Women wailing away on the electric gayageum

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Women wailing away on the electric gayageum

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Plenty of Korean traditional musicians have tried to bring their music to the public by mixing it with modern, contemporary music, but not many had tried transforming Korean traditional instruments into electric ones. One of the few bands to have done so is Yeoul, a group of four gayageum (Korean zither) players.
“We’ve played with western instruments like drums a lot for fusion music, but we found that the sound of the gayageum was always drowned out by the other sounds,” said Ki Sook-hee, 27, the leader of Yeoul, in a telephone interview with the JoongAng Daily. “We saw the need to amplify the gayageum’s sound.”
The group connected the instrument to an amplifier and a device that allows it to generate various sound effects.
Yeoul used to pair 25-stringed gayageum with the more traditional 12-stringed versions at concerts in order to make more diverse sounds, but the group still felt that it needed more. Yeoul decided to make their own versions of the instrument.
The group devised two kinds of electric gayageum: one with 18 strings and another with 25. The concert scheduled for Tuesday at 8 p.m. at Ewha Womans University is the first time the group will use the electric instruments on stage.
Not only are the gayageum electrified, but the 18-stringed version is half the size of the original, so that the players can strap them on like guitars.
“Because we play the gayageum while sitting on the floor, people told us that we looked too quiet or calm even when we were playing high-spirited music,” said Ms. Ki. “We wanted to be more dynamic and decided to make a smaller gayageum that would be easier to handle. If the atmosphere at the concert is good, we might even dance!”
Yeoul was established in 2003 following the suggestion of Hwang Byung-ki, one of the most renowned gayageum players in Korea. He was at that time a professor at Ewha Womans University, where the four were studying. (The four players are from the same middle, high, undergraduate and graduate schools.) Mr. Hwang also thought up the group’s name, Yeoul, which means, “the moment that the flow of a stream changes and makes murmuring sounds.” The name is a suggestion that the group change the flow of Korean traditional music.
For the concert, Yeoul will play “Rainbows Cadillac” by Bruce Hornsby, “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin, and “Blue Spanish Eyes” by Jerry Granelli, all arranged for 25-stringed gayageum and drums. Yeoul will also play a Christmas carol suite that Mr. Hwang arranged for the group.
Now that it has about 30 songs of its own, from jazz to rock to classical Korean music, Yeoul is planning to record an album soon.


by Park Sung-ha

Tickets cost 10,000 won ($10), 20,000 won, 30,000 won and 50,000 won. For more information, call, (02) 543-1601, or visit www.ticketlink.co.kr or ticket.interpark.com.
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