Saturday, June 30, 2007
I don't know the first thing about traditional Korean music. Well, maybe I know a thing or two, but not very much and certainly not enough to even remotely tell whether a given performance is up to snuff. For "Korean" you can pretty much substitute any non-Western ethnicity you wish (and a host of Western ones as well), no matter how much of a given area's music I've heard. Trying to recall my first exposure to Korean music and I'd guess it was one of those kodo drum ensembles which can be mightily impressive. I'm sure I heard at least one such group before Laswell began promoting Samulnori as a part of SXL and on their own, both very enjoyable recordings. And I knew a bit of Sang Won Park's work in improvisatory contexts; Jin Hi Kim's as well. But...how the hell do I know if they're actually "good" by Korean standards or just flashy enough to impress Westerners, a kind of Riverdance imposed by cynical Korean marketers on an unwary, world music hungry West? Does aesthetic merit somehow osmose through the barriers of ignorance, revealing itself to sufficiently sensitive ears?
I wonder about this often, including this morning when I was giving second listens to two discs I'm loving a lot, the World Music Library items I recently bought of Korean Kayagum Sanjo Music. I figure it's reasonable to defer to the judgment of the folks who recorded the music (the producer is Nishida Katsuhiko), that they had some basis for winnowing out the better contemporary practitioners of this art. What else can one do? There's no way I'll ever have near enough time to really study this, or any area's, music in the depth required to do it justice. I can only skim the surface, probably a molecule's thinness of skimming at that.
So, if I report to some interested acquaintance that this music is "great", it's with the nagging knowledge that I'm basing this judgment entirely on my own history, my own superficial knowledge of the genre, not in any understanding of the music or culture from which it arose. In practice, given that most of my acquaintances are from roughly the same background as myself, this is all well and good but part of me awaits the knowledgeable Korean who reads this and says, "You don't know what the fuck you're talking about! Chukp'a and Kim Tong Jun are the Kenny G. and John Tesh of Korean music! They suck royally!" Thus abashed, I'd dutifully hunt out more able musicians.
But for now, in potential ignorance, these are damned fine recordings. Still waiting to hear the King World Music Library release I don't find pretty fantastic.