Thursday, September 30, 2010

10 Years with my Husband

September 30th, 2010
We had to sprint (literally, with heavy bags and awkward instruments) to get to the bus station in time for the 8:40 bus (buses leave less than once an hour from the 강남 Gangnam Terminal to 안동 Andong). In Andong Karjam insisted that we not stay in the 여인숙 yeo’insuk (boarding house) again, but rather get something better. I looked down a row of motels and at the end was a small old 여관 yeogwan (the sort of place you can pay for by the hour when you’re cheating on your wife, but also nice if you’re on a budget). We went there and checked out a room, it was at the end of the hallway with a bathroom between us and the neighbors (just in case anything preposterously noisy happens) and I bargained the owner down to 20,000 per night in advance in cash.

I was given a choice for when Karjam would perform at the Andong International Mask Dance Festival but I wanted him on the mask dance performance stage on the same day I’d first seen him there—and that was September 30th (2000), a Saturday then, it was a Thursday this year (not a high attendance day) but that was less important to me. In the dressing room Karjam sang softly as he warmed up, playing me the song he’d written about our relationship (it’s on his 2007 CD). A few minutes before he was to go on I staked out a great spot in the front row, set up his video camera and got my camera in order. The performance went absolutely great, he sounded so good, and there was nothing wrong with the sound system, either—I will definitely upload those videos to Youtube.

Just a couple minutes after Karjam ended was the one Korean mask dance performance of the day, 동래야류 Dongnae Yayu. I managed to distribute a fair number of surveys (with pens and my introduction slip) before the performance started. I need to count the total number of papers I now have to see how many I gave out, at any rate I got 22 back, which is either the same number or very close to what I gave out. Koreans are very cooperative about such things. However, I wonder how many read my intro (most gave it back, although the point of a separate paper was that they could keep it, it has my email and invites them to contact me with any additional thoughts about the topic). Also most just turned it in to the door on the way out and I wasn’t able to give out many of the answer sheets (well, I guess I’m glad I only copied 60 even though I have 100 surveys). As expected many couldn’t answer the hard questions (a lot of complete blanks, an equal number of wrong answers), but this is also a result, particularly if it corresponds with those who say they don’t normally go to traditional performances).

The performance, well, I was really impressed. The best thing they did? There was a very mellow voiced man who came over the PA system and explained some of what was going on during the show, so the characters are all yelling and what not and he explains in simple modern language what they’re yelling about. This is, in my opinion, really needed. I will go back and listen and watch the video again so that I can make a note of how often (was it everywhere I’d have put it if it was me?) and how effective it was to differentiate the explanation from what the characters were saying, and so on. I also just LOVE their huge 말뚝기 Maldduggi mask. It was awesome, and a lot of their dancers were really good. They had 길놀이 gilnori (playing music and parading to the performance to attract more audience) and everyone came in together with a lot of people drumming (none of them changed clothes and emerged as dancers, they were drummers only), the drummers, approximately a dozen, stood at the back to the entire performance. The play itself is very similar in content to 고성오광대 Goseong Ogwangdae, with a different semi-mythical beast coming to plague a 양반 yangban (upper class literati). The largest story difference is that the old wife drives off the concubine, but then ends up killed by her husband anyway.

Photos: Dongnae Yayu masks-- oversized Maldduggi, hairy Yangban and movable jaws on many masks.

For the rest of the evening Karjam and I observed our 10 year anniversary in various ways, it was very sweet.

Photos: off my cell, i won't process anything off my good camera until I go back to Seoul

Photo: Not off my cell!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Survey and Errands

September 29th, 2010

With the help of Hoijung and Wolduk I finished my survey, the answers to the hard questions (to be handed out after they have completed the survey) and a short passage introducing myself and my research. I printed everything at Yonsei, picked up our new name cards, and came home. That took an entire day. Seriously. Tomorrow back to Andong for our 10 year anniversary of our very first day (and more mask dance festival).

