Chunhyang on the Big Screen (and Online)

Some nice news for anyone who likes movies and has some spare time this winter break: In December, the Korean Film Archive (한국영상자료원) has made available Im Kwon-taek’s pansori-movie Chunhyang (춘향뎐, 2000, IMDB) on their Youtube-Channel. You can watch the movie for free, with English subtitles by Google (autotranslated?). This is the (French) trailer:

Arguably the most famous and successful movie about pansori is Seopyeonje (서편제, 1993, IMDB), likewise directed by Im Kwon-taek (and also available on Youtube, thanks to KOFA). While Seopyeonje tells the story of a family of itinerant pansori singers in the years following the Korean War, Chunhyang is the adaptation of the most famous traditional pansori piece.

Poster of Chunhyang (dir. Im Kwon-taek, South Korea 2000)

Poster of Chunhyang (dir. Im Kwon-taek, South Korea 2000)

But with a special twist: The plot is framed by scenes set in a contemporary theatre. The movie begins with some young spectators taking a seat and awaiting the – supposedly – boring and long performance. Soon after the performance by singer Cho Sang-hyun (조상현), supported by drummer Kim Myung-hwan (김명환) has begun, the the scene fades into a period piece that tells the well-known love story between Chunhyang and Mongryong. Apart from brief cut-backs and the final scene, the film visually remains in the bucolic setting of the story. While long parts are just regular dialogue, in some key scenes the pansori-singer’s voice returns on the soundtrack. A quite interesting experiment of “multi-medial” narrative and a great introduction to one of the most famous traditional stories from Korea.

If you’d like another interpretation of the story, the 1961 movie Seong Chun-hyang (성춘향, Seong is the heroine’s familiy name) by Sin Sang-ok (신상옥) is also available. Although pansori legend Kim So-hui (김소희) provides songs, too, the movie begins – after the opening credits – with an orchestral ouverture…

(See also Jeongwon Joe’s paper “Korean Opera-film Chunhyang and the Trans-cultural Politics of the Voice,” Muzikologija: Journal of the Institute of Musicology of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts 5 (May 2005): 181–93. PDF)

– 14 Dec. 2015 (月)

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Pink Factory Exhibition: Some Impressions

Pink Factory 2015 Residency Exhibition (sketch)

Pink Factory 2015 Residency Exhibition

I wrote the following text for the first publication of Pink Factory (분홍공장), a regional culture space in Hongcheon, Gangwon-do. Over the course of this summer, eleven artists from abroad spent some time at Pink Factory and created amazing art works for the final exhibition that took place in October. I was there, helping out a bit with translation etc. While setting up and ‘guarding’ the exhibition (which took place in the basement of the Hwachon Town Hall 화촌면 면사무소), I had some time to have a good look at the works on show. The following are some impressions and thoughts, in the order of the exhibition (see the sketch). The upcoming “yearbook” of Pink Factory presents, on 160 pages, in color, and bi-lingual (Korean-English), the artists’ works, documentations of the residency program and public projects, as well as theoretical reflections on regionality. We edited, layouted, and designed the publication during most of December and it is ready for print now. Enjoy this little preview!


by Jan Creutzenberg

1. Phan Quang

During his stay at Pink Factory, Phan Quang met with farmers in the neighbourhood and took their pictures. In the exhibition, these are juxtaposed with two older works of his that deal with concepts, imagery, and realities of agriculture in Vietnam. The photography ‘Tools’ shows an orchestrated group of Vietnamese farmers on the field, presenting their shovels, sickles, and hoes in an idealistically choreographed collective gesture. A selection of images from the ‘Umbrella’-series, a durational work, together with respective entries from the ‘Farmer’s Diary’, show a more documentary approach towards the hardships of farming life.

Phan Quang, Tools

Phan Quang, Tools, digital print, 80×50, 2009. (판 끄엉, 농기구)

Phan Quang, Umbrella / Life of a Farmer

Phan Quang, Umbrella / Life of a Farmer, digital print, 135×30 (2 parts), 2010. (판 끄엉, 파라솔 / 농부의 삶)



Phan Quang’s new ‘Korean Farmers’-series consists of beautiful portraits that show happy farmers at their workplace. They pose with smiling faces for the camera and are shot in brilliant colours. The piece of cloth that serves as a backdrop, kind of an ad-hoc ‘infinity cove’, suggests a studio setting. Indeed, a cut-out of the white parts of the images would make nice, well-done photographs for, say, the cover of an agriculture magazine, a car advertisement, or an artistic-ethnographic research project. But Phan Quang, trained and sometimes working as a professional (commercial) photographer, decided to show the whole picture, thus begging the question: Are these farmers happy at their workplace?

