Words by Simon Broughton
More long zithers than you could shake a stick at
South Korea’s Geomungo Factory are the most exciting group I’ve seen in the past year. Contemporary, traditional and inspirational. Their music sounds organic but is full of playfulness as well as wisdom. This is their debut CD. The music is deeply based in Korean tradition, but also innovative and compelling. The exotic sound of the geomungo is their USP: it is one of Korea’s many long zithers, with six strings, and it’s struck with a stick. Its sound is deep, muscular and gutsy.
Traditionally, the geomungo is played solo with percussive accompaniment from a drum. But Geomungo Factory bring five different instruments together, composing new music and create a galaxy of acoustic textures with throbbing beats, delicate plucked strings and visceral bowing and string effects. ‘Geomungo & Tango’ is a good example of this – it’s almost like Astor Piazzolla going Korean. ‘The Starry Night’ apparently alludes to Tchaikovsky’s ‘Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy’ and features a ‘xylophone geomungo’, but it fits the texture of the music. ‘Groundless Fear’ is one of the most arresting tracks with a bowed ‘cello geomungo’ and plenty of experimental techniques, while the final track, ‘Cycle of the Sound’, brings in an electric geomungo and a whole new sound world. They have included one vocal track, though they scarcely needed it when the range and dynamism of their instrumental sound is so strong. It has been hard for Korean bands to break through to a worldwide audience, but Geomungo Factory really deserve to. They are playing at WOMEX followed by several European dates, so let’s see.
Track to try: Movement on Silence