Photos: a train whizzing by me on the walk to the printer. A stack of printed surveys etc. in the copy center at Yonsei GSIS. And our cards.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Exhausted Sangmo

September 28th, 2010
I worked on my survey and various other research details until I decided to leave early for 상모 sangmo class since I never get to practice. We arrived and I was spinning by 6:15, after which Karjam went for a walk until almost the start of class. I started working on a new move, 양사위 (spelling?) yangsaui, where I do 1.5 circles to the right then left, then right, then left, I’m much more awkward clockwise than counter clockwise and too stiff, but the move is coming along. I also managed 104 circles of the regular motion! Both instructors were there, and Karjam shot a lot of footage of the twelve students (including me) who were present today receiving instruction. Today 비호 Biho, another of our 8th week in Pilbong students showed up, so happy to see him, he’s really sweet. I am completely beat. Yang’s class yesterday had me hurting today and practice from 6:15-10 didn’t help my joints any. We stopped to have patbingsu (ice and red bean and fruit) on the way home. Yay (yes, you can make it without the condensed milk and it still tastes great).

Monday, September 27, 2010

Jang Yongil Teaches Bongsan Talchum Class

September 27th, 2010
I spent most of the day kicking myself for not making notes during the weekend as I tried to write my public blog and additional private thoughts related to my research. I processed photos to some extent- deleting the most obviously bad ones and processing a few far enough to stick up online. For example, just of the Goseong Ogwangdae performance (one hour, and very critical to my research) I had 593 images. That’s a lot to sift through. I also finalized my new “name card” design and emailed it to the printer, I can pick them up tomorrow afternoon. Pretty excited about that, honestly. I needed my card SO badly last weekend and was embarrassed that I hadn’t taken care of that yet (I still have my old card, but it doesn’t have most of the info from the new card, particularly it doesn’t have my phone number which I’ve had to scrawl on every card I give out). I also continued to struggle with the survey I want to give out next weekend at the festival, at least at two or three shows.

Research-wise 봉산탈춤 Bongsan Talchum class was amazing. Instead of 김은주 Kim Eunju teaching us (and mind you, I LOVE her), we had 장용일 Jang Yongil. He’s a 전수교육조교 Jogyo (2nd ranked, below Human Treasure), and I’ve interviewed him extensively in the past, especially during my MA fieldwork. If I had known he was coming I would have stressed out about it, so I guess it’s good it was a surprise, but I wish I’d been able to practice in advance. I made many many new observations during his class. Every time we’d finish something he’d say “다 잘 하는데요…” “Everyone did a good job” and then he’d start picking up things to correct. He never let anything slide. He also didn’t single anyone out, he taught us all, made sure we all got it, then moved on. He also moved in order. People learn 4 and 7 first because they’re easier, but he just went 2,3,4,5,6,7,8 through all the monks. A lot more details I’ll skip since I’m probably the only one interested, but it was great, especially the way he taught us 8 very very slowly, and we all left feeling that we’d finally learned it. He also lectured us, “what are the four most important reasons why people did Bongsan Talchum?” he asked. I ventured one immediately and continued to engage as he talked, but mostly people were quiet as little church mice as he talked. Some confessed afterwards that they’d learned that but forgotten, others said they’d never known.

The four according to Jang Yongil:
1) 풍자/비평 (satire, social commentary, criticism of upper class (and monks), poking fun at those with more power, etc.)
2) 벽사의식무 (scaring away ghosts and bad spirits, or appeasing them, through the mask dance because the spirits must have caused any unexplainable unpredictable bad thing like a typhoon or an illness)
3) 소민생활 (depicting the life of the lower classes)
4) 처첩관계 (relations of the wife and the concubine, struggle between wife and mistress)

I asked what he thought of dance-ified Bongsan Talchum performances, and he said “Bongsan is not just for us, it’s for all Koreans. They can change it or do what they want with it.” Unspoken truth being that the Preservation Association is responsible for being the one place that does it the authentic way.

I finally got to know 지민 Jimin, a student who is sometimes absent. She is also preparing to enter The National University of the Arts, but she's applying to the drama department. She's in her early twenties, she said originally she didn't think about college and worked and saved some money now she wants to go to school. In Korea that's pretty unusual, most go straight to college and if they don't, it's cause they are retaking the Korean SATs so they can get into a more prestigious school.

