Thursday, February 21, 2013

Korean Rap and Hip-Hop

Have you ever heard of the Korean group Garion (가리온)? Probably not-- but that group probably brings out the best rap in Korea. I was reminded of them while reading an article by Um Hae-kyung in the journal Popular Music discussing Korean hip-hop and reterritorialization. I discovered them several years ago shortly after this video was released (and I'm sure you'll see why it caught my eye).

But as I was reading Um's article I decided to check Youtube for any newer releases. I found several. One is this beautiful piece demonstrating the members' serious musical skills-- djembe, guitar, and piano are played to accompany the rap.

One of the things I appreciate about Korean rap is that in general it can have the same sorts of messages as non-rap songs. It is not more sexist, more profanity-ridden, homophobic, or full of hate. There are conventions in rap that appear in Korean rap as well, such as posturing about who is a better rapper. But I find it so hard to listen to most Western rap, because it can curdle my stomach. And in Korea, as my friend Hyun wrote in a conference paper that she really should publish, rap and hip-hop even appear in (family friendly) private karaoke rooms called noraebang (don't knock it till you've tried it).

One of the points that Um makes that I think would be surprising to most of you who aren't acquainted with just how odd things can be in Korea:

Since its inception in the early 1990s, South Korean hip-hop has always been associated with the middle-class, educated, moderate and religious (e.g. Christian) elements of society. The rappers’ religious orientation is often made public by including their ‘Thanks to God’ in performance or on their CD sleeves. In many ways, as with Korean punk (Wise 2008, p. 97), Korean hip-hop embraces aesthetic and ethical themes rather than political controversy (2013: 59)

Quite different from the US rappers, right?

While I'm at it, I might as well introduce some other groups~ Hyydra has a few songs I really appreciate, like this one.

But as Um makes clear, it is hard to know quite what is "underground" or "indie" in Korean music, and what is mainstream. Um writes:

The artistic and technical merits of underground hip-hop and their associated authenticity are duly recognised by the mainstream music industry as the key market strategies for this musical genre. Therefore, the underground label ‘YG Underground’ was launched in 2005 by YG Entertainment to create ‘alternative’ music within the mainstream framework. The five-piece boy band Big Bang was created in 2006 through a reality talent show by YG Entertainment. Since their debut, the individual talent and creativity of the band members – for example, G-Dragon as a confident producer and rapper – has been continuously promoted. In fact, the boundary between the underground and ‘overground’ or the mainstream and indie is not always clear. It is sometimes down to the self-identification of the artists rather than the stylistic features or the characteristics of their music consumption (2013: 57). 

That is why I feel justified to share a few other videos.

Historically speaking, Seo Taiji (should be Taeji) was one of the most important figures to the development of rap and hip-hop in Korea-- this is one of his most famous songs. I know the video is a little dated-- it was the early 90s.

In discussion of Korean hip-hop it's impossible to avoid mentioning Drunken Tiger (mentioned in Um's article, too, of course). This is a newer release, about three years old now. I happen to like the video, so here you go. There is an English version, too (as both members of the group lived or in one case were even born in the US).

I can't resist sharing this one, too. I love this video by San-E because it's hysterical, and if you listen carefully you'll hear him dissing Drunken Tiger, too. He criticizes the plastic surgery and autotune of other K-Pop performers, but he's a JYP Entertainment performer-- in other words he has major backing and this video (his first release) had a ton of money poured into it and he was thoroughly promoted. There are just so many good parts of this song-- I particularly like where he sings "These days even my grandma knows hip-hop. "Rap? You just have to talk fast. (he repeats himself even faster)." "No!"

But the hype around San-E died out pretty fast, whereas one of the YG Entertainment performers, who is also a member of the group Big Bang, G-Dragon, is relentlessly promoted and widely respected (at least he purportedly writes some of his songs). (He's mentioned above in the Um quote). 

