Philadelphia-based artist Lucy Liyou synthesises field recordings, text-to-speech readings, poetry, and elements from Korean folk opera into sonic narratives that explore the implications of Orientalism and westernisation. Prior to their two performances during Rewire 2023, the musician describes their relation to Korean P’ansori, and the way they want to “brutalise” its traditional notions to address historical constructs buried in the music. “The challenge is in making the performance feel like storytelling, an oral history passed down to everyone watching and listening.”
As part of the Veering Voices panel in Rewire’s context programme, Lucy Liyou reflects on their unique approach to the traditional Korean P’ansori music, which combines drums and vocals as a way to create musical storytelling. Broadening, disrupting, or even brutalising these elements, Liyou crafts expansive sound worlds that employ disparate elements to create a cohesive and critical whole. It results in immersive, yet challenging music that alternates between beautiful serenity and unsettling entropy.
Could you tell more about how your explorations of P’ansori, alongside other traditional music from Korea, have inspired your work? My work is inspired by P'ansori as a methodology for world-building, myth-making, and archival research. I am finding ways to brutalise the P'ansori methodology to unearth sounds, ideas, and stories from the “errors” made by the recontextualisation and transmogrification of the components and arrangements of the form.
In your music, you connect these traditional influences to a wide variety of techniques, styles, and modes of production. What does the process look like for you to find a whole in these disparate elements? P'ansori primarily consists of the vocalist and the drummer. I am erroneously adding “misplaced” elements of music from various histories and approaches to constitute these aforementioned P'ansori elements. Thus, the whole is in the narrative, the myth that is being created with words and accompanied by these sounds. The folktale narrated by my voice, text-to-speech, or instruments in dialogue – like the piano – acts as the gossamer and the engine of each of my pieces.
How do you think your modern practice of these more traditional influences relate to or diverge from their historical roots? “Korean music” as a sound and genre has diverged from its historical roots for decades to both success and deridation. My music acts as an abstraction of this brutalisation, an attempt to messily refract my benumbed connections to “Korean music” into something that feels brimming with possibility. Something with seemingly new roots.
Working with the (human) voice is an integral part of the way you conceive music. In what ways do you perceive the poetics and politics of the voice as the earliest instrument known to humankind, and what role do those beliefs play in your artistic practice? What a wonderful question! I'll need a few years to get even close to answering this one. Ask me again in 2026!
What are some of the major challenges and possibilities of translating your unique work, with all of its disparate elements, to a live setting? The challenge is in making the performance feel like storytelling, an oral history passed down to everyone watching and listening. Nick Zanca and I work hard to make our live performances resemble this. You'll see! It'll be fun.
Lucy Liyou performs on Friday 7 April and Saturday 8 April at Rewire 2023. They will also be part of the Veering Voices panel on Saturday 8 April at The Grey Space.