- Rethinking Korean Identity in Music: Editor’s Introduction
On February 26–27, 2010, with generous support from the Academy of Korean Studies and the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Center for East Asian Studies, I convened a small conference in Madison titled “Redefining Korean Identity in Music: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives.” The main objective of the conference was to focus attention on the varieties of musical expression, past and present, that have been or could be identified as “Korean” and to determine the role each plays in current conceptions of Korean identity and Korean music. In recent years, both scholarly and popular discourses on identity have moved away from notions of purity and authenticity to uncover and embrace the multiple sources of all forms of expression. Korea’s strong ethnic nationalism—a sense of national identity based on primordial cultural uniqueness—has become increasingly challenged over the past century, and intensively so in recent decades, as the Korean populace not only accepts but actively engages in a range of cultural expressions, including music, whose identities as “Korean” are complex and ambiguous. While it may seem most realistic to label the various types of traditional kugak as authentically Korean, and other genres of music in Korea (ch’angjak kugak, kugak kayo, fusion, and the like) as problematic hybrids or even simply as foreign, the aim of this conference was to question the validity of this view and to suggest a more dynamic and evolving model of Korean identity with respect to music. Previous conferences and publications had addressed aspects of these [End Page 1] genres individually, but very little had appeared that attempted an overarching reconceptualization of what might constitute Korean identity in music.
The invited participants addressed a wide range of musical genres and issues in their papers, and some of these have now been revised and assembled to appear together in this issue of Korean Studies. These papers cover a lot of ground, ranging from traditional kugak, in both contemporary and earlier contexts, to popular music and hybrid forms that combine elements indigenous to Korea with those deriving from elsewhere, primarily the West.
R. Anderson Sutton addresses fusion (p’yujŏn kugak), often contrasted with the academically entrenched and officially sanctioned ch’angjak kugak as a more popular and commercially oriented music. As he argues in his essay, the very name “fusion” explicitly invokes the intentional and obvious hybrid aspects of this music, representing a challenge to conservative inclinations to valorize “purity” and “authenticity” and thus to discourage or discount cultural mixture. Sutton provides critical inquiry into the range of musical practices and emerging discourses on this music and urges us to see it as an important site in the creative struggle for the future of “Korean music.”
Chan E. Park introduces us to the aesthetics of p’ungnyu (lit., “wind and stream”), arguing for the ongoing relevance of this concept in evaluating musical practices in Korea. She extols the musical knowledge and sensitivities of those with deep training in traditional kugak and argues for the continued relevance in contemporary Korea of their hard-won abilities and importance to the continued vitality of a changing kugak. Seeing the very survival of a Korean traditional music as predicated on a dynamic view of “tradition” as something that must not only accommodate but actively seek change and renewal, she is clear about the challenges and pitfalls and is sharply critical of the encroachment of Western influences in the kugak world.
We were fortunate to have one of Korea’s premier senior composer-scholars, Chun In-pyong, present his thoughts on the genre known widely as ch’angjak kugak, focusing in his article on the kŏmun’go (a six-stringed zither unique to Korea), both in its historical contexts and in three recent ch’angjak kugak works. As a composer concerned with musical value, he argues against a conservative stance that places high value on the more-traditional-sounding new works and lower value on those less grounded in traditional practice, seeing them instead as all valid examples of “Korean music.”
Turning to the realm of popular music, my article focuses on the [End Page 2] popular...