Personally I am willing to love his craziness, but I have quite a few problems with the above video and some of his other work as well. I'm more partial to his band-mate and label-mate, T.O.P.

But I'm going to leave you with this song, which really is three different artists coming together briefly in a way that I think is just too fun (and there is SO MUCH to analyze in this video). I particularly like Gilme, the woman in this group, Clover.

I know there are a lot of other rappers I could mention-- and while I appreciate Miryo (Brown Eyed Girls) and Amber (okay, I only really like Amber from f(x) because of her image), and understand that Verbal Jint is pretty talented, I'm sick of working on this blog post which is distracting me from what I really need to do. So if you are worried that I missed a really talented person (yes, I know who Dumbfoundead is), please tell me in the comments section so I can check out your favorite.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Music Education

Although I am not (strictly speaking) an ethnomusicologist or scholar of music, I think about music education often as it is so closely tied to other types of education in performance practice. My dissertation (the official title is Transmission and Performance: Memory, Heritage, and Authenticity in Korean Mask Dance Dramas) foregrounds my interest in how performing traditions are learned (really, it's not just the title that starts with transmission, the bulk of the dissertation is about pedagogical transmission of performing arts knowledge.)

Last weekend at the conference one of the papers dealt with the use of marimbas for educating youngsters in American classrooms (and her research was specific to Washington State, although apparently Portland has a thriving marimba scene). Lopez School also uses marimbas, although happily without some of the problems the young UW graduate student Jocelyn Moon mentioned in her talk. Other conference papers also touched on the issue of music education, particularly in light of the education at the UW (because the conference was celebrating the history of the program). Group ensembles and private lessons were discussed.

Right now I'm reviewing [edit: I finished and sent off the review!] a book on music education, Wind Bands and Cultural Identity in Japanese Schools, written by David G. Hebert. Because Hebert's writing is well organized and in most chapters almost entirely a distillation of his ethnographic research, the reading has gone pretty fast. In fact Hebert has done an admirable job setting down in meticulous detail how the students are learning-- in large part they learn from their peers. When I consider the performances of middle school wind bands in Japan (Hebert's research site was a middle school-- see the video below or search some out on YouTube), and then add my knowledge gained from Hebert's book that

  • most instruments are new to the students when they join the band
  • they do not take the instruments home (and couldn't play them at home anyway as they're mostly from middle/lower income families who live in thin-walled apartments) 
  • their music teacher has no expert knowledge of their instruments or training in how to lead a band before she was hired for her first job
  • as I mentioned above, essentially middle school 3rd year students teach the 1st year students...

Well, it's sort of mind-blowing how well they play. The largest annual competition in Japan has 700,000 participants a year. 700,000 people who can play this well-- many middle schoolers!

It made me think a lot about my own experience in band and with music education as a junior high school student. Our music teacher went crazy. Starting perhaps in sixth grade, maybe fifth grade. But the school district couldn't fire her, there was tenure involved. Yet she was completely incapable of teaching us. Lopez is (was) a small school and she'd had me since third grade (how often did we have music class? did we really not start until third grade?). But by seventh grade she couldn't remember my name. Or what she was doing. When we entered junior high we could leave band, and most students did since the teacher was obviously losing it, but I stayed because I loved music. I was not very good. And I was bored. I played french horn because the instrument was so cool, but in most pieces of music the french horn really plays a bunch of long whole notes. Or maybe half notes. It is not a melody instrument (most of the time and my lack of skill did not warrant a solo or new music selection). So I clung to my cool instrument but daydreamed through practice, or improvised the melody along with Diana (clarinet?), who was three years older and had had more training before our teacher lost it. And because our teacher was losing any grip on reality, she didn't understand that most of us needed a lot more help. We had no leader, and she'd often be gone, or be mentally gone during practice. 