I was so exhausted after practice, cause I kept trying to do everything so perfectly with Jang there. The French-Canadian had his last class. He video-taped and photographed without asking permission.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

First Weekend at the Andong Mask Dance Festival

September 24th, 2010
Karjam, Georgy, Jinhong and I had a great day. Mostly the menfolk went their way and Georgy and I hung out on our own, drinking coffee and browsing for 개랑한복 modernized hanbok with no luck. In the evening we met up with Aniko for excellent tea.

September 25th and 26th, 2010

Karjam and I arrived in Andong around 10:15 and quickly found our way to the 여인숙 Yeo’insuk where I always stay (primitive accommodations for sure- no shower, toilet barely flushes (if you splash water on it). Then the Singapore team started calling us. Although I was worried, they turned out to be really easy to deal with, not like Korean channels at all. They had us walk past them twice to show us at the festival, they interviewed us (and let me restate things) and then later when Karjam was getting ready they came and one guy talked to him in the changing room and their leader filmed the actual performance. Karjam’s performance went very well. He sang four songs, and his voice was really optimal (his voice can be screwed up very easily for a variety of reasons). Their sound system had some hiccups, but I filmed it all and I plan to put it on Youtube.

Photo: Karjam was placed so that he was looking almost directly into the sun (which was low as you can see from the shadow). He spent a lot of time with his eyes closed.

Bongsan Talchum, Eunyul Talchum and Bukcheong Saja Noleum:
Photo: The photographers stake out the front row and yell at anyone who gets between them and their subject.

The first performances we went to were the combined showing of 봉산탈춤 Bongsan Talchum, 은율탈춤 Eunyul Talchum and 북청사자놀음 Bukcheong Saja Noleum. The line to buy tickets was out of control, but we made it in and found a somewhat decent seat. The three groups performed continuously in the order I’ve written above, then at the end all three groups showed their lion dances at more or less the same time. The Bongsan lion is a two man affair, Bukcheong has two lions of two men each and Eunyul has a three man (six-legged) lion. Honestly the combined showing is a really bad idea in my opinion. If you want to show them back to back, that’s cool, but the entire performance was an hour and a half, instead of each group getting 50 minutes or an hour to perform, they each had just half an hour. Also it was a huge missed opportunity. A knowledgeable announcer could have been explaining how the different mask dances are similar and pointing out how they are different, not easy visual observations like the number of legs on the lion, but how the 통소 tongso music that accompanies the Bukcheong group is distinctively indicative of its origins in the far north of the Korean peninsula with some explanation of how the tongso is rarely used in Korean folk music (more often in court music) but its close relative the dongxiao is very common in the Manchurian part of China, or something like that. It’s the only mask dance drama to use this instrument—I think the audience would find it interesting to learn more about the musical differences. Or the differences in mask construction, or the differences in the scenes (and number of scenes) including even an explanation of the differential sense of humor. If a good announcer had been explaining all of that I think that the audience would have walked away with a much more comprehensive understanding of what they had just seen. I suspect that the audience couldn’t tell when one mask dance ended and the next started if the large banners with the names of the groups had not been present (and did they even notice? If they did, could they read 한자 hanja (Chinese characters used in Korean) to know what the name of the group was? The announcer is up in a booth behind the seating, on a PA system that is hard to hear, it all sort of blends together, and I honestly believe that almost no one paid attention to the announcing which did exist (which was none during the show, and only basic info such as the name of the groups and their number (“intangible cultural asset number 15”). During the show I did get to see lots of people I know, but curiously of the people I know well from Bukcheong Saja Noleum I was only able to spot one, 지훈 Jihoon, who both danced with a small boy on his shoulders and danced the back half of a lion.
Photos: Above Bongsan Talchum is so photogenic.Below, Eunyul Talchum

Photos below: Bukcheong Saja Noleum

Photos: The Bukcheong lions eat a rabbit and lick their lips. They also get indigestion in a full length performance.

After this show I was again accosted by TV cameras, and this also happened later in the day, organized by the people from Andong City. I gave several newspaper interviews as well. The City of Andong gave me a 양반 Yangban (character from Hahoi Byeolshin’gut Talnoli) mask bolo tie, a 1/3 size Yangban mask on a black background to hang on my wall and tickets to the main stage as well as tent restaurant meal vouchers. They are very sweet. Among my favorite people I got to see again was Ogata Keiko, a Japanese woman married to a Korean fellow, she works for the Andong Department of Tourism (and I think he does, too).

