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Donald WomackScattered Rhythms (gugak orchestra version)Gayageum Concertogayageum concerto 산조 가야금과 국악관현악를 위한 협주곡24:002016
"Scattered Rhythms", a gayageum concerto in two movements, is, at its core, a melding of Western musical aesthetics and Korean music (gugak). The title is a reference to sanjo (meaning “scattered melodies”), the quintessential instrumental genre of Korean music. Like sanjo, the piece has a very strong rhythmic element, present in the near-constant accompaniment of drums, as well as in the solo and orchestral parts themselves. It is this rhythmic idea that not only binds together these two separate musical worlds, but also carries the piece forward as its story unfolds.

While each movement presents a clear rhythmic character, heavily incorporating syncopation and cross rhythms, the conception of the material for each is somewhat different. The first movement is more grounded in a Western sense of rhythm, developing a groove that, at times, is not unlike rock and roll. The second movement, on the other hand, while utilizing many of the same rhythmic gestures, does so in a way that is inspired more by Korean music. This fusion of conceptual source material into a single work aptly represents the intercultural situation of the piece itself — a concerto for a Korean instrument by an American composer.

Apart from the fundamental element of rhythm, the two movements are also tied together by extramusical references to the sky.

The first movement, "The Sound of Drums Echoes Beyond the Heavens", refers to an ancient (perhaps apocryphal) ritual, performed over 2,000 years ago, that sought to connect earth to heaven. A ceremony was held, full of music and dance, in which it was said that "the sound of drums outreaches heaven." While this ancient ritual may be nothing more than legend, one can nonetheless see how the idea of it may be connected to modern shaman rituals (굿) still prevalent throughout Korea today. Blurring the boundaries of rock and gugak, the piece creates a groove with a rhythmic tension and frequent hemiola reminiscent of Korean jangdan (traditional rhythmic patterns), while simultaneously evoking the edgy quality of rock music. It imagines a place beyond the heavens, where the sound of ancient drums reverberates not only across space, but also across time.

The second movement, "Spiral Toward the Center of the Sky", suggests a vortex of sorts, a powerful force pulling the music toward an inevitable collision of sound, rhythm, energy. The music more directly evokes the character of sanjo, which traditionally begins with a very slow tempo and gradually becomes faster until it reaches a climax. Like sanjo, the movement proceeds through a series of increasing tempos, growing ever more intense until its explosive ending. Unlike sanjo however, the piece actually begins at the end, with a brief violent passage of rushing notes. It then proceeds, retrospectively, to reveal how it got there, gradually becoming faster and faster until it begins spiraling in earnest. Several passages for solo gayageum again suggest sanjo, each becoming more intense. At the high point of tension, the opening material returns, finally consumed by the vortex and disappearing suddenly, a lingering resonance the only trace of its former existence.

"Scattered Rhythms" was written for and is dedicated to the great gayageum virtuoso Jiyoung Yi. The piece exists in two versions – one for western orchestra and one for gugak orchestra.