Park Jiha belongs to a rising tide of contemporary musicians from Korea who are reshuffling and combining traditional and modern music in a very fascinating way. According to the words attached to the introduction of her recent debut album “Communion” (out on Glitterbeat‘s sister label tak:til), which I highly recommend checking out, “her music combines the formalism of classical minimalism, the rootedness of Korean folk motifs and the dynamics of post-rock and contemporary jazz.” We tried to explain her style using her own words.
Chain D.L.K.: Hi, Park! How are you?
Park Jiha: ^———-^
Chain D.L.K.: Before speaking of your awesome recent album ‘Communion,’ can we trace your path back? Do you remember the very first moments when you approached a musical instrument?
Park Jiha: Actually, I learned Western instruments first, such as piano and flute, when I was a child, and I liked singing also. I always liked music very much. So, one day, my parents suggested applying to Gukak National Middle School (Korean traditional music school). Gukak means Korean traditional music. Traditional Korean music is referred to as Gukak (Hangul: 국악), which literally means “national music.”
I chose my major upon entering Gukak Middle School. My major instrument was the Piri (bamboo oboe) and I stuck to my major until graduating college. After graduation and starting my own music, I wanted to make more varied sounds, so I learned the Saenghwang (mouth organ) and the Yanggeum (hammered dulcimer) by myself.
Chain D.L.K.: …and how did you start composing your own music?
Park Jiha: I learned Korean traditional music for more than 10 years, but I wanted to tell my story, because it was difficult to find any inspiration for playing traditional music. When I listen to Korean traditional music, I also feel it is deep and great music, but I can’t deliver my emotion with my playing. So I started to make my own music. I didn’t learn any composing, but I could write through my instruments and my ear.
Chain D.L.K.: Did the sources of inspiration change over years?
Park Jiha: Yes, of course. Because my life changed and grew up, my music also did the same.
Chain D.L.K.: The beauty of your music could turn you into the ambassador of the beauty of Korean culture, which is somehow unknown to the Western masses yet…would you suggest some reading or some listening in order to take the first steps into the fundamentals of Korean culture?
Park Jiha: I recommend the Korean traditional Piri solo piece called ‘Sangyeongsan,’ which is one of my favorite traditional pieces. This piece is very gentle and calm, but sometimes very deep and powerful. You can feel all about the Piri sound. [have a look/listen here: https://youtu.be/FDHwdnCausQ]
Chain D.L.K.: Your music is a really fascinating combination of jazz and Korean music dynamics…how did you start to think that a meeting of these elements could be possible?
Park Jiha: Actually, I don’t think that is a combination of Korean music and jazz. It is true I play Korean traditional instruments, but when I’m making music, I don’t think about genre. I just make my own music and stories. The other musicians who played with me on my record, they also didn’t think about genre when playing my music. I asked them to use their own style of playing. I think it is just a combination of sounds and the communication of my language and their language.
Chain D.L.K.: Let’s get deeper into Communion…why such a title?
Park Jiha: Communion, that meant a lot to me and my music and life. It’s not a coincidence that some sounds come up to me when I was making music. Numerous substances, environments, experiences, relationships, and processes of contact and sympathy flow naturally through time. It is routine, but every moment is very sublime, so I wanted to find one word that can explain those moments. ‘Communion’ is one word that can explain every moment of my life, but I couldn’t explain clearly.
I also still relate to the meaning of Communion. It’s a big word for me. Anyway, I liked the word because when I make music, I communicate many things. For example, nature, people, air, and sometimes spirit. So, I wanted to find a word that meant ‘communication.’ I’m Catholic, so the word feels closer to me, but it doesn’t mean just a Catholic tradition. The word ‘Communion’ covers a lot of fields. After I recorded this album, I named the title ‘Communion.’
Chain D.L.K.: The title track could resemble Colin Stetson’s sonorities, but there’s something different in the daydreaming interplay you added as well as in the awesome closing…do you agree? What can you say about this great track?
