Meeting a Master

Thanks to the “Korea-NRW-Transfer” project, I got to know German artist Juergen Staack earlier this year. Juergen studied photography, but most of his current works involve sound, speech, language in one way or another. For example, in his work Fuge (“fugue”, 2011), he installed several interpretations booths in the museum and had professional interpreters describe the visitors of the exhibition in their respective languages. (Get an impression with this youtube-clip)[1] Juergen has also done some recordings of Olonkho, Siberian folk epics. Juergen has also done some recordings of Olonkho, Siberian folk epics that have been proclaimed a UNESCO Masterpiece, like pansori.

Anyway, Juergen is back in Korea for a residency and naturally he got interested in pansori, in my opinion one of the most peculiar forms of voice art and storytelling in the world. So I called master singer Wang Ki-Seok (왕기석)[2] and he agreed to meet us. The day before, Juergen had joined me to see a wanchang-performance of pansori.[3] As this had been his first impression of pansori, he naturally had a lot of questions.

I was quite excited before seeing Wang Ki-Seok – after all, you do not meet a master singer every day. After he had lead us to a rehearsal room at the National Theater, where Wang is member of the National Changgeuk Company (국립창극단), we talked a bit. He turned out to be very friendly and humorful, sharing some insights and anecdotes from his career.

Then he gave a private performance for us, together with drummer Cho Yong-su (조용수), which Juergen recorded. First, Wang sung a danga (단가, lit. “short song”), which usually serves as a warm-up before a real performance. The title was “Sacheol-ga” (사철가 / 四節歌, “Song of the Four Seasons”) and the poetic lyrics describe the passing of time, both in nature and in human life. This was especially beautiful given the great view on snowy Mt. Namsan through the large window.

Juergen Staack, recording singer Wang Ki-Seok and drummer Cho Yong-su

Artist Juergen Staack, recording pansori master singer Wang Ki-Seok and drummer Cho Yong-su (from left to right)

Then Wang Ki-Seok presented us a sequence from Simcheong-ga (심청가). We had heard the whole piece (in fact, in a similar school of transmission) the day before, but of course it is different to stand just a few meters in front of a great singer. Wang told the part right after Simcheong’s mother has died and her father, still in shock, wanders from house to house with his crying daughter in his arms to find some help. This upclose, we could hear and see the meticulous gestures and soundbites that make pansori so special. I gave my best to place a few chuimsae, but without much success…

Juergen Staack and Wang Ki-Seok

Then Wang Ki-Seok invited us to see the new changgeuk production Baebijang-jeon (배비장전, “The Story of Bae Bijang”), he himself would stand on a different stage for the fusion musical Kim Hongdo, the Wizard of Art (가무악극 화선 김홍도). It was a short, productive meeting and I hope that I will have the opportunity to see him again and talk more indepthly about pansori.

Juergen Staack and pansori master singer Wang Ki-Seok

Juergen made some good recordings and is thinking about doing an installation based on his experiences. I am looking forward to see – and hear – the outcome of his engagement with pansori.

— 9 Dec. 2012 (日)


Footnotes:

1. See a short introduction to Juergen’s art on the homepage of the Goethe-Institut (in Korean or German); also take a look at Juergen’s own homepage.

2. Wang Ki-Seok (왕기석 / 王基錫) is one of the best-known pansori singers in Korea. His older brother, Wang Ki-Cheol (왕기철), is likewise very famous and the two appear regularly together on stage, most recently in the “thriller changgeuk”-production Janghwa and Hongryeon (장화홍련, see my review in English and Korean). Wang Ki-Seok also has toured several times in Germany, giving full-length presentations of Simcheong-ga and Sugung-ga.

3. It was a full-length performance of Simcheong-ga by Han Seung-seok (한승석), which was wonderful, not least because of the audience that pulled out chuimsae like a hurricane. I just submitted my review for the Jeonju Sori Festival-blog, so it should be up in late December. (Update: It is online! See the English or the Korean version.)

About Jan Creutzenberg

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