Posts Tagged ‘ephemera’

A (much needed) departure from the Korean psyche…

I just can’t get enough of these kids.

All Is Full of Love – Björk

I’ll Be Your Mirror – The Velvet Underground

Jóga – Björk


05 2010

Pungmul Kut ~ Daeboreum/Full Moon Celebration

Pungmul Kut Ensemble [풍물굿패], Seoul, ROK from helen h park on Vimeo.

A small sampling from the hours of ceremonies held during the first full moon of the Lunar New Year, Daeboreum.
Pungmul Kut Ensemble [풍물굿패] info can be found at: (in Korean)


04 2010

Mapping Whale Songs

scaleimage-1“When you see what whales are doing with sound, or begin to see what they are capable of, it is clear that humans are not the only artists on the planet.”

Minke ‘boing’ moving image visualization.

Humpback moving image visualization.

More can be found here.

From NY Times (2006):

Subtle Math Turns Songs of Whales Into Kaleidoscopic Images


What do whale songs and wavelets have in common? Quite a bit, and the wavelets have nothing to do with water.

In a Northern California studio, Mark Fischer, an engineer by training, uses wavelets — a technique for processing digital signals — to transform the haunting calls of ocean mammals into movies that visually represent the songs and still images that look like electronic mandalas. (His art can be found at

Mr. Fischer learned about acoustics by developing software for Navy sonar and the telecommunications industry. Years later, a serendipitous brush with whale researchers in Baja California led him to take a closer look at whales and the diversity of their intricate underwater communication. “I don’t think anyone has ever spent even a little time around a whale and not been amazed by it,” Mr. Fischer said in an interview.

Mr. Fischer creates visual art from sound using wavelets. Once relatively obscure, wavelets are being used in applications as diverse as JPEG image compression, high definition television and earthquake research, said Gilbert Strang, a math professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an expert on wavelets.

aqua.190.1 They are popular now in part because they can capture intricate detail without losing the bigger picture, and when presented in circular form (using a cylindrical coordinate system), repeated patterns are even more evident. By stringing successive images together, Mr. Fischer transforms still images into animated audio files that bring the sound to life.

Among whales, certain sounds and patterns are unique to different species, and even individuals in a group — something like an auditory fingerprint, Mr. Fischer said. “To anyone who doesn’t listen to it on a regular basis it sounds like a bunch of clicks,” he said. “But if you’re a whale — or someone who studies whales — it becomes clear that they have their own dialects.”

Wavelets are capable of picking up those distinctions, Mr. Fischer said, nuances that may be missed by the human ear or less detailed visualization methods. “You can pick out any one of those movies and I’ll tell you what it is without hearing a thing,” he said. “The differences are that dramatic.” He envisions a day when researchers may be able to use images generated using wavelets to identify and track individual whales.

Peter Tyack agrees that the technique has potential not only as art, but as a scientific research tool. A senior scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Dr. Tyack studies the way humpback whales communicate, trying to show that the repetitions in whale songs follow grammatical rules similar to those of human language.

“Looking at those figures, it looked like you could see a lot of repeated units,” Dr. Tyack said of the images. “It looks like he’s visualizing some of the points that we made in the paper about humpback song.”

Despite having analyzed recordings from at least 16 species of whales, Mr. Fischer said he had just scratched the surface. “It’s still a wide-open world out there,” he said. “You think you’re in the 21st century and we have the means to get anything, but when it concerns the deep ocean there is still quite a bit of mystery.”

In the meantime, Mr. Fischer hopes that by merging science and art, he will inspire a greater appreciation of whales among both marine biologists and the public, as he gives many people a glimpse of a world they would otherwise never experience.

“It’s a very rare opportunity to be in the water listening to a whale,” he said. A picture, on the other hand, is something you can hang on your wall and look at every day.

“When you see what whales are doing with sound, or begin to see what they are capable of, it is clear that humans are not the only artists on the planet,” he said.



02 2010

Wild dolphin spotting off Moreton Island, Queensland Australia


click image to view



01 2010

Images of the city & a few notes

Views of Chunggyecheon, Downtown Seoul (click on image for larger view):

Cheonggyecheon 17*

Cheonggyecheon 10*

Cheonggyecheon 7*

Cheonggyecheon 20*

Cheonggyecheon 23*

View from the terrace at the Insa Art Center:



As hectic as this city can be, it does offer some very beautiful scenes. The confluence of nature and urbanity strikes a kind of balance in certain spots, making for moments to breathe and contemplate and just be. As I go from place to place searching for research materials I’m lucky enough to stumble upon some of these moments…

Ch’useok has passed. This is often referred to as the “Korean Thanksgiving,” but really the background of this day shares little in common with the American holiday. It is the full moon harvest celebration and Koreans pay respects to their ancestors, visiting their ancestral burial grounds and offering food from the harvest. There are no endangered colonizers being saved by the colonized, just the story of a weaving contest during the Silla Dynasty. I spent the day with my Uncle and his family and enjoying the company of the little ones.

