Kunsu Shim is a composer and performance artist. His sound world is a melting pot of ideas from opposing forces such as chaos and order, chance and causality, striding and lingering, running away and interruption, smooth and rough – I and you (WE) merge. Shim understands his works to be a contemplation of form, and so without mysticism. His performances in the tradition of Fluxus seek to destroy the visibile reality of things and thus render them intangible.
Kunsu Shim was born on 15 September 1958 in Busan, South Korea, the son of Korean remigrants from Japan. At the age of 18 and 19, he won first prize in a competition for young composers in Busan. During his composition studies at Yonsei University in Seoul (1979-83, with Inyong La and others), he attracted attention in his home country with the Dong-A Ilbo Newspaper Prize (1982) and the Joong-Ang Ilbo Newspaper Prize (1983). In 1987 he began studying with Helmut Lachenmann in Stuttgart and in 1989 moved to the Folkwang Hochschule Essen to study with Nicolaus A. Huber, with whom he completed his composition studies in 1992. At Huber's suggestion, Shim familiarised himself with a wide variety of current trends in music, especially from the USA, and composed his first orchestral work orchester in stereo mit fünf sinustönen (orchestra in stereo with five sinus tones, 1990), which aims to create music without subjective expression. The ensemble piece for violins and players, written after orchester in stereo, received the composition prize of the WDR’s Forum of Young Composers in 1992. Further acknowledgement in the following years included invitations as artist in residence to Djerassi/California (1993), Akiyodashi/Japan (1994), to the Ragdale Foundation/Illinois (1995), to Schreyahn/Niedersachen (1996-97) and to the Museum of Contemporary Arts/Chicago (1998) as well as a scholarship from the Akademie der Künste Berlin (1998).
Among the significant commissions for Kunsu Shim are the orchestral pieces ATEMWENDE – Stille (2007) and STEINSCHLAG·ZEIT (2008), AFTER A HUNDRED YEARS for soprano and orchestra commissioned by the Essen Philharmonic (2011) and the large a-cappella choral works HIER·SEIN and Here to me (2012). In 2014 and 2016, the orchestral work AND HERE AGAIN – eine Perlenlandschaft was premiered by the Würzburg Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as WOLKEN, BLINDENSCHRIFT for soprano, vocal ensemble and orchestra at the St. Kilian’s Cathedral in Würzburg. In 2017, Kunsu Shim wrote DAS FEINE, DAS FLÜCHTIGE for the Norwegian ensemble Bit20. The Kunststiftung NRW commissioned the ensemble works leise, frei (2018) and KLEINES, FERNES (2022), the string quartet luft.inneres (2019) and, for the nationwide anniversary project Beethoven2020, the orchestral work VON HIER FORT? – An Intermezzo to Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 and the performance with Beethoven symphonies for several record players ... ÖFFNETE PLÖTZLICH DIE AUGEN. With Das Andere, Inneres for piano with keyboard player and string player from 2019, Shim developed fundamentally new possibilities of piano composition.
Collaboration with Gerhard Stäbler at EarPort Duisburg
Deeply influenced by his cooperation with German composer Gerhard Stäbler since the 1990s, their original concept of “PerformanceMusik” has led to many collaborative projects. From 1992 onwards, Kunsu Shim was involved as a co-organiser in the AKTIVE MUSIK series in the Ruhr region, which was initiated by Stäbler and Igor Popovich. In 2000, at the invitation of the Goethe Institute, he realised the music theatre project futuressencexxx together with Stäbler at the New Langton Arts Theatre in San Francisco, which was subsequently produced again in Duisburg, Essen (2001), Seoul (2003) and Olympia/Washington (2004). With the composers group wandelweiser, of which Shim was a member from 1994 to 2000, he initially shared basic orientations such as silence and simplicity. Through the intensive collaboration with Stäbler at EarPort, which the two composers and life partners established from 2000 to 2010 at the invitation of the Lehmbruck Museum in Duisburg’s Inner Harbour, Shim’s views and activities moved in a different direction – especially with regard to the social role of the arts.