Hahoi Byeolshin’gut Talnoli:
The other Korean domestic mask dance performance I saw for the day was 하회별신굿탈놀이, Hahoi Byeolshin’gut Talnoli. The mask dance drama is from just outside 안동 Andong, and is the reason why the city found it appropriate to start a mask dance festival. The performance was included several highlights of their show, which is so often performed for tourists (at a sort of folk village outside Andong called 안동하회마울 Andong Hahoi Village) as to be incredibly pat, but of course in the time slot they couldn’t perform the entire full length performance. I have never seen their full length performance, and would definitely like to if it’s ever possible, I’m curious as to what else there is. The announcing was the same as for the other shows, almost inaudible although clearly in Japanese, English and Korean.

Photos: Would you buy a bull's ball sack from this man?

New Friends:
One very funny thing happened for the day. After Karjam’s show finished a guy appeared who looked very Tibetan. It turned out he was Desang, a cultural exchange fellow with the Andong City government from Bhutan (and ethnically Tibetan). He’s a mask dancer and singer, and is learning Korean and translating (how? His English is weak and his Korean really non-existent) documents for the city. They immediately hit it off. Desang is basically able to understand Karjam’s Tibetan, although he cannot speak it. And though the Andong people are very nice, they may not know how to help him with some of his problems. For example, we almost immediately found that he had been using a computer less than two months and essentially had no idea what he was doing. His computer was chock-full of viruses. I spent about two hours (until almost midnight) cleaning off unnecessary programs and installing anti-viruses and setting up a bookmarks bar with the places he actually wants to visit (Karjam taught him how to use Youtube).

Desang is not the only fellow, there is one from Thailand and one from Indonesia. The one from Indonesia, Iwan, we met quite soon after going to the office. I know my background, but of course Iwan doesn’t, I’m just some random white woman right, so imagine this conversation from his perspective.
“Where in Indonesia are you from?”
“Oh, I know some people from Yogyakarta, maybe you know them?”
(Just imagine how this sounds. I’ve had people honestly ask if I know their random Korean-American relative who lives in Seattle. They actually think I might. Yogyakarta is HUGE.)
Like the very polite and sedate man that he is Iwan answered “Oh, really?”
“Yes, my friends are all in traditional arts, they work at ISI and SMKI.”
At this point, of course, Iwan’s face lights up a bit, realizing I’m not full of it.
“Well, my women friends are Heni and Uni Yutta.” I start to explain, and within minutes we have realized we have at least Heni, Uni, Rossa, Sunardi and Eko and Professor Judy Mitoma in common. What are the odds that an Indonesian and an American meet in Korea and have multiple friends and acquaintances in common?

Photo: Karjam and I tried to recreate the first photo of us when we first met. We'll try again on our actual anniversary (9/30).

Goseong Ogwangdae (Sunday 9/26/2010):
Karjam and I got up late, but still made it to the performance of 고성오광대 Goseong Ogwangdae before it began and got a good seat (between one of the two people feeding video to the big screens in the hall and one of Professor 전경욱 Jeon Gyeonguk’s assistants). Goseong is one of the three mask dance dramas that my research focuses on, and I was very gratified when they danced in and I got multiple nods and mini-waves and winks (many of the performers, when they enter, are not in masks, they line up, standing, along the back and play music, periodically leaving to change clothing and re-emerge as a mask dancer). The show was amazing, professor Jeon’s assistant thought so, too. They engaged with the audience over and over, pulling people out and interacting with them, sitting with the audience and particularly picking on one foreign guy (who went along with the jokes). They performed all five scenes (I don’t think it was too abridged), ending with the funeral procession of the grandmother (I go out and hang 10,000 won (just under 10 dollars) on the bier ropes as though it were a real funeral). They then invited everyone onto stage to dance together and I joined in, with Karjam and introduced him to some of the performers. After the show I talked to them, including the 회장님 director (and human treasure) 이윤석 Yi Yunseok, obtaining an invitation to come visit them as often as possible, which is what I was after. I also gave my new contact information to the office manager.

