Right, the community—again, we’re talking about people and music. They’re inseparable. So I was living in Boston, meeting those people, and it was 1998. The World Cup comes. It was always interesting to see how people prepared the party before the game—the kind of vibe, the hats, the warmth, together, and passion. There’s always passion in everything. Passion in drinking, passion in arguing, passion in playing, passion in being together. Really, there’s something so wonderful about it. It was really refreshing to me, the way people were celebrating life. And everyone was showing up to support the gigs, and dancing, and singing the songs. It was so new to me. Even now, you think about jazz in the United States, and you think about Israel… People sing old songs in Israel if they come to one of those evenings where everyone sits together and sings, but if you go to a party or a bar to listen to old music—unless they really love it, it’s not the same. It’s really mind-boggling. It’s really a beautiful thing.
A feature by Daniel Medin
Daniel Medin: I can’t help but try to situate Le Silence des Sirènes in relation to previous works of yours, and one obvious connection seems to be to the concertos. Yet writing for a human voice has to be different from writing for piano or violin or any of the instruments featured in a traditional concerto; what sort of concerns does it raise for you?
Unsuk Chin: The human voice is always something different, as you say. Naturally, differences exist between instruments; for example, when a string instrument plays a long note, it expresses certain emotions which couldn’t be expressed in the same way if the note were played by the piano. But there is a stark difference between these instruments and the voice, because you can’t use the voice without implying a particular set of underlying affects. I can’t sing at all myself, but I have a great affinity for the human voice, and I’ve written lots of vocal music. The reason, perhaps, is that I come from Korea—Koreans like to sing, and when I compose for other instruments, even when the music is multi-layered and abstract, I try to sing it with my “inner voice.”