[INTERVIEW] Korean bamboo flute daegeum's sound connects East and West

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[INTERVIEW] Korean bamboo flute daegeum's sound connects East and West


Daegeum player Yoo Hong rehearses on stage at Sejong Center for the Performing Arts in Seoul. Courtesy photo of Nah Seung Yull

Korean artist plays daegeum for global audiences

By Anna J. Park


Unlike other bamboo flute musicians, who perform traditional Korean court or folk music for local audiences here in Korea, Yoo Hong's target audience is beyond the borders.

Yoo, 40, a traditional Korean bamboo flutist or daegeum player based in Berlin, is a pioneer who has fascinated European audiences with the exotic sound of the musical instrument.

He initially studied classical guitar. After playing it for several years, he changed his musical course when he was 13 and decided to play the traditional Korean bamboo flute, called the daegeum.

"I was struck by the sound of the daegeum, when I attended a music concert by chance. The sound was so new and unimaginable that I was totally fascinated. I decided to make that sound myself," Yoo said during a recent interview with The Korea Times.

Yoo explained the daegeum's special sound comes from the instrument's structure. It has one mouthpiece, six finger holes and two to five tuning holes towards the end of the 80-centimeter-long instrument. What makes the wind instrument unique is an aperture called the "cheonggong," a hole covered with a reed membrane. This membrane-covered hole gives the daegeum a unique vibration, creating a singularly rich and expressive sound.

"What's fascinating about the daegeum is that it uses the original tone of bamboo as well as the vibration of the reed membrane. Both elements make the musical instrument have its own distinctive sound," Yoo said.

Daegeum player Yoo Hong rehearses on stage at Sejong Center for the Performing Arts in Seoul. Courtesy photo of Nah Seung Yull

Captivated by its unique sound, he mastered the instrument with great enthusiasm.
He didn't want to follow the typical path of so-called successful daegeum players. He chose to heed his inner voice. Instead of attending the national Korean music orchestra, he teamed up with his friends for a music band after graduating from Seoul National University. He and other band members focused on playing and creating traditional Korean music pieces.

His years of experience with the band not only helped him become mature in his musicality, but he realized his desire to try out something new with the daegeum had grown. He went to Britain for the master's program at the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies.

"Living in Europe as a professional bamboo flute performer was an absolute adventure. In retrospect, I don't know how I gathered the courage to do that. But back then, I was very confident about my performance, and had a gut feeling that the daegeum would appeal to European audiences," he said.

In 2009, nearing the end of his studies in London, he happened to meet Korean-German contemporary composer Chung Il-ryun. Chung inspired him to go to Berlin, where he continued his music career from 2010. Chung suggested that he join the "AsianArt Ensemble," an international music group consisting of musicians who play traditional Asian instruments like the sheng and the koto, along with Western classical string instrumentalists like a violinist and cellist.

As a member of the ensemble and as a soloist, he has premiered more than 100 contemporary music pieces on the daegeum over the past decade. Yoo said the sound produced by the instrument's natural material suits contemporary pieces well, as it offers a new range of unexpected tonality.

"The daegeum's tone is a mixture of natural bamboo and wind sound, along with uniquely ringing sound from the reed membrane. Contemporary composers find these elements alluring. The European audiences also say the daegeum's energy riveting, as it is so different from any Western instruments."

Traditional Korean music techniques also allow more expressive tonal possibilities with his instrument.

"When it comes to traditional Korean music, unlike Western classical music, it is very important to give a motion to a sound or a pitch. Such an individual design of a single sound creates more tonal space to contemporary pieces," explained the seasoned artist, whose passion also lies in further introducing and developing the sound of his instrument to audience members overseas, while expanding the daegeum's modern repertoire.

Daegeum player Yoo Hong rehearses on stage at Sejong Center for the Performing Arts in Seoul. Courtesy photo of Nah Seung Yull

As a result of trailblazing his own life path, he said he is now where he wanted to be.

"Although it took me much time, with many ups and downs in life, I am now grateful because I am doing what I wanted: living as a freelance musician and doing something that I find interesting and that also helps the development of traditional Korean music," he said with a smile.

Currently, he is working on a solo album of contemporary pieces, set to be released later this year in Berlin. He also plans to release another CD of traditional Korean works.

Asked about his next dream, he said he hopes to see more active collaborations among traditional Asian music instrumentalists in East Asia. Yoo said there have been previous attempts to meet up and collaborate among musicians of traditional instrumentalists from Korea, China and Japan, but no such music band like his "AsiaArt Ensemble," which focuses on creating modern pieces exists here in Northeast Asia.

"The AsiaArt Ensemble is based in Berlin, and we don't have such music bands in East Asia. I hope that I can serve a role in creating such a music band here in Northeast Asia, consisting of traditional instrumentalists and composers from neighboring countries, like China and Japan," he said.

"The contemporary music market has mostly developed, centering in Europe, but I'd like to contribute to growing the market here in East Asia. I also hope to help build a bridge for traditional Korean musicians to advance into the global market."



Check out a contemporary music piece by AsianArt Ensemble, of which daegeum player Yoo Hong is a member. The piece was composed by Chung Il-ryun.





