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Arts & Entertainment

Peter Stenshoel's album of the week: Korean Folk Song Vol. 4 by Lee Eun Kwan

Kevin Ferguson/KPCC

I was not sure what kind of music scale was going on--the instruments and voice were traveling many directions at once. This album confused me and I didn't really like it, but, since it was a birthday present from David Olson, I gave it additional listens. My brother-in-law has an encyclopedic understanding of many subjects, including Asian music. I knew there was something to glean--perhaps to treasure--beneath the impossibly wide vibrato and seemingly unrelated instrumental accompaniment I was hearing.

My perspicacity bore fruit.  

Once I acclimatized myself to what part of the scale is purposely sung flat (to Western classical ears), and once I surmised what makes for expert vocal ornamentation (think yodeling and soul music combined), and once I understood the warp and woof of the shifting meter, I became an outright fan of this surely ancient form of human music. Of course I don't understand the words, but music conveys human emotion, and that can be enough to make up for losing the subtleties of meaning.

This is the first piece that greeted my ears, a shamanic song later used as a drinking song, sung by dancing girls: No-rae Ka-rak.

This is changdon music, where the singer accompanies him or herself with an hourglass-shaped drum. According to the kind gentleman with Koreatown Galleria's Choice Music who told me how to write the singer's name in Roman script, Lee Eun Kwan is still alive. 

I hope there are young Koreans carrying on his tradition.