The 38th Parallel is a one-hour, multimedia work conceived by two artists when they discovered an unexpected connection in their legacies. Violinist Jennifer Koh was born into a family of Korean immigrants in the United States; her mother was a refugee from North Korea during the Korean war and her father is from Seoul. French composer Jean-Baptiste Barrière’s first musical experiences were offered to him by his grandmother’s Korean partner, whom he considered his grandfather, and who disappeared during an attempt to return to North Korea in the 70s.
The 38th Parallel explores the impact of displacement and immigration, individual and familial transformation. Music, visual art, and movement connects the transformation of three generations of human lives and encapsulates the experience of cultural uprooting and assimilation. The 38th parallel, which was imposed in 1945 as an arbitrary divide between the Korean regions occupied by the Soviet Union and the US (becoming North and South Korea, respectively), is the image we chose to metaphorically depict the impact of historic forces upon individual and families transformed forever by invisible and abstract borders.
Pansori is a traditional form of staged narrative song created in 17th-century Korea. The name consists of “public performance space” and “sound” or “song”. The 38th Parallel will integrate the narrative form, traditions, and sonic prints of Korean heritage with contemporary western classical music language in which both Koh and J-B Barrière work, creating a new form we call a ‘contemporary pansori’, serving as a reference to the canonic form of Korean music theatre.
The musical form of this project will be created by Jean-Baptiste Barrière in the aesthetic form of electro-acoustic music which he developed at IRCAM in Paris. Two musicians (violin and percussion) will musically interact with pre-existing and live-processed aural material. The aural and visual material will consist of texts from the Koh and Barrière families, the myths and legends of the families’ origins, edited into a libretto by dramaturge Aleksi Barrière and Jennifer Koh.
Solo violin and percussion will use movement to bring physical amplification and added commentary to the stories told by the voices of family members recalling their familial stories in Korean, English, and French, as summoned by aural electronics.
These performers will perform within a set of panels animated by video created by Jean-Baptiste Barrière and Aleksi Barrière. A “visual libretto” will serve as connective tissue with the traditional narrative form of pansori. The visual arts will create a point of historical and present day context; and will also complete the narrative of the music through live processing of camera footage and sound. The musicians will mirror and amplify these images through both movement as well as live performance. These three components will merge into a contemporary, multi-cultural interpretation of traditional Korean music theatre form that we use as the starting point in our creative process.
Translations of Korean poetry: Peter H. Lee
Written testimony: Sang Kyu Lee 이상규, Soonja Lee 이순자, Jennifer Koh
Oral testimony: Soonja Lee 이순자, Joong-Won Koh 고중원
Private photo archives: Eycki Tsien 전영히, Soonja Lee 이순자, Joong-Won Koh 고중원, Joong-Myung Koh 고중명, Un-Ok Paik 백은옥
Cinematographer/Video Operations: Isabelle Barrière
Sound Assistant: Thomas Goepfer
Light Designer: TBD
Violin: Jennifer Koh
La Guerre, Très Loin
A music+theatre production by La Chambre aux échos, Aleksi Barrière's music theatre company, premiered in November 2015 in Paris and combining for the very first time Hanns Eisler's war cantatas on texts by Ignazio Silone and Didier-Georges Gabily's fragmentary play Enfonçures, about the self-imposed exile of poet Friedrich Hölderlin seen through the blasts of the First Gulf War.