One of the most embarrassing moments of my entire life (and I have a lot to choose from) was a concert (perhaps for Christmas?) at the Legion Hall. I believe the concert was trying to prove to the school that she was still the music teacher and still training students who could make the school proud by showing their talent in the community. I don't even think we knew what we were supposed to play. My memory of the affair has around 8 people on stage looking at each other nervously, then she barks at us to play a piece. As I remember we didn't all have the right music. And half of us didn't know our parts. That was the end of the band. Around the time I left high school they finally hired a new music teacher. 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Post for Valentine's Day

It's Valentine's Day, and as much as I hate the crass consumer take-over of the day, realistically speaking I am being reminded all day that I'm alone and that K is in fact with his family in Tibet when according to media, Facebook, and all the rest we're supposed to be exchanging thoughtful and loving gestures, eating in a romantic setting, and musing on the strange journey of love.

Instead I:

  • Chickens: Let the chickens into the run from the chicken house they were locked into over night. This is my task because Gregg and Irene are actually taking a few days away from home for a romantic Valentine's Day. There has been no return mink attack, the mink may be sleeping off his full belly after killing half of my brother's pheasants (all the pheasants in one enclosure) during a single night of ripping and rending. I also let Naran (the junior rooster) out of the run so the two roosters don't fight all morning. Then I fed the little wild birds and the dog. At noon I let all the chickens out. I collected and washed the eggs (13 but I left one as a "starter egg." Goats: At 4:00 I walked the goats (they take a walk so they can forage on salal and branches). Yesterday they were very doubtful of me (without Irene) and my intentions. When Solstice (the dog whom they perceive as a wolf) joined me they got very skittish and they ended up grazing less than ten minutes. Today it was raining and they were doubtful we should go anywhere at all. I put a lead on the senior goat, Juniper, and took them  (half dragged at times) to high salal bushes. They foraged and I practiced taiji. Soon I'll have to lock up the chickens. Fortunately I am not responsible for milking the goats in the morning (the benefit of being non-dairy is I don't even get asked).  

Above, Naran. Below, one of the hens last July. 

Below, the handsome senior rooster last July 

Strutting Action Shot
From a goat walk in January with Irene and the goats and Solstice to the top of Merk's Mountain
  • Society for Ethnomusicology panel proposal. Finalized all the documents for our panel and sent them to the chair who will submit them on the SEM website before the deadline tomorrow at 5 (EST). I don't want to tell you more about this until we hear that we've been accepted but it's a super cool panel and I am quite confident!
  • Read two chapters in the book I need to have finished and reviewed by tomorrow. I am around page 115. Ummmm... The fabulous Scott Linford, reviews editor for Ethnomusicology Review is going to get impatient pretty soon!
  • Continued reading and writing my article for the upcoming conference in Austin. Eventually I will manage to make this into a polished paper. Right now it seems like a series of unfinished thoughts. For example: Nicola Dibben characterizes the patriarchally- constructed femininity in popular music as portraying women who are "simultaneously submissive, innocent and childlike, yet sexually available" (1999: 336). If I want to use this sentence, I better write a paragraph that needs it. 

Okay, so I'm alone on Valentine's Day, but I'm staying on task! I hope you all had a great time full of love this Valentine's Day!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Uyghurs Pressed into Field Work

I was struck by the headline on the Radio Free Asia main page that said "Uyghurs Pressed into Field Work"

When I think of fieldwork, I think of research. For me that means talking to performers, scholars, and government officials, practicing performing arts, and observing rehearsals and performances. I love fieldwork. In fact fieldwork is much more fun than writing up the results of the fieldwork and polishing it for publication.

Yet for Uyghur people (and not only activists and such) it means being forced to do manual labor outdoors. The article explained that "Local officials make the Uyghur farmers who do not perform their free “labor duty” pay a fee, which they then use to pay Han Chinese migrant laborers for the same work."

