Nicholas HarknessMay 6, 2014
Songs of Seoul
An Ethnography of Voice and Voicing in Christian South Korea
University of California Press 2013
In Songs of Seoul: An Ethnography of Voice and Voicing in Christian South Korea (University of California Press, 2013), Nicholas Harkness explores the human voice as an instrument, and object, and an emblem in a rich ethnography of songak in Christian South Korea. In Songs of Seoul, the voice is deeply embodied. It is also shaped by an aesthetics of progress, as songak singers cultivate a "clean" voice that becomes an emblem for that progress in terms of Christian and national advancement. Part 1 of the book introduces readers to the vocal practices enacted by songak singers to cultivate clean voices, situating these practices in the histories and spaces from which they emerge and considering the relationship between singing and evangelism in modern Korea. Part 2 considers the voice as a nexus of social relations, considering how singers navigate between church and university, home and abroad, peers and superiors. It analyzes the (simultaneously public and intimate) ritual performances of songak singing, paying special attention to the role of singing in creating affective bonds among members of Christian Korean communities. Harkness's book is an inspiring, thoughtful ethnography that contributes to a wide range of fields, and will be of special interest to anyone who enjoys reading about modern Korea, sound studies, music history, religion, and performance studies.