New Research


Special Issue on Musics of Coeval East Asia, Twentieth-Century Music 18, no. 3 (2021)

Special issue editor: Hyun Kyong Hannah Chang

The articles of this special issue explore music scenes or practices that highlight East Asia’s connectedness and co-temporality within the broader world of the twentieth century. While the emphasis on coevalness means that any kind of music practised across modern and contemporary East Asia (e.g., popular or traditional music) may be the object of research, these articles take up Western art music or assemblages derived from it – from revolutionary opera in North Korea and Protestant hymns in the South Korean diaspora to orchestral and other art music performances in Shanghai, Tokyo, and Beijing. This approach helps to situate the practice of music squarely within a modern-colonial historiographical framework that registers the accumulated relations both between East Asia and Europe/West and within East Asia, including unequal power relations. It raises critical awareness of the historicity of “Western” music in East Asia, while also warning against simplistic conceptions of identity, agency, and nationality that have sometimes framed scholarship on Korean, Japanese, and Chinese music. It is hoped that this collection of recent research generates productive conversations on positionality, methodology, and authenticity within music studies scholarship on East Asia across musicology and ethnomusicology.

Below find the article abstracts:

Serena Yang, “Against ‘John Cage Shock’: Rethinking John Cage and the Post-war Avant-garde in Japan”

After Cage and Tudor visited Japan in 1962, the term ‘Cage Shock’ circulated widely among the Japanese public. My interviews with Japanese composers suggest that the term ‘Cage Shock’ oversimplifies the reception of Cage’s debut in Japan. Composer Yūji Takahashi stated that Cage would have met Japanese audiences well prepared for his visit by musical trends present in Japan as early as the late 1940s. Building on the statement that the Japanese avant-garde was thriving before Cage visited Japan in 1962, this article aims to deconstruct the term ‘Cage Shock’ by restoring the complexity of the reception of Cage in Japan and by analysing the reasons why critics adopted the term ‘Cage Shock’. I argue that ‘Cage Shock’ has functioned more as a media buzzword that sensationalizes the story of Cage’s impact on Japan than as an objective description of Japanese reaction to Cage.

Hon-Lun Helan Yang, “Colonialism, Cosmopolitanism, and Nationalism: The Performativity of Western Music Endeavours in Interwar Shanghai”

This article examines the meaning of Western music performances in interwar Shanghai through the theoretical framework of performativity that originated in John Austin’s speech act and Judith Butler’s notion of identity as performed. The early concerts of the Shanghai Municipal Orchestra (SMO), I suggest, were an assertion of settler sovereignty in a treaty port such as Shanghai. Therefore, Chinese musicians performing Western music – propagated through the establishment of the National Conservatory of Music by Chinese elites in Shanghai’s French Settlement in 1927 – was the embodiment of three contradictory ideals: colonialism, nationalism, and cosmopolitanism. Zooming in on four SMO concerts that featured Chinese musicians in 1929, I argue that they were sites of identity and power negotiation, the SMO and the Chinese musicians asserting quite distinct performative utterances. On the one hand, the performing Chinese body enacted the cosmopolitan outlook that the Municipal Council was eager to project, not only for the sake of ideology but also to increase SMO’s concert revenue by appealing to the increasing number of Chinese concert attendees. On the other hand, it meant national glory to Chinese residents in Shanghai, marking Chinese musicians participating in a global musical network. Lastly, this study draws attention to the diverse geographies of Western music in the twentieth century and its coeval development beyond the West, testifying to the timely need for a global music history in which the musicking of Western music in so many Asian cities should be interwoven into its narrative.

Bess Xintong Liu, “‘The Timpani Beats Just Hit on My Heart!’ Music, Memory, and Diplomacy in the Philadelphia Orchestra’s 1973 China Tour”

This article examines the underexplored history of the 1973 Philadelphia Orchestra China tour and retheorizes twentieth-century musical diplomacy as a process of ritualization. As a case study, I consult bilingual archives and incorporate interviews with participants in this event, which brings together individual narratives and public opinions. By contextualizing this musical diplomacy in the Cold War détente and the Chinese Cultural Revolution, I argue for the complex set of relations mobilized by Western art music in 1973. This tour first created a sense of co-dependency between musicians and politicians. It also engaged Chinese audiences by revitalizing pre-Cultural Revolution sonic memories. Second, I argue that the significance of the 1973 Orchestra tour lies in the ritualization of Western art music as diplomatic etiquette, based on further contextualization of this event in the historical trajectory of Sino-US relations and within the entrenched Chinese ideology of liyue (ritual and music).

Stephen Johnson, “Hybrid in Form, Socialist in Content: The Formal Politics of Chŏlga in the North Korean Revolutionary Opera Sea of Blood”

Kim Jong Il considered the 1971 premiere of the opera Sea of Blood a watershed moment in opera history. He lauded its innovative use of chŏlga (‘stanzaic song’) rather than aria and recitative. By Western analytical standards, however, chŏlga is simple and predictable, so scholars have thus far glossed over its conventions and their signification. This article instead argues that chŏlga conventions exhibit cultural hybridity and that Kim leveraged such hybridity to advocate a modern, popular, and national sound for North Korea. I begin by outlining hybrid characteristics of colonial-era popular music that chŏlga inherited. I then explore Kim’s engagement with such trends in his speeches on chŏlga and demonstrate that cultural hybridity was central to his understanding of sonic modernity. Finally, I analyse a scene from Sea of Blood that pits chŏlga against other music genres, leading to a symbolic victory for the form and for the Korean nation.

Hyun Kyong Hannah Chang, “Transcending the Past: Singing and the Lingering Cold War in the Korean Christian Diaspora”

Protestant music in South Korea has received little attention in ethnomusicology despite the fact that Protestant Christianity was one of the most popular religions in twentieth-century Korea. This has meant a missed opportunity to consider the musical impact of a religious institution that mediated translocal experiences between South Korea and the United States during the Cold War period (1950s–1980s). This article explores the politics of music style in South Korean diasporic churches through an ethnography of a church choir in California. I document these singers’ preference for European-style choral music over neotraditional pieces that incorporate the aesthetics of suffering from certain Korean traditional genres. I argue that their musical judgement must be understood in the context of their lived and remembered experience of power inequalities between the United States and South Korea. Based on my interviews with the singers, I show that they understand hymns and related Euro-American genres as healing practices that helped them overcome a difficult past and hear traditional vocal music as sonic icons of Korea’s sad past. The article outlines a pervasive South Korean/Korean diasporic historical consciousness that challenges easy conceptions of identity and agency in music studies.