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Title: Discourses of identity in contemporary East Asian music : Chen Yi, Unsuk Chin and Karen Tanaka
Author: Shaw, Chih-Suei
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2016
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Discourses of identity in East Asian new music are often limited to tracing ethnographic materials or conceptual influences from the composers' cultures of origin. Existing analytical approaches tend to look for the musical features that are emblematic of the cultures in question, and to map relationships between the contemporary and traditional musical aspects. Composers who resist employing their native traditions as musical tropes, however, problematise discussions of their identity and are consequently overlooked in studies of identity politics. This thesis therefore examines questions of identity through a focus on three contemporary composers who, in diverse ways, challenge and complicate essentialising expressions of East Asian identity: Chinese composer Chen Yi (1953-), Korean composer Unsuk Chin (1961-) and Japanese composer Karen Tanaka (1961-). All of them came to Europe or the United States to hone their skills in the mid-1980s and have since developed their musical careers in the Western world. They have been selected for examination due to their radically different reactions to the East-meets-West question; namely, Chen Yi's embracing of cultural fusion; Unsuk Chin's reaction against cultural fusion; and Karen Tanaka's lack of interest in cultural fusion. To demonstrate this variation, this thesis analyses the works of these composers, their personal viewpoints and the critical reception of their works. Beyond discussing conventional notions of identity and difference, this dissertation explores the ways in which these composers complicate their perceived dissimilarity by embracing a 'universal music' ideal. Chapter One explores Chen Yi's musical identity as defined by her idea of 'cultural translation' and her musical goal of enhancing intercultural communication; where Chen Yi affirms cultural fusion, her work contributes to the traditional idea of 'East-meets-West'. Chapter Two examines an alternative approach in the case of Unsuk Chin, who consciously avoids the practice of cultural hybridity by locating her work squarely within the Western tradition. Chapters Three examines the works of two Japanese composers - Toru Takemitsu and Karen Tanaka - who focus their attention not on cultural fusion but on natural themes. The first section of Chapter Three presents Toru Takemitsu's Japanese-based philosophy of the co-creative bond between nature and humanity, which serves as a foil for Karen Tanaka's evolving, observational relationship with the natural world. To conclude, I compare the identity choices and the musical representations in the three case studies of Chen Yi, Unsuk Chin and Karen Tanaka. By gaining a better understanding of each composer's music, this thesis aims to provide a more expansive discourse of identity formation in contemporary East Asian art music, and to offer a critical rethinking of what counts as an 'Asian perspective' in this field.
Supervisor: Aspden, Suzanne Sponsor: Ministry of Education ; Taiwan ; Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation for International Scholarly Exchange
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Music--21st century