Korean Drums -- Binari: Well Wishing Music
(ARC, 2012)

This is an excellent album whether you are a newcomer to traditional Korean music or an aficionado. Dulsori are masters of atmosphere and skilled musicians; they have been performing since 1984. The title Korean Drums is at once fitting and misleading. Certainly there are drums, and they are often the centerpiece of the music. But there is a lot more than drums involved in most of the tracks. Plucked strings ring from the geomun'go and gayageum. The plaintive reed sounds from the piri and taepyeongso are often heard, too. There are many other instruments as well, played with perfect timing and passion.

The vocals also play an important part -- they are almost as engaging as the drums. Whether it is a choral melody, a heartfelt and powerful solo, or the encouraging shouts of the drummers, the voices are weaved into the music at all times.

There are two main shortcomings to this album, though neither of them are the fault of the musicians, but rather the medium. Recorded performances of traditional Korean music are vastly inferior to experiencing the music in person. The first thing you miss are the visuals -- the artistic placement of the instruments, the movements of the musicians (which are often a beautiful choreographed dance), the bright, beaming faces as they invite you into the experience. You can almost hear these visuals in the music, if you open yourself to fully experience the music. The other downside is you can't feel the drums. When the big drums are played, you feel it deep down in your gut and chest more than you hear it. The drumming is very impressive, though you will need to turn it up very loud and have a powerful sound system to even get a vague idea of a live performance.

The album includes detailed liner notes for each song (in English, German, French and Spanish) and many photos. There are descriptions of the instruments and pictures of Dulsori's live shows. There is also a well-written introduction to Korean traditional music in general. ARC did a very nice job with the booklet.

Dulsori has put together a very nice album that will mesmerize you with its rhythms and lively vocals. If you have seen Dulsori, this will bring back vivid memories. If you have not, it will inspire you find a live performance of traditional Korean music.

music review by
Patrick Derksen

30 August 2014

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