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SamulNori: Contemporary Korean Drumming and the Rebirth of Itinerant Performance Culture.

SamulNori: Contemporary Korean Drumming and the Rebirth of Itinerant Performance Culture. By Nathan Hesselink. (Chicago Studies in Ethnomusicology.) Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012. [xiv, 201 p. ISBN 9780226330969 (hardcover), $75; ISBN 9780226330976 (paperback), $25.50.] CD, music examples, illustrations, figures, tables, appendices, notes, bibliography, index-glossary.

Since its first performance in 1978 at the Space Theater (Konggan Sarang), the percussion quartet SamulNori has created a sensation among both professional and amateur traditional music performers in Korea and abroad. As SamulNori became overwhelmingly popular and famous, the genre sarnulnori emerged into the wider Korean culture. Named after the number of musical instruments employed, the SamulNori quartet plays four percussion instruments, the changgo (two-sided hourglass drum), kkwaenggwari (small gong), ching (large gong), and puk (barrel drum). The members of SamulNori knew exactly what Korean society of its time wanted: a strong sense of Korean identity. They and their music offered a way to aesthetically reconfigure and manipulate this identity in an urbanized context, in a way that was innovative yet still drew from tradition.

In his book, SamulNori: Contemporary Korean Drumming and the Rebirth of Itinerant Performance Culture, Nathan Hesselink explores the ways in which SamulNori maintains connections with the old while creating something new, popho ch'angshin. Hesselink offers a groundbreaking historiography of SamulNori, as well as an analysis of the music that shows how SamulNori makes its own innovative sonic features. Given that this book is the first "sociological and musical-theoretical examination" of SamulNori/saOTu/nori (p. 10), it complements cultural studies of Korean music and ethnomusicological studies of the turbulent Korean society from which SamulNori emerged and accumulated tremendous attention.

Chapters 1 and 2 sketch the historical and sociocultural contextual backgrounds in which SamulNori was formed in the midst of a rapidly changing and economically developing Korean society. Looking into the history, organization, and activities of namsadang, which is an itinerant performance group, Hesselink traces the roots of SamulNori. He suggests that the professionalism and presentation-style music making of SamulNori can be credited to namsadang. As this itinerant troupe traveled as far as Manchuria as well as to all the provinces of the Korean peninsula, the group embodied pan-regional performance styles. He demonstrates that p'ungmul, a Korean genre of percussion music and dance, was performed as part of the opening of the group's performance. Namsadang has been revived, especially thanks to the scholarly attention of a Korean folklorist, Shim Usong, and of cultural institutions since the 1960s. Despite the wealth of historical accounts of namsadang, more detailed description of how SamulNori and samulnori connects with namsadang historically and aesthetically would be helpful to understanding and placing SamulNori and/or samulnori within the larger contexts of namsadang.

Chapter 2 is one of the most compelling chapters, in that Hesselink examines the ways in which sociocultural activism, higher learning institutions, concert halls, different contributions from scholars in folklore, musicology, and architecture, and folk music associations in the 1970s brought forth something new musically within the framework of the traditional. This chapter investigates the influences of urbanization and modernization during the time of SamulNori's formation and the appreciation it found among the new and younger generations. While the Space Theater performance has been widely mentioned in the history of the SamulNori, other concert halls, including the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts, its predecessor the Seoul Civic Center, the National Theater, and the National Center for Korean Traditional Performing Arts, have not often appeared in historiographies of SamulNori and/or other folk performing arts groups. Examining the size and type of the remarkable folk performing arts staged in each hall, Hesselink shows that SamulNori not only moved the stage from outdoor fields to concert halls, but also preferred "smaller and more intimate spaces" (p. 43) which made the group distinguishable from other traditional music and Western music counterparts. This chapter provides very detailed and thorough background information, delineating the emerging interests in folk performing arts in the 1970s, as well as the formation of SamulNori. One small missing point is the lack of a definition for the term cosmopolitanism in this chapter, though he mentions the term in the introduction. He does not fully articulate whether he employs the term cosmopolitanism as a way to indicate anything from outside Korea (which includes application of this term to the urbanized landscapes and architecture of concert halls), or Western-oriented music cultures of the times.