Park Jiha: I think It is a very simple piece. At the beginning and end of this piece, I just repeat a simple melody, mi-do mi-do mi-do mi-do~ fa-do fa-do fa-do fa-do, something like that… Actually, this simple melody was the beginning of the piece. One day, I recorded this melody on my phone, and then for a while, I forgot this melody. Maybe a year later I listened again to this melody file on my phone, and then I started to make this piece.
Chain D.L.K.: I read you play some Korean traditional instruments…can you tell us something about them? Any related detail about them that our readers would never find on Wikipedia?
Park Jiha: Piri is a very small bamboo oboe. It has a reed, although very small, and only has 8 holes. But its sound is very loud. I think it is a very primitive and very sensitive instrument. The shape looks very simple, but when I’m playing Piri, I have to control many unexpected variables. It’s always hard to me, but because of like this awkward reasons, I feel attracted to the Piri. Moreover, the Piri is my major instrument, so that’s why I have great affection for the Piri.
A Saenghwang is a kind of mouth organ. It consists of lots of bamboo pipes. Mine is 24 pipes. It has a mysterious sound; sometimes it’s like electronic sounds, but it’s also like very natural sounds. Most of the Korean instruments cannot make harmony, but the Saenghwang is the one instrument that can make harmony. When pressing keys or closing holes in the pipes, if I press several keys, I can create harmony.
A Yanggeum is a hammered dulcimer. It’s like an Indian Santur and a Hungarian cimbalom. Recently, I am liking this instrument more and more, even though I didn’t learn in the proper form. I just needed the sounds from the Yanggeum, so I tried to do it by myself. Now, I’m just playing it in my way, but through that process, I have found different sounds. It’s not the proper way, but I think it’s cool.
Chain D.L.K.: One of my favorite moments of the whole album is its longest track, featuring a weird title: “Sounds Heard From The Moon”… any background information about this astonishing piece?
Park Jiha: I like the German artist Nils Frahm very much. I love all of his work, but I was especially impressed by his piece ‘Said and Done.’
That piece starts with only one repeated note; the sound and note are very simple, but when I listened, in that moment I could imagine the infinite possibility in one note.
I think the Yanggeum is also kind of a very old piano, so I got an idea from his piano piece.
Chain D.L.K.: Another fav is the closing track “The first time I sat across from you,” and that sax solo! Do you remember the feelings or the thoughts shaking this track while recording/performing?
Park Jiha: I think this track’s point is a contrast between Yanggeum and sax playing.
I play a fully organized piece, while KimOki (sax player) plays a very free improvisation. I really like his musical language. I made some musical demands of him in my music, but I didn’t touch his own style. He is always super!
Chain D.L.K.: Could you tell us some introductory words about the other musicians playing on “Communion”?
Park Jiha: Every person that worked with me on this album gave me some inspiration. Everyone is really different…their musical backgrounds and lifestyles, especially John Bell’s. He’s from New Zealand. They also all have their own musical work, but the style is totally different from mine. John Bell, Ki, Oki and King Tekhyun, their music is more spiritual, powerful. My music is more calm and minimal, but I like each one’s music style too. I could learn many things from them. I think the variety of harmony on Communion is also ideal.
Chain D.L.K.: Have you performed Communion on a live stage? If yes, what are the audiences you prefer?
Park Jiha: Yes, I did last year and this spring in Europe. I have some more in Europe, the US and Brazil this fall.
I’m very thankful to all the audiences who come to my concerts. I don’t have any preference. I wish I could share my music with them. That’s all.
Chain D.L.K.: Any work in progress?
Park Jiha: I’m planning to perform ‘Communion’ at NY’s EMPAC theater and Washington’s Kennedy Center in September, and I recently almost finished my next album recording!! Thank you so much.
visit Park Jiha on the web at www.parkjiha.com