Kim Jin-hi

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Kim Jin-hi
Hangul 김진희
Revised Romanization Gim Jin-hui
McCune–Reischauer Kim Chinhŭi

Kim Jin-Hi (born February 6, 1957 in Incheon, South Korea) is a geomungo player and composer.

Kim Jin-Hi playing in 2012

She is known for introducing the geomungo (a Korean bass zither, also spelled komungo) to the wider world through her contemporary chamber and orchestral compositions and large-scale multimedia pieces, as well as her extensive work in avant-garde and cross-cultural free improvisation.

Early life[edit]

She began studies of traditional Korean music in South Korea in 1973, at the age of 16, at her father's recommendation. She received a full scholarship to study at South Korea's first national high school for Korean traditional music (국립국악고등학교), one of 60 students accepted in the first year. There, she learned both court and folk styles of singing, drumming, and bamboo flutes (both vertical and transverse), and selected the geomungo (an ancient fretted bass zither with six silk strings that are plucked with a thin bamboo stick) as her major instrument. Her selection of the instrument was audacious; dating to the fourth century, the geomungo had been favored particularly by male Confucian scholars, and was generally not played by women.

She continued her studies with National Living Treasures from The National Center for Korean Traditional Performing Arts in Seoul, as well as with Korea's leading ethnomusicologists, eventually earning a B.A. degree in Korean traditional music from Seoul National University in 1980.

Move to the United States[edit]

Interested in learning more about the musics of other cultures but aware that this would not be possible in Korea, she emigrated in August 1980 to the United States, where she immersed herself in many different world musics. She first attended the San Francisco Conservatory of Music for one year, then the San Francisco Music and Art Institute for another year, then transferred to Mills College in Oakland, California, where she studied for two years and received an MFA in electronic music and composition in 1985. Her composition instructors included John Adams, Lou Harrison, Terry Riley, David Rosenboom, and Larry Polansky.

While in California, she also studied the Chinese guqin (an ancient 7-stringed zither believed to be related to the geomungo) and Indian bansuri (bamboo flute) from G. S. Sachdev, and began to investigate the possibility of combining her music with the musics of other cultures.

During the 1980s, she regularly attended the New Music America festival, where she met many noted contemporary composers. From approximately 1982 to 1988, she worked as a correspondent, writing over 30 articles about contemporary American composers for Eumak Dong-A, a Korean monthly music magazine published by the Dong-A Daily News

Musical career[edit]

This initial interest led to extensive work in cross-cultural performance and improvisation, which has remained a consistent imperative in her work. She has performed and recorded with musicians from Senegal, Australia, India, Japan, Tuva, Vietnam, Korea, China, and many other nations, often with her cross-cultural ensemble No World Improvisations. Plunged into the American avant-garde music scene, she was invited to the Composer-to-Composer festival in Telluride, Colorado in 1989 and joined the one week residency with John Cage and selected leading composers.

She has also improvised with Henry Kaiser, Elliott Sharp, Bill Frisell, Derek Bailey, Evan Parker, Joseph Celli, Malcolm Goldstein, Eugene Chadbourne, Oliver Lake, Pointless Orchestra, William Parker, James Newton, Reggie Workman, Mark Dresser, Joëlle Léandre, Jane Ira Bloom, Hans Reichel, Rüdiger Carl, and many other prominent figures in new music and avant-garde jazz.

Kim has performed throughout the United States and Canada, as well as in Europe, South America, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and Russia.

Kim received a 2001 Foundation for Contemporary Arts Grants to Artists Award. [1]


Kim's compositions for Asian and Western instruments (both alone and in combination) have as their central focus the exploration of the Korean concept of shigumse (or shigimse), the technique of ornamentation used in traditional vocal and instrumental music. Although the term's literal meaning is not known, in 1985 Kim began to use the term "living tones" to describe this attitude toward melodic material as she applied it in her work. Thus, her compositions use newly developed forms of notation to indicate various types of vibrato, pitch bends, etc. in order that, as in Korean traditional music, each musical tone is given a unique expression and development.

Kim's "Living Tones" compositions have been performed by the American Composers Orchestra, the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, the KBS Symphony (Korea), the Kronos Quartet, The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the Xenakis Ensemble (Holland), Zeitgeist, and the Kairos String Quartet (Berlin).

She has also created works combining video with electroacoustic music, as well as large scale multimedia performance pieces. Her Dragon Bond Rite (1997) juxtaposed diverse masked dance traditions and music from India, Indonesia, Korea, Japan, Tuva, and the United States.

Her Dong Dong Touching The Moons (2000), a multi-media lunar ritual, interfaced electric geomungo, Indian tabla, a Korean kagok singer, and an Indian kathak dancer with a computer-controlled MIDI system, sensors, and digital animation.

Sanjo Ecstasy, for electric geomungo, gayageum, haegum, janggo, drum set, and shaman trance dancer, was premiered at the Sanjo Festival in Jeonju, South Korea in 2003.

In 2005 she created One Sky, a work for chamber string orchestra and electric geomungo dedicated to the reunification of North and South Korea, which was performed by the Great Mountain Music Festival Orchestra, with Kim as soloist, at the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ); the work was broadcast on KBS TV.[2]


Kim's primary instrument is the geomungo, though she also plays Korean percussion instruments such as the janggu. With the Toronto instrument builder Joseph Yanuziello, Kim developed (in 1999) and plays the world's only electric geomungo,photo with which she has created numerous interactive pieces with a MIDI computer system using MAX/MSP.[3] An earlier prototype version of the instrument was designed in 1989 by the Los Angeles instrument builder Danny Ferrington.

Current activities[edit]

Kim lives in Connecticut and serves as Artistic Director of International Performing Arts, Inc.

Her work was documented on an hour-long episode of the KBS television program Han Nation (한민족 리포트).[4] She also appeared in the MBC TV national broadcast of the film 100 Years of Sanjo. Her autobiography, covering her 25-year performing career, is scheduled to be published (in the Korean language) in 2007.

External links[edit]