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Phan Quang, Korean Farmers, digital print, 45×30 (3 parts), 2015. (판 끄엉, 한국 농부, 3점)

2. Yong Hae Sook

In the beginning, there is a sphere made of paper scraps. Set in motion, maybe by a breeze of wind, it starts rolling down the hill, breaking its way through the underwoods. The video that shows this paper ball’s epic journey is only one part of Yong Hae Sook’s multimedia installation. A tilted wooden board protrudes from the wall adjacent to the projection, just below a cellar window, suddenly clapping down, like a springboard for the ball. Something else has dropped down from the board before and sits on the floor now, a concrete cow pie that renders the failed attempt eternal. The ball on the wall, however, keeps on moving. Dropped on the road like a wet potato, it gains speed slowly, rolls towards town, along the highway, on the margins of civilization. Cement structures modeled on the ragged floor drop long shadows. The silhouettes of bygone days turn up on the wall, where the ball, at some point or another, has run out of kinetic energy. A stop foretold by the rising moon brings an end to the ball’s life cycle. For now.

Yong Hae Sook, Lying Grass

Yong Hae Sook, Lying Grass, cement, wood, water, video loop 3:16, variable installation, 2015. (용해숙, 눕는 풀)

3. Kim Gisoo

Huge fingers pick up a wristwatch that was lying in the grass. For how long? Hard to tell, the impressionistic painting style does not reveal if the watch is rusty or colourful. In fact, it is made of spots of paint, a white face that could suggest both shadows or traces of decay. The grass that the watch was hidden in (for decades?) is slightly bleached out by the sun. To me, the first of Kim Gisoo’s three paintings (‘Remains’) is the key to this series of ‘visual archeology’-paintings. The two others, landscapes with moving water (‘Stream’ and ‘River’), could not be more plain and non-descript, which is particularly obvious as they are hanging next to each other. The randomness of Hongcheon’s landscape is, of course, an illusion – I could go out and follow the river to the locations depicted here, if I wanted to. But instead of confirming the uniqueness of these places or dwelling in supposedly universal atmospheric effects (something like crude romanticism), my mind wanders while my eyes lose focus. What is hidden between the fields, the water, the mountains, the clouds? Which remainders can be found between the spots of paint? The times that passed remain invisible between the hidden layers of these paintings and the sedimented sites they suggest.

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4. Donghyun Gwon

Donghyun Gwon, Pagoda

Donghyun Gwon has put stone on stone with some concrete and asphalt fragments in-between. The result, a speckled stump, cries diversity, recycling, durability – the band of rolling stones from all over the region has come to a halt, ironically, underground. Its compact integrity makes the multi-lithic tower look impenetrable from afar, but when passing by closely (almost inevitable due to the exhibition setting), the heap made of pieces of varying size, simply stacked on one another, seem fragile like a tower of Jenga™ in mid-game. (Indeed, I saw children at the exhibition who tried to remove a loose stone, only to be warned by their parents that the whole thing might collapse.) How many pieces does the heap consist of? How many of them can I take away until the heap ceases to be a heap? And will it tumble down before that point is reached? Against the quantification of resources, manpower, material value!

Donghyun Gwon, Pagoda, stone, 90x85x150, 2015. (권동현, 돌탑)

5. Joseub

Joseub, Scarecrow

Joseub’s images are staged photographs shot right in front of Pink Factory. I know the people who play these weird characters standing knee-deep in the rice paddy, which makes the scene look even more absurd to me. They are wearing the uniforms of the (North Korean) People’s Army and carry guns and bullet belts. Their greyish, long-haired wigs might fit a trashy horror-flick, something like ‘Zombies vs. Ghosts’. Who are they? Soldiers destined to die? Victims of the war carrying their cross? Or traitors killed and put up as a warning to those who dare to follow them? Revenants that haunt the living or undead who would eat us alive if only they could reach us? The myth of the living scarecrow is not new (in Western literature, it dates back to at least the 17th century, see Nathaniel Hawthorne). But by putting these displaced figures into a rice field in Hongcheon, Joseub provides them with a historical and geographical context: Many battles of the Korean War were fought in Gangwon Province, not too far from here. The more I look at these scarecrows, the more they look like ‘scar-crows’: mourning blackbirds feeding from the dead, still licking their wounds before the winds of time dry them out.

