I had expected the five-piece ensemble Baramgot (바람곶) to provide a solid evening of traditionally folk-inspired Korean music. Having attended a number of traditional Korean music performances before, I had a fairly clear idea of what I was in for, and I was looking forward to it.
The 75 minute programme consisted of seven items, comprising various combinations of flute, strings and percussion, and was led by the composer and group leader Won Il.
In the interests of balance, I should probably begin this article by discussing the negative aspects of the evening, namely that I left the window open before I went out and my room was therefore absolutely freezing when I got back. I also didn’t have enough cash to get both Alpen and a Green Machine smoothie at the convenience store, and they don’t take American Express. The concert, however, was a unequivocal triumph.
There was a fly that made occasional appearances above the stage during the performance. Describing balletic arcs, it seemed to eschew the normal role of flies in theatres and concert halls, and so far from detracting from the atmosphere, it appeared to fulfill the role of an unofficial sixth performer. This peculiar phenomenon perhaps best describes the atmosphere created in the concert hall by the majestic Baramgot collective.
The strongest feature of the evening, and the one I found most surprising, was the approachability of the music played. Though unmistakably Korean, it did not grate with Western sensibilities. I wonder if this was a deliberate or subconscious choice on the part of the performers or composer. There seemed to be traces of Spanish flamenco in some of the gayageum playing.
On the other hand, the Haegum (a single-stringed bowed instrument), which ranged from wistful to agonized, did strike me as something for which there is no equivalent in the Western musical tradition, and something which is capable of expressing the distinctly Korean notion of ‘Han’ (sorrow).
It was good to be able to study the instruments used – of which there were many changes during the evening – up close in the intimate surroundings of the Purcell Room.
However, the technical highlight of the evening was Won Il’s solo performance on the Piri (closest Western equivalent is a small recorder). For the first couple of minutes I did not recognise the instrument at all. Using a continuous breathing technique, Won Il managed to draw out a staggering array of sounds from the tiny cylindrical instrument, often producing two different sounds simultaneously.
The programme notes did not give details of the individual items – an interesting touch which may for all I know have been a deliberate play for authenticity. I did manage to obtain a copy at the end from an attendant, complete with the seating configurations of the performers.
1. Chaelim (12’00”) – the whole ensemble – except for Lee Ccotbyel ‘Haegum’)
2. Beingbing (8’00”) – duet of the two ‘zither’ instruments (Park Woojae on ‘Geomungo’ (6 strings) and Park Suna on Gayageum (24 strings))
3. Gan (Space in Between) (8’00”) – Won Il playing a solo on the ‘Piri’, a small recorder-like instrument
4. Shh (4’10”) – duet between Geomungo (Park Woojae) and a single-stringed Haegum (Lee Ccotbyel)
5. Vegabond (6’00”) – Lee Aram on the Daegeum – a flute
6. Dalgut (12’00”) – the first full ensemble piece, beginning with all percussion, and then adding strings
7. Vari Sinawi (15’00”) – the full ensemble finale – ending with the traditional ‘three climaxes’
To get a sense of the evening, there is a very poor quality audio recording from my phone available here:
or for more aurally and visually appealing samples of previous performances, the Youtube Channel is probably a better bet.
If the opportunity arises, I would strongly recommend seeing them live.
Thank you KCC and the South Bank!
Baramgot performed at the Purcell Room on 29 July 2012.