Photos: I couldn't pick, there are so many good ones. The Yangban uses a small child from the audience to keep Bibi away from him, here is covers the child's eyes to shield her from the scary Bibi. Check out how old and worn the masks are.

We left the festival grounds shortly thereafter, taking the 1:30 bus (the only one with seats between 1 and 3 pm) back to Seoul and our comfortable little home.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Gyeongbok Palace and a Performance at the Gugakwon

September 23rd, 2010

Georgy came to Seoul and after some tea and snacks we headed out for a full day, all three of us in Korean modernized-peasant clothes, or 개량한복 Gaeryang Hanbok. I planned for us to hit the palace we’d chosen (경복궁 Gyeongbok Palace) and then go to the 한옥마울 Hanok Village on 남산 Namsan before the performances at the 국악원 Gukakwon (National Center for Korean Traditional Performing Arts), but we never made it to the second location. We first walked slowly through the new public space on 세종로 Sejong Road leading to 광화문 Gwanghwamun, the gate for Gyeongbok Palace. None of us had been there before and we looked closely at the timeline and Karjam took a lot of video footage of everything. The timeline of the 조선왕조 Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) and current era is carved in stone blocks, with water running over them.

At last we got to the palace, the line to buy tickets was a million miles long, but since we were all in hanbok, of course we got in for free without waiting in line. Things continued to take forever as Karjam found lots of video-graphic interest. Georgy and I chatted and waited until we were all three very hungry, but when we got out of the palace I realized we were right by Aniko’s house and Georgy hadn’t seen her since the wedding, so we stopped in for a few minutes and some juice before meeting Scott, a former co-worker and his lovely wife, 은미Eunmi.

For me the entire holiday had been building up to the performance that evening at the Gugakwon, so I was pretty happy all day. Unfortunately we arrived only twenty minutes before the show and had less than perfect seats, but they were still free (so many traditional performances are free) and we were even given a survey (an example for me as I make mine!) and a hot slab of 떡 ddeok with our program! The show began with 양주별산대 Yangju Byeolsandae performing the same piece I’d seen at 서울놀이마당 Seoul Nolimadang. Next was 발탈Baltal, or foot-mask, a mixed comedy and puppet show. The two women who performed were very good, but the show relied on comprehension of their banter and singing, and Georgy’s brow was furrowed with the effort to keep up. I suspect much of the audience didn’t get all the jokes, but the Korean was not too colloquial/dialectical, so it was easier to understand than the mask dance drama had been. The rest of the evening included 사물놀이 samulnoli, 풍물 판 굿 pungmul, various acrobatic and trick shows, 줄타기 tight-rope, and so on. Overall the show was great, we were a tiny bit cold but snuggled together, the other audience members were having a great time, and we were in good company, still I found the set-up at the Gukakwon very divisive, the audience can’t interact with the performers (readily) and the barrier there is quite artificial (and modern), and I felt kept the energy level down from where it could have been. The stage is down in front of the audience (in tiered permanent step/bench seating) is above, but there is a wall between the audience and the first seats so that the eyes of the closest audience member are about 8 feet above the stage and at least 8 feet back (because of the walkway between stage and wall, and the walkway in front of the seats of the first row). There was some light on the audience, so the performers might have been able to see us, except that there were bright lights shining in their eyes to the degree that when they stopped to address the audience (it happened a couple times) they shaded their eyes with their hand.

There was no announcer and most of the show happened with out any introduction, although one dominant older performer did address the audience several times. The program had some information, but purely factual and standard, nothing engaging, deep or unusual.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Fusion (and Chuseok)

September 22nd, 2010 추석 Chuseok, the Korean Autumn Harvest Holiday

Well, as foreigners without a particularly close family in town we didn’t do anything particularly for the holiday, however we did venture out for several hours of observation of various performances and events. There were far fewer than the internet led me to expect and each place I’d looked up in advance had less going on, presumably in all cases because yesterday’s rain had caused plans to change, but it was still a very happening day outside, lots of small events and concert stages. None of the places we went to, ironically, had the traditional events I wanted to see, partially because I saved the best event (being held two days in a row) for tomorrow. We started at City Hall, spent quite some time in 덕수궁 Deoksu Palace, then proceeded to 천계천 Cheongyae Stream, hit a bit of 대학로 Daehangno, then looped around and came back to 세종문화회관 Sejong Culture and Art Center which was hosting a performance by Sukmyeong Gayageum Ensemble. That meant that not most but ALL the performances we’d hit during the day fully qualified as fusion.