Joseub, Scarecrow

Joseub, Scarecrow, pigment print, 90×60 (6 parts), 2015. (조습, 허수아비, 6점)

6. Jeon Su-hyun

There is a lot to see in Jeon Su-hyun’s ‘Hongcheon Scenery’: a motorbiker on a weekend trip, golfers playing the green, a lone helicopter circling above the scene. But apart from these little episodes, the electricity towers looming among the mountains in the background hint towards a larger frame of reference. Electric power produced in the province is transferred towards Seoul, in order to nurture the metropolis. In return, Seoulites come to Gangwon Province for some leisure time in the countryside, to relax from their busy city life. In-between the green hills and the blue mountains, Jeon Su-hyun’s ‘fake calendar image’, as he calls it, tells a larger story. This story is about mutual influence, economic exploitation, and romanticist escapism, subverting the dichotomy between the (our) rural imaginary and the realities of life on the country. If Pieter Bruegel the Elder would live in Gangwon Province today, this is what one of his works might look like.

Jeon Suhyun, Hongcheon Scenery – Baekyangchi Hill

Jeon Suhyun, Hongcheon Scenery – Baekyangchi Hill, digital print, 230×96, 2015. (전수현, 홍천경 – 백양치)

7. Juergen Staack

The only thing on show is a postcard, or more precisely an invitation card for a special opening supposed to take place in ‘20 Years’. As the programmatic title suggests, Juergen Staack’s work is a durational piece, but it is also a very concrete and contemporary monument: a silvery glittering cube with a small hole in the front wall. In other words, a very large camera obscura (maybe the largest in the world?), overlooking the scenery. Within the next twenty years, a photographic image will slowly burn into the wooden ‘film’ that is installed within the box. Both a blackbox and a minimalist mass now, this stark sculpture will eventually turn into a picture twenty years in the making. What will we be able to make during this time? This work is also an unspoken promise that we – the members of Pink Factory – intend to keep, until 2035. Everyone is invited to join!

Juergen Staack, Déjà-vu – 20 Years

Juergen Staack, Déjà-vu – 20 Years, invitation card, zinc cube 330x300x350 and wooden board 244×244, installation at pink factory, 2015-2035. (유르겐 슈탁, 기시 – 이십연간 旣視 – 二十年間)

8. Hwang Sejun

A memorial of an unexpected hero, a small river crossing with a child playing on the dam, an enormous statue of Buddha surrounded by mostly nothingness. While all three paintings refer to real places in Hongcheon County (I saw the creek in the middle for myself when visiting Sutasa Temple), two of them – the memorial and the Buddha – show, in fact, other art works with highly symbolic connotations: world-views ruled by militaristic patriotism and submission to religious gigantomania. The centrepiece of the triptych, although comparatively ‘realistic’, likewise suggests an abstract reading to me. The strong diagonal of the dam crossing the waters looks like a slash (/) and acts like a kind of ‘visual typography’ that puts the other paintings into an ambiguous relation of alterity: two opposing banks of a river or two sides of one and the same coin? The small child on the watershed offers a glimpse of hope – maybe there is another more playful way of reconciling the past, beyond the dichotomy of patriotic certainty and spiritual denial?

Hwang Sejun, Art of Love (3 parts), oil on canvas cloth, 145×130, 2015. (황세준, 사랑의 기교, 3점)

9. C. Ree + Reanne Estrada

C. Ree + Reanne Estrada, Important Intangible Cultural Asset #873

The remainders shown in the exhibition, even though supplemented by documentation and description, can only hint to Reanne Estrada’s and C. Ree’s various activities that left their mark in Hongcheon. Reflecting their role as artists who came to Korea from a far-away place (and not any place – sunny California!), the project they realised at Pink Factory revolves around the individual and collective importance of dreams. Using a variety of farming equipment, objects found in and around the Pink Factory studio, as well as a large bucket of custom-mixed pink paint, they created various pieces of ‘pink money’ to buy and sell dreams. Sharing dreams with each other is certainly not unique to Korea, but Hongcheon, the self-proclaimed ‘Wide River of Dreams City’, as announced on a large banner spanning the highway, seems the ideal starting point for this ongoing exploration of the value of involuntary imaginations and the prospects they promise. Coming from the pitch darkness of the anti-archive that extends from the remodelled residency accommodation to the exhaust shaft in the exhibition space, a touch of pink – the dream of sharing that lies at the heart of Pink Factory’s activities – will sprinkle the grey sky, even on a winter day.

