SUN HAN GUILD Shakes Up Roulette with Vibrant, Cathartic Piece by eddy kwon

I shyly took a seat onstage at Roulette, in Brooklyn, on May 19. It was an unusual prospect for an audience member, but the five-person sound and performance collective SUN HAN GUILD wasn’t on the stage with me. Instead, violinist eddy kwon, flutist Laura Cocks, percussionist Jessie Cox, gayageum player DoYeon Kim, and cellist Lester St. Louis played in the center of the room with the audience arranged in a large circle around them, tapping into the ritualistic nature of their performance. The stage ended up being a good spot to hear and feel the frenetic pulse of the music; as sound radiated out, it filled the space with vibrancy.

SUN HAN GUILD was performing kwon’s evening-length work EARTH IRIDESCENCE / SORROW CHURN as part of her Roulette residency. In a program note accompanying the piece, kwon describes it as an “expressive ritual of ecstatic collectivity,” and “an invitation of safe passage for all who are in transition.” The piece is an attempt to confront fear with the help of friends — something kwon has been thinking about recently as United States politicians enact anti-trans laws. kwon developed the piece in collaboration with the ensemble, letting each member’s style shine while fusing their voices in a way that maintained a sense of collectivity.

Though the performance often reached soaring heights, it also captivated with small sounds. At the beginning, chatter buzzed from the audience until we began to hear jangles and crinkles from the musicians slowly walking toward their seats. When kwon entered, the music exploded as each musician played their own blistering riff. Sound moved from searing pinnacles to hollowed-out quietude. But there was always an undercurrent of energy pulsing through the room, whether from soft plucks, distant drums, piccolo trills, or gentle hums.

SUN HAN GUILD at Roulette Intermedium -- Photo by Todd Weinstein

SUN HAN GUILD at Roulette Intermedium — Photo by Todd Weinstein

The performance was intended to be immersive, but I found myself wondering if we were all having the same experience. From the stage, I had a good view of each musician’s performance — I could see St. Louis flip his bow and pull the wooden side across the cello’s strings to create a gristly, fuzzy wail, and Cocks squeal into the flute, creating a high-pitched, electric whistle. People sitting on the floor might have only been able to see each musician’s back, but they had a better view of Maggie Heath’s lighting design. In the second half of the piece, kwon came onstage to dance and to interact with the audience; she walked around the stage, picking up flower petals and placing them into two bowls that were filled with water and then handed them to us. I wondered if you could tell what was going on from the back of the house, or if you wished you were one of us up front.

But the music never faltered, building into roaring odes from intricate solos. One particularly moving section branched out from Kim’s contemplative gayageum plucking into a web of lamenting violin and cello melodies that swirled around each other; another grew from guttural cello into a chaotic swarm of piccolo shards and cymbal crashes. Each section was driven by emotion, following a current of uninhibited sound.

SUN HAN GUILD at Roulette Intermedium -- Photo by Todd Weinstein

SUN HAN GUILD at Roulette Intermedium — Photo by Todd Weinstein

Yet, the most powerful moment came near the end of the piece. kwon’s dance became more and more frantic as she fell and got back up, over and over again. Cox left his seat at the drum kit, placing a cymbal on his head and another across his body, and walked in a circle; Kim, too, got up and began to rub two cymbals together in another corner of the room. The hall, washed in red light, was full of ear-splitting noise and bursting at the seams. And then, kwon’s voice emerged — a growling howl that sliced through the din. It was a moment of catharsis that carried over as the little jingling bells returned and the room went pitch black. In kwon’s program note, she wrote that this music is “tuned to the freedom available in each moment,” and in those exhilarating minutes, the feeling of liberation rang through.


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