment, what would it be? what draws you to that place to hear the music you’re listening too?
A recording studio would be my first choice. Most of the recordings were made in such environment. The acoustics and the hardware are optimized for listening. I would like to listen and imagine the sound that engineers, producers,and artists listened in the process of making the album.
How does one make their listening listened to? What is the best avenue to communicate your listening experience to others?
That is a tough question. I think that everyone listens to music differently due to their personal background and experiences. Our previous knowledge, emotion, and social settings alter how we perceive and listen to the music. One of my favorite piece is Piazzolla’s Adios Nonino. I remember listening to it in a practice room in a summer camp in Canada in the summer of 2007. I remember a color of green leaves and sunshine when I listen to the piece. I don’t know if any other people has the same experience when they listen to Adios Nonino, or any of my favorites.
However, I can try to guide the listeners with program notes, blog posts, pre-concert talks, etc. I usually tell audiences one thing to listen for rather than explaining everything that is going on in the piece.
How does your focused listening to music help you hear the world around you? How does it build awareness to the sounds in your everyday life?
Listening is a conscious choice to find something interesting or beautiful in sound. To “get” a piece of music, listener has a responsibility to be engaged, concentrated, and imaginative. Such listening attitudes can be applied to everyday sounds. A focused listening on nature can reveal musicality in the surroundings. One may find a beauty in everyday objects’ sound when listening carefully. One exercise I recommend is to walk around with intent to record sound. One may hear the surrounding world differently when he/she is engaged in the act of finding and capturing interesting sounds.
Are there differences in how you listen to music as a performer, versus an audience member? how so?
Yes. As a performer, I find myself concentrating on the sounds much more. I feel more responsible in the sound that I am about to hear. Because my physical and mental change directly affects sounds, I need to use everything I have to make the hand-mind-ear coordination. We can compare such difference to a sports event. Participating in a basketball match is different than just watching the game. As a performer of sport or music, my view, decision, and all other sensory system work differently.