C. Ree + Reanne Estrada, Important Intangible Cultural Asset #873,
performance, pink money, dreams, market exchange, anti-archive, agricultural textile, audioscape, lumps, land of Hongcheon, variable installation, 2015-. (이 C. + 레안 에스트라다, 중요무형문화재 제873호)

10. Soonho Jeong

Soonho Jeong, Threshole

Soonho Jeong, Threshole, wood, objects, variable installation, 2015. (정순호, 역(閾)구멍)

Once upon a time, the white parabolic shape of the satellite antenna had immense symbolic potential. While, technically speaking, only one of many ‘checkpoints’ in the unilateral long-distance transmission of moving images, its white round shape promised something for everyone: signals from outer space for the radio ham, the whole world in the living room for the armchair-traveller, unlimited reruns on more channels I can ever switch to, and today’s favorite programs straight from home for anyone away from home. Now that wireless (and antenna-less) internet brings everything straight into my pocket, de-installed dishes litter backyards and that is (presumably) where Soonho Jeong has found the centerpiece of his ready-made sculpture. Although his ‘Threshole’ draws visually from the nostalgic utopia I just recollected, both the uplink and the outlet are dead ends. The parabolic dish turns its back on us and conceals the image on the wall it faces. The coaxial cable rolls up like a boa constrictor in hibernation. A relic from the balcony of others on display. The first and only satellite dish I owned presented itself as a cable that entered my home through a hole in the window frame. There is neither hole nor window here, still a glimpse into a galaxy far, far away.

Soonho Jeong, Threshole, wood, objects, variable installation, 2015. (정순호, 역(閾)구멍)

— 31 Dec. 2015 (木)

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The Sound of a Flower: New Movie about the First Female Pansori Singer

If there is a feature film about pansori, it’s without doubt Seopyeonje by Im Kwon-taek (서편제, 임권택, 1993). Among his over hundred movies, Im Kwon-taek also shot a sequel (Beyond the Years, 천년학, 2007, which flopped) and another movie based on the Tale of Chunhyang, the most popular pansori story (춘향뎐, 2000). With “historic TV drama” (sageuk, 사극) booming, will the upcoming film Dori Hwaga (도리화가 / 桃李花歌, off. English title: The Sound of a Flower) be another smash hit? Who knows…

The Sound of a Flower 동리화학 (c) CJ Entertainment

The Sound of a Flower 동리화학 (c) CJ Entertainment

The Sound of a Flower opens on Nov. 25, 2015 and is directed by Lee Jong-pil (이종필). Different from Seopyeonje, this movie is based on factual events, revolving around pansori patron, scholar and teacher Sin Jae-hyo (신재효, played by Ryu Seung-ryong 류승룡). The title, which can also be translated as “Song Peach and Plum Flower[s]” – seems to refer to a so-called danga (단가), literally a “short song” that opens a pansori performances, written by Sin. In the lyrics, he poetically compares his student Jin Chae-seon (진채선, played by K-pop star Suzy [배]수지) to the blooming spring flowers (information from the movie homepage, couldn’t find the actual lyrics yet). Incidentally, Jin Chae-seon is known as the first female pansori singer. Famous master singer Kim Se-jong (김세종, played by Song Sae-byeok 송새벽) also features in the movie.

I don’t any plot details, but the synopsis and the teaser trailer on the movie homepage suggest that the singing training at Sin Jae-hyo’s pansori school (동리정사 桐里精舍) is at the center of attention. This is quite common, maybe because by teaching pansori to someone in the movie the basic concepts can also be explained to the – supposedly ignorant? – audience. The trailer opens with Sin Jae-hyo addressing his students with the words “Pansori is something to watch, not to listen to. While watching, you listen and laugh and weep and enjoy.” In other cases, most famously Seopyeonje, but also the short film One Day Trip (청출어람 / 靑出於藍 by Park Chan-wook and Park Chan-gyong), the extreme hardships of the training process make for a fruitful narrative device.

The general story of The Song of a Flower, in any case, is quite well-known. In fact in the last few years alone I have seen two music-theatrical productions that deal with this important episode in the history of pansori:

Gwangdae-ui Norae (광대의 노래: 동리, 오동은 봉활을 기다리고, “Song of the Pansori Singer”, 2012, see my review in Korean), performed for Sin Jae-hyo’s 200th birthday at the Jeonju Sori Festival, focused on his romantic involvement with his young student Chae-seon. (See my review in Korean)

Taroo’s Unhyeon Palace Romance (운현궁 로맨스, 2013) tells a (fictional) secret love story between Jin Chae-seon and the young prince she meets when preparing a palace performance in Seoul. This gugak-musical is based on an earlier work on Jin Chae-seon by the ensemble. (See my review of Unyeon Palace Romance in Korean)

It seems as if scenes at Sin Jae-hyo’s pansori school where shot on location, i.e. in the place where Sin used to live. I saw his restored (or rebuilt?) home in Gochang (고창 신재효 고택) some years ago when visiting the adjacent Pansori Museum (판소리 박물관) and it looks familiar. Although I find the historical setting of Seopyeonje more interesting than Sin’s era (what many call the heydays of pansori) and I find it disappointing that the cast does not include actual pansori singers, I will certainly see the movie.

