Our Daily Bread 453: Dal:um ‘Similar & Different’

June 21, 2021

ALBUM REVIEW PIECE/Dominic Valvona
PHOTO CREDIT/Kim Shin Joong

Dal:um ‘Similar & Different’
(tak:til/Glitterbeat Records) 25th June 2021

Transforming, expanding and transporting the signature silken stringed sensibilities of Korea’s prominent traditional instruments, the ‘gayageum’ and ‘geomungo’, two of those zither-like instruments’ contemporary practitioners draw upon their studies and training to sonically paint new serial emotionally and contemplative suites.

Finding a congruous home on Glitterbeat Records’ Jon Hassell, ‘possible musics’, inspired imprint tak:til, Seoul-based musicians Ha Suyean and Hwang Hyeyoung weave, pluck and twang both intricate and broader calligraphy like brush strokes on their new album, Similar & Different. Those brush strokes I mention probably arise from the duo’s aesthetic influences, channeling as they do the ‘inherent dialogue (and harmony) between emptiness and fullness in traditional Asian painting’.

A balance ‘between traditional and experimental practices’, the Dal:um (the literal meaning of which is, ‘keep pursuing something’) partnership pushes a pair of 6th and 5th century instruments beyond the ancient Three Kingdoms of Korea landscape towards the often abstract and exploratory. For all the extraordinary freedoms of expression and amorphous pondering though, the often strange quivers, scrapes, flourishes and swishes of Suyean’s gayageum and Hyeyoung’s geomungo, and the adventurous stirrings and purposeful silences are all unmistakably Oriental: The 12-stringed (though regional variants expand that number from 18 to 25 strings) gayageum is said to have been created as a Korean version of the Chinese ‘guzheng’. And so you will probably recognise some strokes, tones and even melodies on an album of largely untethered possibilities.

Though melody and rhythm are kept to a minimum, this feels like a progressing performance that starts to flow and take shape, beginning as it does with the incipient preparation tuning of chimes and rings of ‘Dasreum’, before striking up an elasticated delicate momentum on the next track, the scenic ‘tal’.

Romantic, contemplative, sometimes courtly, the duo threads a balance between worlds and the senses in a sonic space in which the sighs, gaps and ambience in-between notes is just as important as any melody: more so in some cases. 

Dal:um’s harmonically balanced album shares so much in common with the tak:til roster (especially fellow Korean artist, Park Jiha); blurring as it does the boundaries of tradition and something altogether futuristic; often unknown. They take those similar ancient instruments and perform something new and captivating: dreaming up timeless emotions and places with adroit calmness and piques of more quickened swishes, banjo-like springy tangles and Harpist ethereal flourishes.  

Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the music/culture blog monolithcocktail.com For the last ten years I’ve featured and supported music, musicians and labels we love across genres from around the world that we think you’ll want to know about. No content on the site is paid for or sponsored and we only feature artists we have genuine respect for /love. If you enjoy our reviews (and we often write long, thoughtful ones), found a new artist you admire or if we have featured you or artists you represent and would like to buy us a coffee at https://ko-fi.com/monolithcocktail to say cheers for spreading the word, then that would be much appreciated.

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