Atlantic Waves 16Feb10: classical and contemporary traditional music from Korea

If you are a person with a lot of curiosity for exploring music from each region of the world, or searching to wander on a journey through unfamiliar music, or the kind of person who loves labels such as ‘world music’, ‘music of the world’, or ‘local music’, then you should get ready to enjoy listening to Korean music. The is because Korean music has still kept a sense of mystery and the unfamiliar, compared with certain other regions of music in the world. However, if you can understand the musical affinity and virtue flowing down through the ages in Korean music, then you will be able to realize that Korean music is one of the most interesting and diverse, as well as passionate and naturally intimate forms of music that exist. Whether traditional music, or contemporary traditional music, these forms of traditional music steeped in heritage, can all fit within the genre of Korean classical music or gugak, kugak, or kuk-ak, depending on the transliteration. Furthermore, this Korean classical music is considered to be one of the most representative Korean art forms among the Korean people’s long history and diverse, traditional culture.

If you want to ascertain how well traditional Korean music has left its impact on the modern age, or feeling unfamiliar with the culture of North East Asia you try to flexibly accustom yourself by listening to the latest domestic popular music in Korea, then you might end up perplexed by the extreme forms of Westernized music and content you come across. But if you are hoping to encounter the various forms of Korea’s traditional arts, or the meeting of tradition and modernity, then it is recommended that you first seek out and enjoy Korean contemporary creative music or traditional music. Although you may feel this type of music is initially boring or a little strange, for Koreans, the fluctuating rhythms of the sound serve to convey the beauty of nature. In addition, this music helps us to understand how Koreans wish to coexist with nature in a mental realm, so that rather than a largo, a slower rhythm of jinyangjo allows us to meet the mountains and flowing water of Korea. Within the stories related to us in pansori, we can respond to the vivid emotions of love, anger, sorrow, and mirth portrayed by the Korean singers and narrators. Korean music is part of a global language, that can be befriended easily and comfortably, becoming a musical language that is always there right by your side. (HWANG Woo-chang)

Traditional Korean Music and Musicians Today

The performance range open to present-day musicians in traditional music of Korea seems to know no boundaries. On the one hand, we see them solemnly dressed in red court costumes, playing pieces that are 500 years old. On the other, we witness them playing club-style music, closely and actively interacting with the audience like jazz musicians. Sometimes they play convoluted modern pieces in collaboration with world famous modern composers and at other times they play as guest soloists for a western classical orchestra. This is partly because elements of religion, folklore, and life in Korean traditional society have come to exist side by side since the 20th Century in our Westernized and modernized world. Since the late 20th Century, Korean musicians have especially attempted a cross-over, trying to incorporate western classical, popular, and world music into their musical idioms.

This album contains a variety of examples that provides a bird’s-eye-view of the traditional Korean musicians today. These musicians have received their education in authentic schools of traditional Korean music but are now attempting to experiment with other modern musical idioms. Their respect towards our age-old traditions is sincere, and they believe that only a firm grounding in the past will allow them to create new traditions.

This brief essay will introduce, among different fields of traditional Korean music today, four major branches, in order to help the reader grasp a better understanding of their activities. The 13 examples contained in this recording include traditional instrumental and vocal pieces, pungmul, and religious music. The art of KANG Eun-il HaegumPlus, Tori Ensemble, Korean Creative Music Society, and HWANG Byung-ki represent the solo or ensemble music for the gayageum (12-stringed zither), geomun-go (6-stringed zither), daegeum (long transverse bamboo flute), piri (double-reed oboe), and haegeum (2-stringed spiked fiddle). The songs of AHN Sook-Sun, LEE Ja-ram, CHAE Soo-jung, and KANG Kwon-soon are new interpretations of the traditional pansori and art songs. Be-Being and Baramgot represent the Buddhist and Religious tradition, while groups Sonagi Project, Gong Myoung, Noreum Machi, and Dulsori play in the tradition of pungmul, rooted in the everyday lives of commoners. (…) (SONG Hye-jin)