There is a showcase event at Sungshin Women’s University this Wednesday, where the director and the main cast appears but unfortunately the movie will not be shown.

– 31 Oct. 2015 (土)

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Daehangno Poster Session 4

After work I went to Daehangno to see a very special theatre performance – Iphigenie x 5 (이피게니아x5), a collaboration by five Korean directors and actors from Germany and Korea, in preparation for a larger project planned to premiere next year. But before the performance I took pictures of some posters of current productions.

This is my Top Five, once again based mostly on visual appeal:

 1. Pansori Hamlet Project (판소리 햄릿 프로젝트, 10.08 ~ 25, more info)

Gugak Musical Collective Taroo’s longtime project that approaches Shakespeare’s classic pansori-style is a favorite of mine. I’ve written several times about it here on the blog and I’m looking forward for this new edition at Seoul Art Center!

 2. Man Equals Man (남자는 남자다, 10.16 ~ 11.07, more info)

For its bold hangeul-hanmun typography – I didn’t get it on first view, but this is actually a production of Brecht’s play Mann Equals Mann (1926), maybe the first one in Korea? A quick check shows it’s not the Korean premiere of the piece – Man is Man was actually shown already in June 1989, the second official production of Brecht after the Threepenny Opera from 1988 (see a review in the Jungang Ilbo) –, but it is the first production that uses a later version that Brecht wrote in 1938 after leaving Nazi Germany. (see an interview with director Cha Tae-ho (차태호) at Munhwa News).

 3. Three Sisters (세자매, 10.30 ~ 11.08, more info)

For its old-school appeal, mostly. But I also liked some earlier productions by director Yun Gwang-jin (윤광진): The Golden Dragon (황금용 / Der Goldene Drache, written by Roland Schimmelpfennig, 2013 at Daehangno Arts Theater, see my review) and The Ugly One (못생긴 남자 / Der Hässliche, written by Marius von Mayenburg, 2011 at Guerilla Theater), both originally German-language works, coincidentally.

 4. Byeontae (변태, “pervert”, 10.01 ~ 12.31, more info)

For its “tasty” food design – the Warhol-style alternative poster (see here) is also nice!

 5. Chwimi-ui Bang (취미의 방, “hobby room”, 11.28 ~ 02.21, more info)

For its childhood-memory-evoking do-it-yourself-aesthetics; indeed, it’s “[a] play by popular screenwriter Ryota Kosawa (코사와 료타 / 古沢良太) about a mysterious men’s club”, according to The Japan Times

 The exhibition “Sound of Community” (소리 공동체) at Arko Art Center (아르코미술관, 2015–09–23 ~ 11–15, see this video intro) was a bit of a let-down. Despite the promising title – and the glammy poster! –, most works didn’t really relate very much to my research into acoustic communities but were rather ideosyncratic. Maybe I just would have needed a bit more time? I liked Heaven Baek’s idea of projecting two newscasters – one from the 70s/80s and one from today, each one reading news from the other’s era – in front of a bluescreen, though (백현주, 말이 되는 소리, Sound makes sense). The specific voices of those reading the daily news every night, I think, play a quite interesting role in the formation of the imagined community we belong to (I like Sohn Suk-hee 손석희 of JTBC quite a lot at the moment). Also memorable: a video by Junebum Park (some of whose works I knew from Berlin) that shows a game of table matching, like in videos I had seen in Berlin years ago. The difference here is, however, that the players (whose head-mounted Pro-Go cameras provided most of the footage used) are from different countries, speak different languages, and, in the course of the game, have to figure out effective ways of communicating (박준범, 8개의 언어, 8 Languages).

After a nice dinner at 이모네’s and a stroll up Naksan Park (낙산공원), the Iphigenie auf Tauris-showcase proved very interesting, a mix of quite different approaches and methods that turned quite naturally into a Q&A on the contemporary relevance of Goethe’s piece of supposed world literature. But that’s a story to be told another time…

– 14 Oct. 2015 (水)

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Through the Dream Forest to the Colonial Sherlock by Badaksori

Once more Sherlock, although this time his name is Hong…

Beware the Dream Forest! On my way to the ongoing Badaksori Festival (제1회 바닥소리극 페스티벌) at the Dream Forest Art Center (꿈의숲 아트센터) in Northern Seoul, I decided to take a walk for the last part and dropped of the bus right in front if the forest, just as night was falling. I should have known better: Within minutes, I was lost in the increasingly dark woods, scared off some innocent joggers, and made it to the performance five minutes late.

