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Donald WomackWeaving Sound 위빙 소리ajaeng & janggu 산조 아쟁, 장구10:002017
In the traditional ssitgimgut, a lengthy ritual for the dead, performed on the island of Jindo on the southern tip of the Korean peninsula, a shaman performs hours of improvised singing, extemporaneously creating a unique and extended musical work with each performance. This extraordinary feat requires a high level of musical skill, and danggol (as such hereditary shaman are called), along with their accompanying instrumentalists, came to be recognized as among the greatest of Korean folk musicians.

Weaving Sound 위빙 소리 takes its inspiration from the Jindo shamans of old, and the way in which they would spin a musical tapestry with the barest of materials. Emerging from only a few pitches, a danggol would manage to create an intricate melodic web, seamlessly interlocked with the underlying rhythmic accompaniment. While Weaving Sound does not seek to re-create ssitgimgut, it is connected to the music of the ritual through its interweaving of melody and rhythm. Like the musical lines woven by danggol, melodic ideas tend toward seeming infinite variants of a theme, building from a limited amount of material and repeating the same basic idea without actually ever repeating the same melody. Like ssitgimgut, the piece is built on a foundation of jangdan (rhythmic patterns), though it uses “invented” jangdan rather than relying on existing patterns. The essence of both ssitgimgut and Weaving Sound lies in the interplay between these underlying jangdan and the overarching melodic lines.

In Weaving Sound, the ajaeng plays the role of danggol, singing melodic lines with constantly shifting rhythmic and phrase patterns over a subtly charged rhythmic base. Ethnomusicologist Mikyung Park writes in her description of a danggol performance, “If we say that the endlessly repeating percussive rhythm is a fabric on which the song rhythm is overlaid, the danggol is instantaneously knitting away with her poetic syllables, producing highly variable, intricate, balanced, beautiful designs.” Weaving Sound seeks to do the same – to musically weave a series of intricately beautiful designs that suggest the rich musical tapestry, full of melodic invention and rhythmic vitality, of ssitgimgut.