Saturday, February 5, 2011

Three Days in Seoul

February 3rd, 2011
My friend Bonnie and her husband Curtis came and spent the night, so I made them dinner and we had a long Korean pop culture conversation. Otherwise I finished Photoshop on the photos from Goseong and transferred all the video to Karjam's computer and other book-keeping type tasks.

February 4th, 2011
I went to a concert at the 국악원 Gugakwon with Kimberely Hall in her capacity with the Asia Society, as the event photographer. However the seats weren't ideal for photography. Worse, though, was that the lighting in the hall was atrocious. The person I was particularly supposed to photograph, Jocelyn Clark, an American professor in Korea with amazing 가야금 gayageum skills, was lit with a spotlight straight down from above, so she had dark pits for eyes and her nose cast a shadow over her mouth—it's not pleasant for the audience to see a show lit like that, and definitely I was dissatisfied with the photos. When I met her after the show she said the lighting also made it difficult to see the strings. The rest of the show was moderately better lit, but none of it was very good.

The show itself consisted of six pieces of new music for Korean traditional instruments (usually). I have limited patience with such, in general, because for every good piece you hear quite a few bad ones. It is as if the musicians, composers, directors, etc. are all so bored with the traditional repertoire they're willing to try anything—but that doesn't mean it's good for the audience! The first piece was for five solo gayageum. No, that doesn't make sense. Why not just have one solo player do the whole thing? Why five? They alternated playing in a very unconventional way, taking the new techniques popularized by composers like 황병기 Hwang Byeonggi and then going way beyond into new territory. Chiefly, the piece was not melodic. I'm sure it must be beastly hard to play as nothing was predictable at all.

The second piece featured the 생황 saenghwang, an instrument that was described after the show by Kimberely American boyfriend Shawn as "you know, the bong," and indeed Hilary Finchum-Sung (who also attended with son Oliver), confirmed that it's filled with water. It was saenghwang, viola, cello and two violins. I honestly didn't feel that the music fell within the category of "Korean music" in any way at all, but I'm probably just being conservative. Honestly, to me, it sounded like the music to a movie montage about a person who was losing their mind and was committed to a mental hospital.

The third piece was one of the two I liked the most, it showed the promise of new compositions particulary through the interesting conversation between the 단소 danso and the 피리 piri and a lovely part where just the danso and아쟁 ajaeng were playing together.

The fourth and fifth piece were for full orchestra, the orchestra was seated in chairs (western), and wearing black and white (so western), with vaguely hanbok styling to the neckline, the women's outfits ended up looking more to me like Vietnamese clothes given that it was a slit skirt over pants. I have not much to say about either piece, they used some interesting additional instruments from western and other non-Korean areas, but the music itself didn’t captivate.

The sixth piece was in the broad genre of military music, powerful and aggressive with 나발 nabal horns, 태평소 taepyeongso and piri plus a lot of percussion. More than just the music, I enjoyed hearing the composer (who was also the conductor) talk a bit about his process before the piece began.

February 5th, 2011
I met Joji at the Electronics market and bought another voice recorder because the one I bought in August records at much too low of a volume to be useful. Even if the mic is practically in the mouth of whomever I'm interviewing. We then proceeded to the National Museum where we toured the Silk Road and Dunhuang exhibit.

At five "The Gwangdae" had a performance, the hall was crowded but 대천 Daecheon's wife helped us to find a seat. The show was fairly good.

사물놀이 samulnori, a singer, followed by 풍물 pungmul, followed by 이매 Imae from 하회별신굿탈놀이 Hahoi Byeolshin'gut Talnoli, followed by a lion's dance (the lion pretended to be a camel to great amusement), then a spinning disk performance and that was the it. The audience, especially the young children loved it. After the show I got to see everyone which was awesome. 가은 Gaeun also came to the show.

Still feel sick.


  1. We played the first piece with so many different players because it was really hard and long and not a single person had time to put it all together in the time allotted. I actually really came to like the piece -- by a Belgian composer. I think new music, like anything else, takes a lot of listening practice -- at least it did for me. It has its own aesthetic, which is hard to get into at first, but very satisfying eventually. As I said, I really liked the first piece. I didn't listen to the rest of the concert ^^

  2. I'm sure you're right-- I do not practice listening to new (Korean) music much. I hope I haven't offended you.