Samulnori dance

The term SamulNori was first brought up in 1978 and describes a genre of music as well as serving as the name of Korea's leading traditional performance group. When used to describe the music genre, SamulNori refers to the performance of four musicians playing and dancing each with a different Korean traditional percussion instrument. The Korean worlds "samul" means "four things", and "nori" means "to play" hence "four things playing."

In 1978 four extremely dynamic and talented Korean percussionists came together to form the group SamulNori. Henceforth, SamulNori has sparked a renaissance in Korea's music scene as well as becoming world-acclaimed. The origin of SamulNori's music can be traced back to what is usually referred to as "farmers" band music ("nong-ak"). SamulNori uniquely combined the rhythms used in nong-ak with musical elements from shamanic ceremonies and modern compositions.

They therefore stand at a musical crossroad where rural and urban traditions and east and west meet in a synthesis of music and dance. They mastered the rhythms to a high level of intricacy and also increased the tempo immensely. These new styles were what they became known for and what differentiated samulnori, the music genre, from nong-ak.

Over the years, SamulNori’s U.S. tours have brought them to New York City, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, Hawaii and the Asia Society’s sponsored tour across the country. In 1985, the Asia Society was awarded an “Obie” for Off-Broadway Theatre for introducing SamulNori to New York’s stages.
SamulNori has performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. and at the Smithsonian Institution as part of an effort to establish scholarly exchanges between the Smithsonian and Korea. They also appeared at the Percussive Arts Society Convention in Dallas and served a residency for the University of California at Berkeley.

Internationally, SamulNori has toured Germany, Austria, Great Britain, Sweden, Switzerland, Japan, China, Australia and Greece, where they accompanied the Korean Olympic representatives for the lighting of the Olympic torch in 1988. They also visited Italy, where they were filmed for a Puma sneakers commercial.

SamulNori has collaborated with many highly acclaimed musicians from around the world from a variety of styles of music ranging from jazz to pop and have also performed concerti written expressly for them with orchestras. They have taken part in many festivals including “Live Under the Sky” in Japan and Hong Kong, the Kool Jazz Festival, Moers Jazz Festival, and Han River International Jazz Festival.

In addition to their busy touring schedule, SamulNori is dedicated to furthering the tradition of their unique performance and teach at the SamulNori Academy of Music in Seoul. They have been the subject of several books (including their own intensive instructional book) and videos for many labels including SONY. their 15 recordings are available on the CBS/SONY, Nonesuch, CMP, Polygram, Real World, and ECM record labels.

“Samul”, the Instruments stand for Lighting, Wind, Rain, and Cloud

SamulNori’s music is based on the rhythms of traditional Korean folk percussion music.
The name SamulNori literally means “the play of four things.” The four things refer to the four percussive instruments. Each instrument is associated with an element in nature.
They play the harmony of cosmos linking up nature and human being in accordance with the rule of Yin and Yang’s change.

K’kwaenggwari (small gong) is made mainly of brass with trace of gold or silver. It is hand held and played with a bamboo mallet. One hand holds the mallet while the other hand is responsible for dampening the sound produced. The player of this instrument often plays the role of leader, signaling transitions in the music. As each instrument is associated with an element in nature, the k’kwaenggwari is related to lightening.

The Ching is a large gong that is struck with a padded stick. This instrument can be played in a number of ways: hung on a frame, hand-held by handle, or played with two hands.
Ching should make an osculating sound, imitating the shape of the valleys of Korea. Thus, Ching is associated with the wind.

The JangGo is often called the hourglass drum, referring to its shape. The drum has two sides, each with a different types of leather skin. One side produces a high pitched sound. This instrument is associated with rain.

The Buk is a barrel drum, made of a piece of hollow out wood and two leather skins tied to the wood. It is played by a single stick and provides the bass sounds of the group. The buk is related to the clouds.

The Musical background of SamulNori

The origins of their music, “SamulNori” can be traced to what is usually referred to as farmers’ band music (nongak) and ceremonial music. It also incorporates the influences of folk and religious music (pinari) and their intricate rhythms have become quite uniquely on their own.
According to ethnomusicologist, Keith Howard, Ph.D. the “music of SamuINori belongs primarily to the world of farmers’ bands (nongak), a folk tradition central to the Korean heritage. It has often been said that nongak captures the spirit of all that is Korean. With a documented history beginning back in the third century with Chen Suo’s “San Kuo Chih”, which reads “In Mahan the people held a festival to honor God at the time of sowing in May and of harvesting in October.

All of them assembled together, enjoyed singing and dancing day and night without pause, forming lines, circling around, stamping on the ground and clapping their hands according to set rhythms.”
(not that we could suggest that the music has remained similar over time), and a polysemous history encompassing military, farming, ritual and entertainment elements, nongak has been described variously.

The group “SamulNori” combined traditional rhythmic constructs derived from local farmers’ bands and traveling troupes with shamanic ceremonies and modern compositions and thus stands at a musical crossroads where rural and urban traditions and east and west meet in a synthesis of music and dance.
For this reason SamulNori is both traditional and contemporary.

“They don’t play like we used to,” say the islanders to the south of the Korean peninsula and “that’s not nearly what I taught them,” said Kim Pyong-sop, in reference to their version of nongak.
Change has clearly happened. Pan Kut traditionally referred to as a type of entertainment given in a local gathering place, either by a local band during a village ritual, or by a touring group. Pinari, a type of prayer, was traditionally given by invited musicians or shamanic practitioners to promote health and prosperity amongst a family, or to ensure spiritual support for a building project. But the folk religious world to which Pan Kut and Pinari belong is dying; today few villages maintain bands, even fewer hold annual Pan Kut and itinerant traveling troupes have disappeared.”

Dr. Howard offers some of his comments, “The music has moved from the world of ritual to entertainment. Today in Korea, mass entertainment channels and “airport art” provided for businessmen and tourists present large groups of pretty, young dancers who give simple, repetitive patterns from nongak in an ever-smiling environment. But SamuINori has chosen rather a reinterpretation of the past in a specialized, thoroughly professional present.

Complexity has been added to the simplest music, which leads to a world of rich, dramatic contrast. Silence gives way to a mesmeric telling of the gong, slow thuds on a drum, and accelerate to shrill pitched rapid strikes.

Climaxes are built and subside peacefully like waves. SamuINori thus provide a blend of old and new.