I could see the introductory narration of this Sherlock-pansori-theatre-piece (대한제국 명탐정 홍설록 only on the monitor in the lobby, before entering the auditorium and grabbing a seat in the last row. Three soldiers were marching on stage, members of the Independence Army, as the piece was set in the early years of the 20th century, during the Japanese colonial rule.The three soldiers’ ways parted, one became a doctor, another a high-ranking police officer, and the third dreamt of being a detective. The latter one was “Sherlock Hong”, the titular character of this unusual piece of sorigeuk. Together with “Watson”, his old army-friend doctor, he took on his first case, strange ghost sightings on Jeju Island.

대한제국 명탐정  홍셜록 ©  판소리 공장 바닥소리

대한제국 명탐정 홍셜록 © 판소리 공장 바닥소리

The performance switched between political period drama (the course of history projected on the stage backdrop), procedural drama, aery dance scenes by Jeju haenyeo (female sea divers), and a love story within a dream that culminated in a large scale (on-screen) explosion. Stylistically, it was a mixture of pansori-like singing, more-or-less musical songs, backed up by a fusion-band with daegeum, electric guitar, bass, keyboards, and percussion. Many details were unclear to me, still with good acting, particularly by An I-ho (안이호) as the main cast, and interesting set-ups, the performance could certainly entertain.

And there is more to come: This is supposed to be just the beginning of a three part series featuring Sherlock Hong. If course, the Badaksori Festival continues, too, with a pansori-version of The Diary of Anne Frank (안네의 일기, 판소리 하다, Sept. 23). Looking forward to that one, too. This time, I’ll take the bus straight through the forest, without any nightmarish

– 17 Sept. 2015 (목)

  • 판소라공장 바닥소리, 대한제국 명탐정 홍설록: 귀신테러사건, 극작: 최용석, 연출: 유기영, 작곡/음악감독: 김승진, 출연: 안이호, 김성환, 고영열, 신정혜, 정지혜, 지향희, 연주: 홍상진, 한창희, 설동호, 유수진, 윤영철, 꿈의숲 아트센터 퍼포먼스홀, 2015–09–17 (목), 오후 8–9.30시, 입장료: 6,000₩ (페스티벌 페키지).
  • Pansori Factory “Badaksori”, Great Korean Empire Detective Sherlock Hong: The Ghost Terror Incident, written by Choe Yong-seok, directed by Yu Gi-yeong, composition and musical direction: Kim Seung-jin, with An I-ho, Kim Seong-hwan, Go Yeong-yeol, Sin Jeong-hye, Jeong Ji-hye, Ji Hyang-hui, music performance by Hong Sang-jin, Han Chang-hui, Seol Dong-ho, Yu Su-jin, Yun Yeong-cheol, Dream Forest Art Center, Performance Hall, 2015–09–17 (Thu.), 8–9.30 pm, entrance fee: 6,000₩ (with festival pass).
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Pansori and Yodeling: Two Ways of Singing “Over the Top”

Recently, the German newspaper tageszeitung featured an interview with Doreen Kutzke, founder of a yodeling school in Berlin Kreuzberg (there is an information-PDF in English, too). You can hear some of her neo-traditional yodeling songs on Soundcloud. She talks about how she became a professional yodeller and, among other things, discusses the popular imagery of yodeling, what she likes about this peculiar voice art, and how the future of yodeling might look. (To find out more about “urban yodeling” in English, you can read an article in The Guardian that also mentions Kutzke or hear a short feature about her at Public Radio International, see the Urban Dictionary for an alternative definition.)

Besides learning much that I hadn’t known before, Kutzke mentioning the “Korean Yodel Federation” (한국요델협회, since 1978, also on Facebook) caught my eye. On the federation’s website, I found a (very) short history of yodeling in Korea:

해방전후로 만주쪽 등산가로부터 구전되어서 전해져 오기도 하고 또 한편으로는 일본을 통해서 들어 오기도 하였습니다. 공식적인 기록으로는 1934년 발표된 최초의 대중가수 채규엽의 음반에 ‘사랑의 유레이티’란 요델곡이 있었습니다. 1968년 한국 요델음악의 아버지라고 불리우는 김홍철씨가 스위스로 요델유학을 다녀오면서 그 이후 활발한 공연활동을 통해 전파되었습니다. 1969년 서울에델바이스 요델클럽이 창단된 이후로 현재까지 수도권 및 지방에서 8개의 요델클럽이 창단되었으며, 10여개 이상의 관련 동호회와 합창단이 정기적인 모임 가지면서 활발한 활동을 하고 있습니다.