Reading articles like this I cannot avoid getting angry. What is wrong with the Chinese government that they cannot see how they perpetuate the poor inter-ethnic-group relations in their country by treating certain ethnic groups (and residents of regions high in ethnic groups) poorly. How can they not understand the protests in ethnic regions (the Uyghur and Tibetan regions are the most "restive") when locals are treated so poorly? Obviously much of this is due to the enduring issues of governmental corruption when local governmental officers choose to press people into labor and pocket government funds allocated to projects. But it is also tied to the government's disempowering hiring practices that see a disproportionately large number of Han Chinese in positions of authority even in regions with  a Han population of under 15%.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Society for Ethnomusicology, Northwest Chapter Annual Conference

I went to a conference over the weekend. I did not send in a proposal to present because of the two presentations I have March 1st and March 15th, but I went in hopes of academic stimulation.

I am so glad I decided to go. The conference was well organized and inspiring. The UW staff, faculty, and graduate students who organized the conference deserve accolades for their efforts to not only host the yearly event but also the way they seamlessly combined it with a celebration of 50 years of Ethnomusicology at the University of Washington.

On Friday evening the festivities began with a reception at Jack Straw Studios. When I arrived, I was immediately excited to see Professor Lee Byong-won of the University of Hawai'i, whom I had not expected to see as he was not presenting a paper (and indeed Hawai'i is part of the same chapter of SEM as UCLA). Moments later I noticed Katherine Lee, a scholar working at UC Davis whom I got to know at previous conferences. While I was talking with her Nathan Hesselink arrived. I was overjoyed to see him because Nathan was not on the program, although as a professor of Ethnomusicology in the Northwest Chapter I should have guessed he might attend. Nathan's research on Korean music is brilliant, but more than that he is always ready to give me solid advice via email, and I am quite indebted to him. I must admit I spent much of the reception talking with Nathan. If that had been the only thing to happen in the evening I would have been excited, but as I left the reception Robert Garfias was also leaving and we had a really sweet one-on-one discussion of Korean mask dance dramas and the job market-- the upshot was that he is giving me access to his marvelous archival footage of Bongsan Talchum and Yangju Byeolsandae from the 1960s. Just that was worth the drive to Seattle!

If I described the entire conference, you might get bored. But here are a few highlights.

- Katherine Lee was the only Koreanist presenting. Her paper discussed nation branding and the former brand image "Dynamic Korea." She demonstrated how Dynamic Korea was connected to the Dynamic music of samulnori and how this connection actually contributed to the change in slogan/brand image because the government remains nervous about the connection of drumming with protests.

- Sean Williams (Evergreen) managed to sing Kentucky murder ballads, Irish folk songs, and Javanese song from the Bandung area all during one highly engaging presentation explaining the value of having visiting artists in a program of ethnomusicology based on her own experiences at the UW as a graduate student (MA and Ph.D.) Yes, she sings very well.

- Robert Garfias (UCI) presented life lessons that I really needed to hear. The former UW professor extolled us to record everyone's stories, understand that things are not what they seem, don't allow others to discourage us, and much more. He also explained a lot of the history of Ethnomusicology along the way.

- The evening concert on Saturday night was two groupings of mbira ensembles and a marimba ensemble with the fastest hands I've ever seen. Although mbira always puts me to sleep, no matter how skilled or famous the players, the marimba had me dancing in my seat until we finally got up to dance in the aisle (which was not easy as it was a ramp and I was in heels).

A book honoring Garfias (as a young man on this cover)

A book Sean wrote with her friend-- a writing process she discussed in her talk

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Korean Movies: Seopyeonje

I'm working on my article again. That means more reading, and occasionally going back to my article to capture a fleeting thought before it escapes. I was reading a not-so-exciting article and all of a sudden the final track on the soundtrack for the movie 서편제 (NGR: Seopyeonje but you'd better look for "Sopyonje") came up on the itunes rotation. The music is so profoundly moving (especially combined with my memory of the movie), I almost cried.

