Okkyung Lee is a cellist, composer, and improviser who moves freely between artistic disciples and contingencies. Since 2000 she has worked in disparate contexts as a solo artist and collaborator with creators in a wide range of disciplines. A native of South Korea, Lee has taken a broad array of inspirations—including noise, improvisation, jazz, western classical, and the traditional and popular music of her homeland—and used them to forge a highly distinctive approach. Her curiosity and a determined sense of exploration guide the work she has made in disparate contexts.
She has appeared on more than 30 albums, including the latest release Yeo-Neun on Shelter Press, and Teum (The Silvery Slit), written for acclaimed Acousmonium by GRM and live cello, released on GRM Portraits/Editions Mego. In 2018 she released Cheol-Kkot-Sae (Steel.Flower.Bird) on Tzadik, an ambitious piece drawing upon free improvisation and traditional Korean music, commissioned for the 2016 Donaueschingen Festival by SWR2. She currently leads an intricately nuanced Yeo-Neun Quartet featuring harpist Maeve Gilchrist, pianist Jacob Sacks, and bassist Eivind Opsvik that explores the lyrical side of her writing, while continually developing solo works.
Even though Okkyung is probably known best for her improvisational work utilizing visceral extended techniques for the last two decades, she started developing site-specific works, responding to its architecture, audience, or objects surrounding her, producing an immersive experience that also challenges the built-in hierarchy in traditional concert settings. She has been commissioned to compose music and assemble projects for Time Spans Festival (New York, USA), Groupe de Recherches Musicales (Paris, France), Sonic Acts Festival (Amsterdam, The Netherlands), Borealis Festival (Bergen, Norway), Donaueschingen Music Festival (Donaueschingen, Germany) and Nam June Paik Art Center (Yong-In, South Korea). She has performed in Museum of Modern Art (New York), Whitney Museums of American Art (New York, USA), The Met Breuer (New York, USA), Museum Tinguely (Basel, Switzerland), Museo del Novecento (Milan, Italy), Serpentine Galleries (London, UK), White Cube Galleries (London, UK) and many others.
In 2010, Lee received Foundation for Contemporary Arts Grant and a Doris Duke Performing Artist Award in 2015. She has been awarded residencies at Civitella Ranieri in Umbria, Italy in 2015 and Akademie Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart, Germany in 2017.
She received a dual bachelor’s degree in Contemporary Writing & Production and Film Scoring from Berklee College of Music in 1998 and a master’s degree in Contemporary Improvisation from New England Conservatory of Music in 2000.