Daegeum player Yoo Hong rehearses on stage at Sejong Center for the Performing Arts in Seoul. Courtesy photo of Nah Seung Yull

Korean artist plays daegeum for global audiences

By Anna J. Park


Unlike other bamboo flute musicians, who perform traditional Korean court or folk music for local audiences here in Korea, Yoo Hong's target audience is beyond the borders.

Yoo, 40, a traditional Korean bamboo flutist or daegeum player based in Berlin, is a pioneer who has fascinated European audiences with the exotic sound of the musical instrument.

He initially studied classical guitar. After playing it for several years, he changed his musical course when he was 13 and decided to play the traditional Korean bamboo flute, called the daegeum.

"I was struck by the sound of the daegeum, when I attended a music concert by chance. The sound was so new and unimaginable that I was totally fascinated. I decided to make that sound myself," Yoo said during a recent interview with The Korea Times.

Yoo explained the daegeum's special sound comes from the instrument's structure. It has one mouthpiece, six finger holes and two to five tuning holes towards the end of the 80-centimeter-long instrument. What makes the wind instrument unique is an aperture called the "cheonggong," a hole covered with a reed membrane. This membrane-covered hole gives the daegeum a unique vibration, creating a singularly rich and expressive sound.

"What's fascinating about the daegeum is that it uses the original tone of bamboo as well as the vibration of the reed membrane. Both elements make the musical instrument have its own distinctive sound," Yoo said.

Daegeum player Yoo Hong rehearses on stage at Sejong Center for the Performing Arts in Seoul. Courtesy photo of Nah Seung Yull

Captivated by its unique sound, he mastered the instrument with great enthusiasm.
He didn't want to follow the typical path of so-called successful daegeum players. He chose to heed his inner voice. Instead of attending the national Korean music orchestra, he teamed up with his friends for a music band after graduating from Seoul National University. He and other band members focused on playing and creating traditional Korean music pieces.

His years of experience with the band not only helped him become mature in his musicality, but he realized his desire to try out something new with the daegeum had grown. He went to Britain for the master's program at the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies.

"Living in Europe as a professional bamboo flute performer was an absolute adventure. In retrospect, I don't know how I gathered the courage to do that. But back then, I was very confident about my performance, and had a gut feeling that the daegeum would appeal to European audiences," he said.

In 2009, nearing the end of his studies in London, he happened to meet Korean-German contemporary composer Chung Il-ryun. Chung inspired him to go to Berlin, where he continued his music career from 2010. Chung suggested that he join the "AsianArt Ensemble," an international music group consisting of musicians who play traditional Asian instruments like the sheng and the koto, along with Western classical string instrumentalists like a violinist and cellist.

As a member of the ensemble and as a soloist, he has premiered more than 100 contemporary music pieces on the daegeum over the past decade. Yoo said the sound produced by the instrument's natural material suits contemporary pieces well, as it offers a new range of unexpected tonality.

"The daegeum's tone is a mixture of natural bamboo and wind sound, along with uniquely ringing sound from the reed membrane. Contemporary composers find these elements alluring. The European audiences also say the daegeum's energy riveting, as it is so different from any Western instruments."

Traditional Korean music techniques also allow more expressive tonal possibilities with his instrument.

"When it comes to traditional Korean music, unlike Western classical music, it is very important to give a motion to a sound or a pitch. Such an individual design of a single sound creates more tonal space to contemporary pieces," explained the seasoned artist, whose passion also lies in further introducing and developing the sound of his instrument to audience members overseas, while expanding the daegeum's modern repertoire.

Daegeum player Yoo Hong rehearses on stage at Sejong Center for the Performing Arts in Seoul. Courtesy photo of Nah Seung Yull

As a result of trailblazing his own life path, he said he is now where he wanted to be.

"Although it took me much time, with many ups and downs in life, I am now grateful because I am doing what I wanted: living as a freelance musician and doing something that I find interesting and that also helps the development of traditional Korean music," he said with a smile.

Currently, he is working on a solo album of contemporary pieces, set to be released later this year in Berlin. He also plans to release another CD of traditional Korean works.

Asked about his next dream, he said he hopes to see more active collaborations among traditional Asian music instrumentalists in East Asia. Yoo said there have been previous attempts to meet up and collaborate among musicians of traditional instrumentalists from Korea, China and Japan, but no such music band like his "AsiaArt Ensemble," which focuses on creating modern pieces exists here in Northeast Asia.

"The AsiaArt Ensemble is based in Berlin, and we don't have such music bands in East Asia. I hope that I can serve a role in creating such a music band here in Northeast Asia, consisting of traditional instrumentalists and composers from neighboring countries, like China and Japan," he said.

"The contemporary music market has mostly developed, centering in Europe, but I'd like to contribute to growing the market here in East Asia. I also hope to help build a bridge for traditional Korean musicians to advance into the global market."



Check out a contemporary music piece by AsianArt Ensemble, of which daegeum player Yoo Hong is a member. The piece was composed by Chung Il-ryun.




Park Ji-won annajpark@koreatimes.co.kr


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