The funniest menu item I've seen in a long time and the view down the stream.

Photos of Deoksu Palace and Karjam. The one B/W should teach him to stop goofing around when I want to take a photo of him!

Photo of one of the Sukmyeong performers.

I am torn on the subject of fusion. The other day when I went to Prof. Hilary Finchum-Sung’s class one of the cool things she said was that the violin had developed over centuries to be ideally suited to playing Western classical music, like Mozart, and that likewise the Korean instruments, regardless of roots in China (in most cases) had evolved to fit the ideal Korean aesthetic. So when you try to play “Moonriver” on the 해금 haegeum it’s sort of laughable at best. I call that sort of thing a gimmick. It’s the same with photography, people will develop a very unusual process that creates an unexpected result and then go with it, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good photo. It’s unexpected to hear the Beatles on 가야금 gayageum, but that doesn’t mean that it really sounds good. Honestly it sounds like muzack. Elevator music. Maybe you’d want to listen to the end the first time, but after that would you want to hear it again, really? The Beatles being one of the main sources of the Sukmyeong group’s adaptations (they play very few Korean traditional pieces and even when they do, since they all use 25nylon string (modernized from the classical 12 silk string) gayageum, it still won’t sound fully traditional. In other words I find Western music played on Korean instruments at least a waste of talent, and often just annoying. However some groups that combine Western and Korean instruments and play pieces of music that are a bit between the two traditions can produce exciting results that may cause people to reconnect with traditions/traditional music/ traditional instruments and can give young performers a chance to be creative and find excitement in a musical genre bound by tradition and chock-full of canonical pieces which though often (산조 sanjo) originally as welcoming to improvisation as jazz are in practice increasingly rigid. During the day Karjam and I heard both interesting fusion and not interesting fusion.

One of my favorite performers is 장사익 Jang Sa’ik. The man has an amazing voice. (Or should I say had? He can’t sing with the power he could when I was first seeing him live.) Jang is traditionally trained and fully proficient in traditional music, and has chosen to create fusion ensembles to accompany adapted traditional, traditional and newly-composed songs. I can't complain about his fusion, he's just a master, and if it keeps him artistically engaged I'm all for it. But there are a lot of performers who don't master the traditional arts before they start messing around with fusion and I think that that is often off key (bad musical pun, sorry). [Another Jang Sa'ik fusion performance].

김덕수 Kim Deoksu, one of the most famous drummers in Korea, has had long-standing fusion relationships, including with the Jazz group Red Sun. It's funny to look back on it now, but the first Korean music CD I ever owned was Kim Deoksu Samulnori with Red Sun (actually it was given to my ex, but by my 합기도 Hapkido instructor, way back in 1996).

Fusion has been embraced by the government as the perfect ingredient in tourism ad campaigns, just look at this one for an example.

These days there are a lot of co-productions with B-boys (in case you didn't know, Korean B-boys win many international competitions, and Korea's becoming quite the hot location for B-boy and B-girl activities). [example 1] [example 2]

Some Koreanists have written on fusion music, including R Anderson Sutton who wrote a whole article on how the Haegeum is being utilized for a lot of fusion these days, whereas in the past the gayageum was more favored. I love Haegeum, but sometimes people try to repress its natural rasp when they play it in fusion, which to me begs the question "why use haegeum if you don't want it to sound like a haegeum?" [Haegeum fusion example 1][we heard a lot of music in this vein today][a third example][more haegeum fusion]

There are also a lot of younger traditional musicians who try to adapt K-pop hits for their instrument, I don’t know if this is being performed anywhere seriously, but so much of this is running around Youtube, I should acknowledge it. So are they screwing up by not concentrating on polishing the ‘real’ skills of their instrument or are they keeping themselves engaged and finding artistic inspiration? I really can’t judge this, but I need to follow up on this subject during my fieldwork. And I’d really like comments on this subject! [Go halfway through the video to hear the pop with the gayageum