In the EarPort programs, Kunsu Shim and Gerhard Stäbler developed their original concept of “PerformanceMusic”, based on historical art movements such as Dada, Futurism or Fluxus. PerformanceMusic seeks for an interplay of music, visuality and action and makes the boundaries between watching/listening and acting permeable. Shim’s own performances, whose playing instructions he has since written down in detail and included in his catalogue of works, are a crucial and original component of this art form. Moreover, with his photographic works and installations, Shim has not only shaped the visual appearance of the EarPort to this day, but has “meanwhile also developed an authentic and original oeuvre as an installation and photographic artist” (C. Brockhaus, 2022).
In October 2015, the EarPort was reopened as a place for “experimental music and encounter of the arts”. Since then, Shim and Stäbler have been deepening their long-standing collaborations with institutions in the Rhine-Ruhr region – in Düsseldorf, for example, with the Kunsthalle, Tonhalle and, above all, the Heinrich Heine Institute, which looks after the artistic estate of the two composers as part of the Rhenish Music Archive. At the same time, they develop numerous interdisciplinary concepts for important national and international institutions, such as the projects Trialogue with Korean video artist Kyungwoo Chun (documented in the bilingual ArtMusicBook bild.klang.los) and the International Winter Academies for PerformanceMusic in cooperation with Korean composer Bohyun Kim. In 2016, the extensive program Im Gegenüber was created for the Diocese of Würzburg. Shim and Stäbler maintain an intensive collaboration with the German sound artist Bernd Bleffert (OPENING Festival Trier) and the British performance artist and composer Alwynne Pritchard (Borealis Festival, Grieg Academy Bergen, etc.). In the pandemic years 2020 and 2021, Shim and Stäbler realised numerous major digital projects such as TIEFEN·SCHÄRFE for the Lower Rhine Muziek Biennale or the concert series Quadrophonien in collaboration with composers from Ukraine, Great Britain, the Netherlands and South Korea.
Portrait concerts, performances, guest lectures and workshops have taken Kunsu Shim together with Gerhard Stäbler to many countries in Europe, Australia, North and South America, Israel, Japan and Korea. In 2003, he received another scholarship from the Akademie der Künste Berlin as well as the renowned Genko Uchida Fellowship grant from the Japan Foundation, which enabled him to spend three months in Japan. In 2018, Shim and Stäbler undertook a US tour with the support of the Goethe Institute, with residencies at the University of North Texas (Denton), the Ragdale Foundation, and performance concerts and lectures in Chicago (including Chicago University and Northwestern University). In 2017 and 2022 they worked as visiting professors at the University of the Arts (EUM) in Montevideo/Uruguay. In 2023 they were invited for the second time as guest lecturers at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam for a workshop of several days with a final concert at the dance house ICK Dans Amsterdam.
Interrupted by the restrictions of the pandemic, Shim and Stäbler completed three residencies of several weeks at the Atelier Galata of the Kunststiftung NRW in Istanbul/Turkey in 2019 and 2022/23. Here they gave workshops at BAU University, culminating in a concert with students at the Barın Han Art House, and conceived the concert project Good-Bye Paradise? for the exhibition This Play – at the ARTER Museum of Contemporary Art with the Hezarfen Ensemble. This successful collaboration will continue in November 2023 with ATEMWENDE, a second concert at ARTER Istanbul for the exhibition of the renowned artist Sarkis.
2018 saw the publication of leise, frei. der komponist kunsu shim, the first comprehensive book on the composer. The anthology DAZWISCHEN. Die Zusammenarbeit der Komponisten Kunsu Shim und Gerhard Stäbler from 2022 includes current scholarly contributions on Shim’s work as well as a CD with piano and chamber music works by the two composers. 2022 also saw the release of the portrait CD luft.inneres with the Luna String Quartet on the renowned British label anothertimbre.com and the CD Piano Music by Gerhard Stäbler | Kunsu Shim with the pianist Martin Tchiba. In 2023, the concert project Musik der (Un)Ruhe/Music of (Dis)Quiet, inspired by the book of restlessness by the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa, was released on DVD.