Jambinai Are Overhauling Traditional Korean Culture For A Future Setting

Bomi Kim and Ilwoo Lee speak to Clash...

Jambinai are one of the most remarkable groups on the planet.

In an era when K-Pop is placing Korean music on the map, this collective are overhauling traditional culture from the Peninsula and blasting it out into the future.

New album 'ONDA' is out now on Bella Union, and it's a thrilling, bracing experience, almost a genre unto itself.

Lee Il-woo from the band explains that "most people expect Asian traditional music to make something smooth for yoga or meditation. We wanted to break all of that."

A record that is almost impossible to classify, 'ONDA' was followed by some electrifying European shows, with UK dates to follow in October.

Jambinai's Bomi Kim and Ilwoo Lee expanded on the band's hopes, intentions, and aims…

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The appeal of Korean traditional music that I think, is the primitive feeling that the form has (rhythm and mode, etc.) and the texture of the sound itself. Some in the Korean traditional music scene had repeatedly stressed that the "unstructured primitive nature" of Korean traditional music prevents traditional music from becoming common and globalized. But I think, this speciality, which can find no similar sound in any country's music, is the point where traditional Korean instruments can shine in completely independent territory in the world.

Looking at the methodological aspects of making music, the instruments of Far East Asia have a completely different direction from those of Western instruments, both the emotions and techniques of their performance. By the way, it is foolish to force this into the Western music format just because it is now popular. Just as I can be the most beautiful when I show myself in full, it's only when I try to fully reveal what traditional instruments have.

For example, playing a cover of Western POP music with a traditional instrument or tuning into Western music to continue with uncomfortable performances does not give off beauty. These methods are simply a kind of event that proves to the public that they can play well-known songs with traditional instruments.

Jambinai chose to make music by concentrating on the sound texture or acoustic images of traditional instruments. And by doing this, we wanted to show the intact beauty of traditional musical instruments. Therefore, we actively utilize the noise we tried to hide in the Korean traditional music scene, and sometimes expand a portion of the unique technique (such as sigimsae*) that only traditional music has and place it throughout the song.

Inside Jambinai's music, the aesthetic standards of traditional Korean music were reversed. With traditional musical instruments making sounds as confident as they are, they are looking for ways to blend in naturally within the universal music format that everyone living in the world can feel. In the case of Haegeum, the sound is rough and turbid in nature, as the instrument produces resonance based on wooden plates.

The method of playing is similar, but it is a far cry from the erhu of China, which resonates through the skin of snakes. The charm of the haegeum I think begins with this different tone. It's rough, murky and a little bit neurotic, but it's a musical instrument more primitive, human and direct to emotions.

Unfortunately, however, many haegeum players now prefer the refined, clear, clean and rich haegeum sound. And this is changing the tone of the haegeum. Some of the performances create a illusion that they are listening to the sound of a violin or an erhu. It is difficult to say that this is all wrong.

This may be a matter of taste. But someone will have to remember the termination of this day. Making and playing music with universal sentiment while actively utilizing traditional methods based on the primitive sounds that Haegeum alone has. I am now concentrating on that. And that's what I have to do in the future. – Bomi Kim

*Sigimsae means "fermentation," or the degree of maturity within an aging process. Enhances the fluidity and flexibility of the melody and the dramatic character of the music. Melodic Concept of Korean Music. Sound=Sori+Garak; Rhythm, Melody and Timbre, Cultural Meaning and Values.

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The Korean traditional music has many kinds of ensemble. But Korean traditional music has no conductor for the ensemble. So players have to lead the music with breathing, beating of jang-gu (Korean traditional drum), just listen and feel the other players.

Or follow the master Piri(korean traditional bamboo flute) players playing and felling. And korean traditional musicians don’t tuning with equal temperament. Just listen to the master piri player's pitch.

So it bring strong heterophony because there is no conductor who give the timing to the players and player has each tunings. Western musicians say Korean traditional music is just primitive. But I think this heterophony is one of strong character of Korean traditional music and I really like.

In our third album I tried to into that character. The first track name is ‘sawtooth’ has haegeum heterophony and sixth track ‘small consolation’ you can hear the piri heterophony middle of the track. You can hear lots of heterophony throughout our music. When we record the album we overdub on purpose to make heterophony. When we overdub, little different pitch and rhythm from first one on purpose. When we don’t need heterophony, when we need just one player sound, sometimes we play different from equal temperament.

Just play Korean traditional pitch to get some Korean color and get the strong character. So therefore I use the Korean pitch (something wired or different from Western pitch) and rhythm which bring the strong heterogeneity on the Jambinai or when I write the modern songs with the Korean tradition. – Ilwoo Lee

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Catch Jambinai at the following shows:

2 Brighton Green Door Store
4 Canterbury University of Kent
6 Manchester The Night People
7 Leeds Lending Room
8 Birmingham The Flapper

'ONDA' is out now.

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