Guitar and Gayageum at the Mo’Beat

Last weekend I went to Moabit, a downtown district usually known for cheap kebap joints and the Central Criminal Court, as well as the adjacent jail, rather than  for cultural events. Lately, I had only been passing through here when taking the express bus to Tegel airport. But reminiscences of some early days in Berlin—the run-down flat of a friend’s cousin—and the smell of fish that had been fresh in the morning made Turmstraße, Moabit’s main street, feel like memory lane—a lane I hadn’t travelled for years.

I was on my way to plattform.moabit, one location of the wonderful indoor music festival mo’beat(organised by Hamit Özbek & Ludmila Kuncarova) that takes place at various sites scattered all over the quarter. When I arrived at the plattform at eight, just in time for the concert I had planned to attend, some drunkard shouting words of hate made me stop and reconsider. He went away, though, while I took a sweet drink at a nearby store and returned to the place where Sung Jun Ko, the  Berlin-based musician of Korean origin I wanted to hear (see his myspace-page for some song samples), had already begun his performance.

It was a rather small gallery-style room in the back of this “place for design, art, and cultural activities” (self-description) full of hand-made jewelry and illustrated books on what seemed to be self-made paper. A bunch of people, maybe a dozen or two, mostly in their 50s or 60s, were sitting on cushions on the floor. Following the sound of a gayageum (가야금), I approached the last row, step by step. Sitting casually on a plastic chair, his zither leaning on a kind of treasure chest, an electric guitar nearby, Ko was playing what sounded like a sanjo (산조), a meandering piece of improvisation. In fact, as he announced later, it had been a classic of changjak gugak (창작 국악), i.e. newly-composed pieces for traditional instruments, namely “Sup” (숲, “forest”), by master Hwang Byungki (황병기), whose 50th stage anniversary celebration I had attended back in Seoul.

Then Ko played an older tune, something which—as he said—had been transmitted from earlier times until becoming fixed in the late 19th century. In contrast to Hwang’s avant-gardist piece, this one sounded much smoother and melodic to my ears that are still not accustomed to the sound of solo gayageum also I like the instrument a lot for its variety of expressions, a fact that once again became clear in what followed: A self-written work inspired by a graphic novel on Palestine.

Switching between gayageumi and guitar, Ko used a loop generator as well as a drum computer to multiply the sounds he produced and, in effect, to accompany himself. Either shouting out loud chords on the guitar, sometimes bordering on glam rock, to a repetitive gayageum background, or, in reverse, adding little drops of gayageum string to a wall of sound recorded seconds before, the song contrasted very different rhythms and atmospheres, ranging from moments of solitude and reflection to (more often) loud, aggressive scenes of conflict or even war, then again fading into a short cease fire.

After this long piece, the short and playful song “Hermannplatz”, referring to a public square in Berlin Neukölln where Ko used to live for years. Matching this borough’s “chiefly multinational aura” (wikipedia) as well as the recent artistic activities (that will lead to certain gentrification of the area, as some fear, but still manage to surprise), Ko explicitly aims for “multicultural” music, in search of intersections between Korean and Western musical traditions. This short concert offered only a short glimpse into his promising work—I regret not having had the time to talk to him, as I headed for another concert by two friends, aka nahe. I missed the last song by minutes, after all, but as I had seen their public rehearsal the day before at Gelegenheiten, a self-organised place-to-hang-out-and-see-opportunities-pass-by, I didn’t care too much.

Walking here and there, I saw a few nice gigs, some of Berit Jung‘s “Mondlieder” (moon songs), poetry to the sound of chimes and a contrabass in the backroom of a bar and the hyper-active bossa nova-hardcore band Tralalka who performed in Freddy Leck sein Waschsalon, a pimped-up laundrette complete with coffee, bottled beer, and rentable tablet computers (Gotzkowskystraße 11, 7 am until midnight).

The last highlight of this great night out was the Pamuk Shop just across the street that sold virtually everything, from candy to halloween costumes, from oversized lighters to solar-driven butterflies, for a Euro a-piece (Gotzkowsky Straße 30, 6 am until midnight, until 6 pm on sundays). Munching my “sour snakes”, I took the bus home, wondering when I might possibly return. Next time I’ll jump a plane, I guess.

 

 

 

 

— 30 Nov. 2011 (土)

About Jan Creutzenberg

Jan Creutzenberg, friend of theatre, music, and cinema, comments on his performative experiences in Seoul and elsewhere.
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