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Donald Womack巫 무 Mugayageum and janggu 산조가야금, 장구12:002013
When commissioned by gayageum player Jung Gil-seon to write a sanjo-type piece using shaman rhythms, I immediately began thinking of how I might capture the raw, manic energy that is manifest in the traditional Korean gut, or shamanic ritual. In a gut, through music and dance a shaman mediates between the human and the spirit worlds, becoming ever more frenetic in seeking to enter a mystic place between the two realms.

The notion of sanjo, with its ever-increasing tempo and intensity, is also clearly present in the piece, as its natural shape melds perfectly with the idea of moving toward a state of frenzy. Various shaman rhythmic patterns, or jangdan, are used, though often in ways that are very much non-traditional. They are frequently interrupted or fragmented, interspersed with other rhythms, or altogether ignored, as in the free section in the middle of the piece. Further, the phrase structure of the gayageum frequently conflicts with the jangdan as played by janggu, creating a rhythmic tension that lends a new feel to the traditional character of sanjo.

Structurally, the number three, representing the three elements of the gut ritual — humans, shaman, and spirit — is embedded into the piece on various structural levels. A motive heard at the beginning of the piece serves as something of an architectural pillar, recurring in the middle and again at the end, each time more intense than the last. There are three main sections with three main climaxes, and many ideas, such as the drum strokes at the beginning and the gayageum gestures that immediately follow, occur three times.

The word Mu has several meanings in Korean. As the title of the piece, it refers to shamanism itself, as related by the character 巫. Beyond that though, it means “nothingness” and is also etymologically related to the word for “dance”. All of these meanings are suggested in the piece, with its various dance-like passages and its mysterious fade into nothing at the end.
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