Here's a trailer. It's an old movie (1992) so don't expect nice English subtitles on the trailer, but the movie is available from netflix and for purchase with subtitles. And it's one of the best movies I've ever seen.

The movie contains two main themes:
~ The struggle of tradition to survive in a modernized/modernizing world
~ The struggle of one young woman to achieve the complexity in performance ability required by her adopted father

The movie, by Im Gwontaek (Im Kwon-taek), one of the best Korean directors, is centered on the art of pansori, a Korean sung epic-story where a single performer sings all the roles (lyrics include "Shimcheong's father answered..." "The old woman said" rather than requiring the performer to actually use different voices for different characters). Pansori epics are rarely performed full length, as they are six to eight hours long, but the highlights are sung often (like famous arias from Western opera). Once in Seoul I saw a full-length performances of pansori. The audience bought tickets for two performances, one week apart (of the first half and the second half-- and it was not required that one buy both tickets).

I saw that performance many years before I began my focused study of Korean culture, and I remember few details. I had to take the bus from Daegu to Seoul for the two halves of the show, which was performed in a lighted hall (so the performer could see and feel the audience), and many people would go "take a break" (smoke, pee, talk with friends on their cell phone) when the mood struck them during the show. What really struck me was the emotion that I felt while listening. At that time my Korean was considerably less fluent than it is today, but even today I find pansori difficult to understand when it is performed-- usually I understand the narration (this narration is part of the performance and the words are fixed), when the singer explains what has happened between two songs, but (like most Koreans), I cannot follow word-by-word except in the case of a few very famous excerpts that I have heard over and over again (many of these are also in my recorded music collection--in my own defense my collection also includes two full-length recordings). But you do not need fluent Korean, or much Korean at all, to feel the emotions and perceive the beauty in pansori.

Although (historically) there were more epics, only five have survived until the present day. Three are very well known, Chunhyang-ga, Shimcheong-ga, and Heungbo-ga. In this case 'ga' means vocal music or song, for example the same Chinese character 'ga' is present in the genre names gagok and gasa, two other types of Korean vocal music. Two pansori epics are less well known, these are Jeokbyeok-ga and Sugung-ga. 

There are many better sources for information about pansori, but the movie Seopyeonje truly communicates the beauty of the vocal genre in a way that the movie Chunhyang -- a movie that retells the Chuhyang story through alternating live-action and concert-pansori performance-- does not. Chunhyang is a great movie, and I recommend it, too. But Seopyeonje is beautiful, the singing (by Ahn Suk-seon) is fantastic, and in the classroom it sparks discussion of the performing arts, changes in Korean society, Korean aesthetic ideals, and connects well to discussions about protecting the heritage.

I leave you with this short documentary on pansori. Certainly the English subtitles could have been more professionally rendered, yet in less than twelve minutes it will give you a lot of background information about the genre.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Distraction or Cool Project?

Back in 1996 I ran around Lopez and recorded interviews (on actual cassette tapes!) with local folks. I have more than 16 of these 90 minute tapes (maybe 18?), and I intended to work on a book on Lopez while in Korea. I started working but then the disk drive (actual disks) was broken on the computer I was working on. I got discouraged (because I'd transcribed several hours of stories and then edited them for clarity) and stopped working.

In years since I have considered donating the tapes to the Lopez Island Historical Museum. However there are some weird politics at the museum that caused Nancy, a woman I've known my whole life who was utterly devoted to Lopez history, to lose her job there several years ago. I have never been quite comfortable to hand over these valuable tapes, mostly because I really love Nancy. Some of the people I recorded are dead, others have left Lopez.