Last weekend I ventured to Daegu, where many members of my extended family reside. It was a wonderful reunion after fifteen years. Seeing them was profound, like recovering some lost part of myself. Beyond language and culture, family connection can be so strongly felt…


10 2009

images from the week…

insa1 North Insa-dong


subway6 on the train….



Things are slowly progressing. Language courses begin next week, thank God. And I will begin attending a course taught by Aeju Lee (이애주) at Seoul National:


Last week I met with Dr. Choong Soon Kim, a former professor of anthropology and now President of Korea Digital University. A man with an interesting experience of migration and cultural border crossing. He left Korea in ’65 for the US, subsequently raised a family, received his Masters & PhD, then began teaching and conducting fieldwork in Tennessee and other parts of the US South. He worked with the Choctaw Indians as well as with poor pulpwood workers. He did not return to Korea until ’81, and describes this journey back to his native land as one of profound alienation – the country had changed so drastically in during all of that time, and some family members were very ambivalent about how to receive him. In the years to follow he did end up returning to do fieldwork in Korea as a Fulbright scholar, writing an ethnography on Korean family dispersal and the televised reunions on KBS. In 2001 he came back to Korea ‘for good’, accepting the Presidential position at KDU. His books are published in the US, and I highly recommend them.

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09 2009

So far in Seoul

Seoul has been a place of small and strange revelations. The experience of being a foreigner, yet not looking foreign, marks my experience here in a way that has been pleasant on the one hand, awkward on another, and still I can move about with relative anonymity, which is helpful. The other day I was looking for a bookstore in Jongno-gu (northern Seoul), and I stopped at a very conveniently placed public information booth. When the girl behind the window asked me where I was from, I found myself replying, “New York.”  It’s strange being in a place where things are totally familiar to me – faces, the sound of the language, the general cityscape, and yet everything is still very distant and other – foreign. In the moments when I try to recall the things that are familiar, those things of home in whatever city that has been my ‘home’ in the last few years, even those things feel more distant and far off. I began re-watching Chris Marker’s San Soleil today, and there is a line: “Memory is not the opposite of forgetting but its lining.” And to speak of this transition, perhaps really entering another country means entering into liminal space for a while. Before you ‘arrive’, you are neither here nor there, but definitely someplace in-between. To think of each place containing its own kind of liminal space and what that feels like… But this just brings me to refer again to Marker’s film which refers to T.S. Eliot’s verse: “Because I know that time is always time/And place is always and only place.”

All this is to say that it’s been an interesting trip thus far.

Seoul feels a lot more open than in 1994. I’ve seen a few kids dressed in various subcultural fare. You could drop them in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and they’d totally fit in, drinking their 카페라테’s at the Verb. But it’s definitely much more than these surface markers. It feels more open in that it seems there is less labor in the struggle to reconcile tradition and the modern city – not that this struggle is absent by any means – but there’s a bit more harmony. Also, I remember this place as being very over-crowded, a bit chaotic, not knowing how to manage rapid industrialization with quality if life. It doesn’t feel like this so much now. There is a stream that runs through downtown Seoul, unearthed by a system called daylighting, to provide tranquil public space in the middle of the city, and that has also lowered pollution & temperature levels.

I have spent much of my time in the outside world meeting with people. Professors, people helping me connect with professors often professors themselves, tomorrow I meet with a representative from the National Center for Korean Traditional Performing Arts. Everyone I have met here has been so kind, so generous, extending a hand to help me in my work in whatever ways they can. I am grateful to them. There is the Korean hospitality that holds a kind of under-stated dignity and open-heartedness that is so completely rare in the U.S. and other Western societies.

Still trying to organize myself and plan out the flow of work, of which there is much…

Hard to believe I have been here almost one month.

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09 2009

Outside Seoul Station

seoul station 4

after a botched attempt to find a water filter, i decided to just take in the ambiance at seoul station.

it was a beautiful day.

seoul station 2

seoul station 6

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08 2009

A few moments in Seoul

[click on image to play.]

I’ve been collecting bits of audio & video on my ventures out into the city, and this is just a little compilation of some of the things I’ve seen and heard.

The music is being performed live by North Korean defector, Seong-Jin Park & Ewha University’s traditional music ensemble. This is from the Beautiful Dream Concert held on the 15th. The other audio track was recorded on a subway platform. The video tower is by Ik-joong Kang & Nam June Paik.

. . . . . .

The time here has been interesting… inspiring, exhausting, mystifying, and daunting. Sometimes all at once. I will admit to a few moments of homesickness. But overall, the feeling of being here is quite good.

I realized there is a general absence of sirens, honking horns, shouting. Occasionally in the afternoons a man in a truck drives through the little side streets, announcing over a loud speaker what electronic goods he has for sale on board. Other than that, things are pretty staid. After living in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, which always felt like one of the loudest neighborhoods in NYC – especially in the summer when everyone loved to have parties in their backyards with huge PA systems blasting reggaeton into the wee hours – this is a much welcomed change. How far away from that am I?

Looking forward to checking out a mandoo (dumpling) restaurant nearby, and also where I can get the perfect bowl of ja jang myun. These little things add up.


08 2009