New books for the Spring

Three recent publications:

50 Wonders of Korea vol 1First, a new book in the Korean Spirit and Culture series, produced by the aptly named Korean Spirit and Culture Promotion Project. This is their fourth, and is the first of two to explore Fifty Wonders of Korea. This volume covers Culture and Art, while the next one will cover Science and Technology.

The book is free. You can download a copy of it in pdf form by clicking on the book at www.koreanhero.net. If you want a hard copy, there should be some available at the Cultural Centre on 10 April when the Anglo Korean Society and the KTO hold their evening of Korean Culture. Or you can email mecjackson at gmail dot com.

Second, another book from Keith Howard in the SOAS Musicology Series, from Ashgate Publishers: Korean Kayagum Sanjo: A Traditional Instrumental Genre, by Keith Howard, Chaesuk Lee and Nicholas Casswell.

Korean Kayagum SanjoThe Korean genre of sanjo is today one of the most popular genres of traditional music, taught in schools and universities within Korea, and a staple of national and international performance tours. Sanjo comprises a set of related pieces for solo melodic instrument and drum. A number of ‘schools’ (ryu) are recognized, each based on the performance style of a master musician, usually a musician from an earlier generation. Sanjo was first devised for the kayagum 12-stringed plucked long zither and is now played on all major Korean instruments. The solo melodic instrument is accompanied by a drum. The two Sino-Korean characters that comprise the term ‘sanjo’ can be translated as ‘scattered melodies’, but such a translation hardly does justice to the complexity of sanjo: each piece, played in entirety, can last for an hour, although in concerts players will often choose segments from this long piece to fit a specified time frame.

Amongst contemporary performers, Chaesuk Lee has done much to develop our understanding of sanjo. In her career, she has combined scholarly research with performing. One of the first students of the Seoul National University programme in kugak, Korean traditional music, the first female professor of kugak in Korea, and today the only female music scholar in the Korean National Academy of Arts, she worked with the most senior master musicians of kayagum sanjo, chief amongst them Kim Chukp’a (1911-1989). Kim was the grandaughter of the putative founder of sanjo, Kim Ch’angjo. Kim Chukp’a had been a celebrated performer in her youth, but she retired as a professional musician in the early 1930s when she married her first husband.

This volume explores, records, notates and documents the Kim Chukp’a school of kayagum sanjo. It is the result of collaboration between Chaesuk Lee, the ethnomusicologist Keith Howard and the composer and musicologist Nicholas Casswell. Two audio CDs accompany the book, one featuring Lee playing Kim’s complete sanjo, and the second, a ‘bonus’ CD of a second sanjo for the six-stringed zither, komun’go, played by Kim Sunok.

This one will be at the top of my wishlist. I’ve always found sanjo difficult to understand, so hopefully this will this will provide some foundation. I can recommend Keith Howard’s earlier books in this series, Preserving Korean Music and Creating Korean Music.

Finally, David Heather’s and Koen de Ceuster’s book on North Korean Posters, from Prestel Publishers. The book links in with David’s collection of posters from the Mansudae studio in Pyongyang, most of which are available for puchase via La Galleria in Pall Mall.

DPRK Poster ArtThis rare glimpse into North Korean society is the first book of its kind: a riveting collection of state-sponsored propaganda posters that presents the unique graphic sensibilities of this little-known country.

Seldom seen by the outside world, North Korea’s propaganda art colors the cities and countryside with vibrant images of brave soldiers, happy and well-fed peasants, and a heroic and compassionate leader. More than 250 of these posters are collected here for the first time, showing the wide range of North Korean propaganda art. Hand-painted pieces of art, these posters display the latest political slogans that are repeated in newspaper editorials, government declarations, and compulsory study sessions throughout the country. A collection that will appeal to artists and graphic designers as well as those interested in this closed society, this book may not represent the reality of North Korea, but rather a vision of the country as promoted by its regime and depicted by its state-sponsored artists.

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