“Contemporary Music” for Traditional Korean Instruments

I don’t know how much of this is going on in Seoul, but I was pleased to run across a channel on Youtube featuring a bunch of it.

Now, when I say “contemporary music” I don’t mean people playing Beatles songs on traditional instruments. I especially don’t mean “fusion” music where people on traditional Korean instruments try to play in a jazz-fusion or rock-fusion setting, something I think rarely works. (Though I have heard tracks by a few indie bands that made great use of some instruments — haegeum in one song by 3rd Line Butterfly, and samul nori in one track by the Uh Uh Boo Project Bang.)

No, what I mean is modern “classical” music — composed music in the 20th century Euro-American tradition — composed for traditional Korean instruments, or ensembles including the same. The kind of thing which I studied back in undergrad, and to which very few people actually listen in the world… but which is, from time to time, quite interesting. (There’s lots of dross too, but don’t get me started on that.)

Here’s something that isn’t dross… someone out there is, indeed, doing “contemporary music” for traditional Korean instruments, and it’s wild! Here’s a taste — a piece for ajaeng and electronics:

If you’d like more, check out this channel.

I should probably post something about the “free jazz” artists I’ve come across in Korea, too, sometime, if I haven’t already: there’s just a few I know about, especially among those who are specialized in the atonal jazz side, but they’re worth knowing about if you’re into that sort of thing. I’ll try dig out my CDs sometime this summer and post about them. I mentioned some names here, but never got around to reviewing them, I don’t think.

4 thoughts on ““Contemporary Music” for Traditional Korean Instruments

  1. I’m still waiting for some jazz artist using a samul-nori team for percussion… that’d raise the roof.

    or has it already been done and I missed it?

  2. I don’t know of any examples so far. Unfortunately, I haven’t really seen any jazz musicians working in an idiom that would work well with samulnori, though I think taking the World Saxophone Quartet as a model, and specifically their work with West African drummers, IIRC, I’ve long dreamed of trying it with a sax quartet and the quartet of samulnori performers:


    (But the looping, riffing, street-jammy style the saxes use in many of those songs is one I love, and haven’t seen it even once in Korea. I think you need to have a street busking culture for people to experiment with that, as I did in my teen years at Fringe Festivals for coins from passersby with a couple of other sax guys.)

    If only I had a tenor or soprano sax in working condition, I’d probably be trying to assemble such a group right now. But… ah well…

  3. Hi Anna,

    I hadn’t heard of that group, no. It’s interesting, though not quite the same thing… a little less difficult, though that’s not a bad thing, and the samples are interesting… I’ll have to see if they’ve got something out in the way of a studio album.

    But I like the bristly-ness of the more academic stuff, too… :)

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