Okkyung Lee is a cellist, composer, and improviser who moves freely between of artistic disciples and contingencies. Since moving to New York in 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 a diverse variety of recordings as a leader, whether the acclaimed solo improvisation effort Ghil, produced by Norwegian sound artist Lasse Marhaug for Ideologic Organ/Editions Mego, or composition-driven collections like Noisy Love Songs (for George Dyer), released by Tzadik. In 2018 she released Cheol-Kkot-Sae (Steel Flower Bird), an ambitious piece drawing upon free improvisation and traditional Korean music that was commissioned for the 2016 Donaueschingen Festival by SWR2, where she collaborated with western improvisers Marhaug, John Butcher, Ches Smith, and John Edwards along with Pansori vocalist Song-Hee Kwon and traditional percussionist Jae-Hyo Chang. 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.
Even though Lee is probably known best for her improvisational work utilizing visceral extended techniques for more than a decade, from 2010 Lee started developing many site-specific works, responding to its architecture, audience, or objects surrounding her, producing an immersive experience. Most recently she presented Hutton Sori composed for cello and computer-generated sounds at Der Sommer in Stuttgart Festival, and Grey Shooting Stars (for Yun Dong-Ju) for cello and pre-recorded sound materials at Bludenzer Tage Zeitgemächer Musik in Austria which involved breaking the fourth wall between the performer and the audience thus challenging the built-in hierarchy in traditional concert settings.
Over the last two decades, Lee has collaborated with Arca, David Behrman, Chris Corsano, Mark Fell, Ellen Fullman, Douglas Gordon, Jenny Hval, Vijay Iyer, Christian Marclay, Ikue Mori, Bill Orcutt, Marina Rosenfeld, and John Zorn among others. In recent years she’s performed in equally varied contexts, whether embarking on an extended tour with the legendary experimental rock band Swans or performing in many museums and galleries such as Whitney Museums of American Art (New York, USA), Met Breuer (New York, USA), Tinguley Museum (Basel, Switzerland), Museo del Novecento (Milan, Italy), Serpentine Galleries (London, UK), White Cube Galleries (London, UK) and many others.
As a curator, Lee has programmed concert series at the Stone in New York, the Music Unlimited Festival in Wels, Austria, and at the Jazz House (recently renamed Alice) in Copenhagen, Denmark. 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 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 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.