Now I have recently started to transfer these files to MP3 (by playing the tape and being quiet while I record them) and they are GOLD. Amazing! I definitely need to not only make these part of a book, I need to go out and get more of these awesome stories. Through grouping them into several categories I can perhaps make chapters of a book that would have sections for each era (pre-60s, 60s, 70s, 80s or something like that). So far my ideas for sections are
1. Fourth of July
2. Lopez School Sports
3. Phil Hastin
4. Fishing
5. Courtship and Marriage
6. Racoons, deer and other pests
7. Dances and social events
8. Fires and disasters
9. Sketchy homesteading
10. Shenanigans of various people

Tons of fun. But a distraction to run around recording new stories instead of working on my other projects?

Photos from 2007 "Uncle Phil Day"

Monday, February 4, 2013

Lopez Island Library

There are many things about Lopez Island that are top notch. The library is definitely on this list (along with the food served in the school cafeteria; Vortex for juice, wraps, salads, and soups; our sense of community; outdoor beauty and of course the presence of my family). In fact the library and I have always been close. Back when my mom didn't work except on our farm she volunteered at the library, then when I was in high school she was hired as an assistant librarian. And she taught me to adore books-- we checked out teetering stacks of books (and I was required to treat them with great care, ironic considering that I now prefer to buy books so I can underline and comment all over them).

Lopez library has musical instruments, DVDs, books on tape, computers, a reading room, a meeting room, wi-fi, inter-library loan services, children's book readings, hosts community events, and displays rotating exhibits of art by locals. And there are a lot of books. And cool librarians. I'd be there regularly except it's 10 miles away and I just don't like to make such a large carbon footprint. 

Reading Room:

Stacks of books:

Young Adult Books

DVD Area 

Children's Area

Central Reading Area with Fireplace

 Looking from fiction stacks past new books display to DVDs on the left and young adult books on the right. Non fiction is along the wall on left and behind the DVDs, the far wall has the magazines. The circulation is among the highest in the state (per capita) year after year, and a money-raising book sale in the summer makes room for new titles.

Computers for public use (there are about six total)

Circulation desk with some instruments for circulation (and a kind volunteer)

 Reference Section opposite circulation

Art at the Library

Meeting Room (it has a projector, a coffee maker, and can be accessed from outside with prior reservation so meetings can happen even when the library is closed.)

 And the library is beautiful from the outside, too!!!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Legs, Legs, Legs

In an effort to intrigue you, I present part of the upcoming paper~

Although my own previous research revealed that many non-Korean K-pop fans saw the relatively unsexualized content (including choreography and lyrics) as one of the advantages of K-pop over pop music from America, the English language comments on Youtube clips of Boyfriend's January 12th Music Core performance demonstrated the international fans' willingness to participate in objectification of the young men for performing the suggestive dance moves specific to how they were filmed.

Youtube user Lena Ali 1.18.2013
            "Cameraman keeps zooming in [sic] their crotches... not that I mind."
Youtube user Ye5y2003 1.16.2013
            "im [sic] not gonna lie I like those zoom and those moves :)"
Youtube user Nurul Afiqah 1.12.2013
            "I love the cameraman. zomming [sic] in at the right timing. mmmhmmm."

The same phenomenon [clearer if you read the paragraph before the above] can help explain the extreme objectification of the bodies of the members of Girls' Generation on the analyzed performance of "Oh!" at Madison Square Garden. Speaking on marketing of K-pop Epstein and Yoo discuss how the audience is given what they expect. In this way repeated emphasis on the legs of the Girls' Generation members is a "feedback loop," culture producers (such as SM Entertainment who created the DVD) give the audience what they expect (leg shots) in an attempt to "achieve brand differentiation," or at least to differentiate Girls' Generation from the other singing and dancing girl groups.

Running out the door, the Epstein and Yoo articles is from Japan Focus, 2012, and the title is "Multiple Exposures: Korean Bodies and Transnational Imagination"

~~End of excerpt but here are some photos to illustrate my point, all taken from the same song.

Up angles emphasize the legs

Finally why does the camera /editor choose to include the close-ups of them sticking out their tongues? Certainly I have something to analyze here!