Chapters 3, 4, and 5 offer more practical examples of SamulNori in performance. In chapter 3, paying special attention to Och'ae chilgut, Hesselink examines changes in performance practices and aesthetics depending on venues and locations. Venues from outdoor fields to indoor concert halls highlight the music more than any other performance aspects, including dance and ground formations, which are integral parts of p'ungmul. He elucidates proximity and interactions among performers and between performers and audiences in regard to professionalization and monetary exchange. Och'ae chilgut was traditionally performed for community-building functions through participatory activities. SamulNori's Och 'ae chilgut on concert hall stages and CD recordings, however, is staged for music appreciation, generating distant interpersonal relationships between audiences and performers. Considering the fact that CD recordings enable listeners to have access to the music without time and space constraints, Hesselink describes the possibility of having a sense of community-building through recordings of samulnori. Chapter 4 explores SamulNori's pedagogy, which employs won-pang-kak, literally meaning circlesquare-triangle. He makes connections between SamulNori's performance practice, music theory, and pan-East Asian cosmology. This pedagogy is applied to all students not only in Korea but also from different parts of the world, and accordingly has brought great success to SamulNori's outreach. Hesselink illustrates that the SamulNori's employment of wm-pang-kak differs greatly from other teaching methodologies of Korean performance genres, which have tended to adapt to Western music teaching methods. Hesselink addresses the contents of SamulNori's textbooks and pedagogical goals, but does not cover how students receive the ways of teaching. Given that pedagogy inevitably involves ways of learning as well as ways of teaching, it would have been interesting to consider differing receptions of the SamulNori teaching methods among students.

In chapter 5 Hesselink discusses SamulNori and its cross-cultural collaboration with Red Sun. It is interesting that this chapter begins with examples of hybrid cultural expressions, including new folk songs, ascendant t 'urot 'u phenomena, a few pieces of Korean rock created by Shin Joong Hyun, and p'yujon kukak, appearing before SamulNori's cross-cultural attempts. Hesselink looks at production details, structural considerations, and representative tracks from each of the four albums, and shows that later albums achieved equal partnerships when compared widt the earlier versions, in which Korean drumming introduces Korean music and offers background sounds. As he points out, in the scholarly discussion of world music, the power relations involved in music making, representation, and music consumption/ appreciation/distribution have been unavoidable issues. Despite ongoing attempts to bring together traditional features of Korean music with new forms from outside Korea, litde attention has been given to the power relations underlying those collaborations. In this sense, the treatment in this chapter complements the issues of power relations that most newly-created Korean music confronts in contemporary Korea. Tables and figures throughout this chapter are well chosen, and the chapter helps readers understand through music examples how changes in these relationships structure the albums. In particular, Table 5.1 and 5.2 offer detailed illustrations to show the importance of a rhythmic base and the role of SamulNori in representative pieces from each album. The conclusion examines the implications of tradition for musicians and for Korean society in general in the twenty-first century. Unlike many other forms designated as Important Intangible Cultural Assets, which must remain faithful to the officially documented ways of performing, Hesselink demonstrates that SamulNori has challenged the musical materials from the past and freely engages with various cultural forms.

One expects more narratives and accounts from performers and particularly audiences to be heard in this book, as demonstrated in Hesselink's previous book P'ungmul: South Korean Drumming and Dance (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006). It would be interesting to see how Korean society and audiences react and speak to the boom in samulnori and ongoing efforts to construct something new within a framework from the past. Nevertheless, this book is a great achievement. This book is firmly grounded in his deliberate and comprehensive insights looking at the ways cultural institutions, organizations, and ideology played out in the creation of SamulNori and its storm-like poptdarity. The chapters are interrelated, with fluidity of content, yet may be read and understood independently for the purposes of discussion. This will be helpful for those hoping to look at different aspects of SamulNori at a glance. The accompanying compact disc helpfully illustrates Hesselink's analysis of the music examples employed in chapters 3 and 5. Along with music analysis, the great number of historical accounts and the expertly-interwoven sociocultural (contextual) information about SamulNori/samulnori confirms Hesselink's arguments throughout this book in a very convincing and compelling manner. It is certainly a great contribution not only to Korean music studies but also to native studies of contemporary Korea that focus on preserving the old while creating the new.


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Author:Kim, Soojin
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 1, 2014
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