The kŏmun’go (six-string long zither) is unique among Korean instruments in sound and playing technique, with no comparable instrument in Asia or elsewhere. As such it is especially effective in offering a strong Korean “feel,” even in ch’angjak kugak (“creative” Korean music) pieces that use many nontraditional techniques. This article provides background on the social function of the kŏmun’go and its essential performance techniques—nonghyŏn and sigimsae. It then compares the older (“traditional”) styles and repertory and recent compositions with respect to modal systems, tonal organization, and changdan (rhythmic patterns), with analysis of three newly composed pieces featuring kŏmun’go by Chun In-pyong, Yi Hae-sik, and Ahn Hyun-jung, identifying traditional elements and newly added creative aspects, showing different ways that this conservative Korean instrument fits in ch’angjak kugak. The essay argues for a dynamic understanding of Koreanness in conceptualizing and evaluating contemporary pieces.


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pp. 44-70
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