This is my ad-hoc translation:

Around Liberation [from Japanese colonial rule, 15 Aug. 1945], [yodeling] was, on the one hand, passed down from mountain climbers in Manchuria, on the other it came from Japan. According to official records, the song ‘Yoo-rei-ti of Love’, published on popular singer Chae Gyu-yeop’s first album in 1934, was a yodeling song. Kim Hong-cheol, called the ‘father of Korean yodeling music’, went to study yodeling in Switzerland in 1968 and, afterwards, promoted it through lively performance activities. After the foundation of the yodeling club ‘Seoul Edelweiss’ [transl. hangeul: Edelbaiseu] in 1969, up until today eight yodeling clubs were founded in the greater Seoul area and more than ten related societies and choirs are meeting and conducting activities. (source: Korean Yodel Federation)

This first Korean yodel song can be heard at Heidiland, another website dedicated to the art. In its slightly inconvenient message board, Heidiland also offers a more detailed history of yodeling in Korea, as well as pictures, videos, and soundbites of the Korean yodeling-scene.

Doing research on pansori, I find interesting that, although aesthetically and physiologically completely different, yodeling shares a preference for extreme sound qualities with this traditional Korean singing-storytelling. In pansori, the most characteristic feature is the raspy, hoarse timbre/quality of the sound, in yodeling it is, among others, the sheer volume.

As a result, both arts suggest themselves as channels for emotional release. Whether in the form of “setting free ecstasy” (a free translation of the concept of sinmyeong puri 신명풀이) or the expression and subsequent release of han in the case of pansori. Or, while yodeling, as a liberating recklessness, the “total let go” (absolutes Loslassen), that Kutzke mentions in the interview.

Apart from artistic aspects, pansori and yodeling can be found in close proximity on the “musico-sociological grid”: With regard to production, in both cases songs were originally transmitted rather than composed. And with regard to the popular image today, both pansori and yodeling are considered old-fashioned by many, while at the same time evoking a sense of pride, often coloured with nationalist or regionalist implications.

It also seems that both traditional “folk” arts (pansori professionalized at an early stage, however) share a double-sided image: on the one hand well-known and generally acknowledged as an authentic expression of their respective culture (rural farming life in Korea, mountain culture in Switzerland); on the other hand old-fashioned, nostalgic, slightly cheesy, something for the older generation.

But artists like Kutzke or, in the case of pansori, crossover acts like Ninano Nanda (니나노 난다), a DJ and a pansori singer performing together, challenge the rustical atmosphere that surrounds their art of choice. While yodeling enjoys a world-wide success as an Alpine export product that has taken roots in other localities (Bart Plantenga has collected many examples, including some from Korea, in his book Yodel in Hi-Fi: From Kitsch Folk to Contemporary Electronica, Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 2012, pp. 250ff). In contrast, pansori, as a stately-sponsored tradition with high-art-ambitions, seems more firmly rooted in folklore imagery. Young ensembles usually retain some traditional plotlines, hanbok (traditional clothes) or hanbok-inspired dressing is the usual attire. This might be partly due to the fact that afficionados of orthodox pansori still make up a large part of the potential audiences for more experimental work.

Meanwhile in Switzerland, according to a Korean newspaper article from last year, attempts of registering yodeling as a UNESCO world heritage are underway. But, as the article duely notes, “despite the popular image of the yodeling alpine goatherd, Switzerland does not have a monopoly on the distinctive sound”. In a way, yodeling has attained an international status that promoters of pansori can only dream of. Translated, adapted and appropriated in many ways (from country-style to more pop-ish genres…), yodeling retains its often sentimentally nostalgic associations with Switzerland, the Alps, mountain scenery (hence Heidiland).

New Glarus yodelers in traditional Swiss garb (1922) via WikiMedia Commons

New Glarus yodelers in traditional Swiss garb (1922) via WikiMedia Commons

Is this the future of pansori, too? Actually, although on a smaller scale, it seems that pansori is enjoying more and more success overseas. I doubt that it will ever be an art as wide-spread and globalized as yodeling, but local scenes might emerge from Korean communities and/or groups of like-minded afficionados. An amateur pansori-contest recently held in Paris presents some potential protagonists of such new scenes (see a newsclip by Arirang at Youtube. They might as well be small and more international, although the necessity of live performances and training will probably poses limits to a dispersed online-community and calls for face-to-face encounters. And, different from Kutzke’s approach and more in line with most forms of global appropriation of yodeling, the contest stresses traditionally, at least with regard to the choice of pieces and clothing.

Then, a “future pansori” might sound quite different from what Ninano Nanda proposes:

– 8 Aug. 2015 (土)

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In it for the Body: Benedict Cumberbatch Plays Hamlet at the Barbican

I’m a fan of Sherlock Holmes-stories (and radio plays) since my childhood and have enjoyed the BBC’s Sherlock Series, like it’s US counterpart Elementary. I’m not what you’d call a “Cumberbitch”, nor am I particularly fond of actor Benedict Cumberbatch, I didn’t really like him, for example, as Khan in the last Star Trek movie (2013) or as WikiLeak’s Julian Assange in The Fifth Estate (2013), both rather uninspired movies to begin with. I enjoyed his performance as a straight-combed college quizteam leader in Starter for 10 (2006), though. Maybe it was because back then his own post-Sherlock-stardom – he has been varyingly described as “the thinking woman’s crumpet” (Independent, 2011), (one of the) “most eligible bachelor in the UK” (Tatler, 2012), or “gentleman of the year” (Country Life, 2014) – was not as overwhelming as it is now? (all quotes from Wikipedia)

David Garrick as Hamelt, artist unknown, public domain, via WikiMedia Commons

David Garrick in the Character of Hamlet, artist unknown, public domain, via WikiMedia Commons

Still, Cumberbatch’s casting as Hamlet in Lyndsey Turner’s production at the Barbican was hard to ignore. In a review for Deadline, Joe Utichi notes that “Cumberbatch is exceptionally good, merging character and actor without the latter dominating.” On the Barbican’s stage, Cumberbatch seems to have handled well the duality between character and person, inevitable in any performance whether on stage or on screen, and particularly so in the case of famous actors.

But the title of the review suggests that the apparent fascination of seeing this movie and TV star live on stage (see some critics’ and fans’ responses presented by The Daily Mail) is related to something else: “Benedict Cumberbatch, In The Solid Flesh, Opens As Hamlet…”

Philip Auslander, with regard to rock music concerts, uses a tri-fold system to distinguish between different aspects of the body on stage. Besides the “character”, he divides the “actor” into the “real person” and his or her stage “persona”:

“The persona is therefore the signified that mediates between the other two: the audience gains access to both the performer as a real person and the characters the performer portrays through the performer’s elaboration of a persona. ” (Auslander, “Performance Analysis and Popular Music: A Manifesto”, 2004: 12)

Fischer-Lichte, talking about theatre and performance art, stresses “the doubling of ‘being a body’ and ‘having a body,’ the co-existence of the phenomenal and semiotic body.” (Fischer-Lichte, Transformative Power of Performance, 2008: 82) The semiotic body signifies a character by means of embodiment, always based on the (signifying) phenomenal body. But, and this is crucial, either one of the two can never completely eradicate the other. Benedict Cumberbatch, when performing at the Barbican, is both himself and the Prince of Denmark, the difference lies in our eyes.

Statue of Holmes on Picardy Place in Edinburgh, photo by Siddharth Krish via WikiMedia Commons

Statue of Holmes on Picardy Place in Edinburgh, photo by Siddharth Krish via WikiMedia Commons

This is, in my opinion, the major appeal of pansori, too: Enjoying the interplay between the characters embodied by the singer, his or her storytelling about them, and the way that our perception continuously oscillates between semiotic and phenomenal body, in ways that Horatio can only dream of.

Utichi continues in his review of Hamlet: “This production knows Cumberbatch’s star is going to draw people unfamiliar with Shakespeare, so the staging is broad and unsubtle”. I haven’t seen but a few promotion images – Cumberbatch himself urged his fans not to take pictures or videos during performance. But I’m quite sure that many spectators are not there for yet another interpretation of Shakespeare’s classic.

My guess is that most are in it for the body – the phenomenal one. And it’s safe to assume that a worldwide screening of the production later in the run will not be as satisfying as the real “Hamlet”.

But then the tickets are booked out until the end of October… I’ll wait for Sherlock to return in a period piece Christmas Special later this year, and enjoy one or two pansori performances until then.

– 26 Aug. 2015 (水)

PS: I hope I’m not mistaken with the date – it proved tremendously difficult to find out the production’s premiere date, not least because of two weeks of preview shows…

Posted in Abroad, At the Movies, Pansori, Shakespeare | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment