The sound of drums that originated in South Korea can be heard around the world, said Katherine In-Young Lee.
The spread of music genres from one region to others will be explored in “Global Musics and Musical Communities,” a two-day conference and concert hosted by the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music. The event will take place on campus Friday and Saturday. Lee, an assistant professor of ethnomusicology, organized the event to further explain the premise of her book, “Dynamic Korea and Rhythmic Form,” in which she explores the spread of samul nori, a South Korean form of percussion music.
Samul nori has traveled overseas and formed musical communities around the world, Lee said, despite certain regions having no connection to Korean culture or language. SamulNori, the quartet which originally created the genre, toured around the world in the ’90s and also taught others how to play it, using musical notations and workshops, Lee said. Since then, it has expanded into a nonprofit and is now known as SamulNori Hanullim. Lee has continued to examine the genre’s musical characteristics to explain how it has transmitted easily.
“I looked at the musical form of many of these pieces, and my argument has to do with how there is this dynamic element to the rhythmic form that is exciting for people to listen to,” she said. “When they eventually try to learn how to play this music, there is also this user-friendly aspect to it.”
Another impetus for samul nori’s spread was the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, Lee said. The South Korean government gave the genre an international stage, allowing it to officially accompany the procession of the torch. When Lee worked for SamulNori Hanullim in 2003, she observed people who were avidly trying to learn how to play the style, she said. People do not need a musical background to play it because it is not difficult to learn, which helped it spread, she said.
The event will also analyze other examples of genres that have spread, and factors that have allowed for this. During the first day of the conference, there will be a performance by Red Sun/SamulNori, a jazz and percussion collaboration founded in 1987. The event will also feature a series of speakers who have studied different genres that have traveled globally. One such speaker is UC Davis ethnomusicology professor Henry Spiller, who studies gamelan, a form of Indonesian percussion music. He will talk about its influence in the United States. Spiller said he believes it is important to be sensitive to the meaning and context of the music’s origin.
“It’s a way of fostering some kind of cross-cultural understanding, but also to be cautious and critical of what kinds of statements you make when you appropriate music that comes from somebody or somewhere else,” Spiller said. “There are issues of power that need to be carefully navigated.”
The goal of the conference is to discuss the fact that these genres are still enjoyable for those who are not very familiar with the culture. But this must be examined through a critical lens, Spiller said. There are certain cultural values that are transmitted in the music and it is important to not diminish those, he said.
Director of the UCLA Center for Musical Humanities Raymond Knapp said the event will also view the transformation of music’s meaning as it spreads and combines with other genres. For example, jazz has become a worldwide genre that still has variations in different regions. This will be demonstrated through the concert, which combines samul nori and jazz. This weekend’s concert will host Red Sun/SamulNori as it performs for the first time in the United States.
Through this event, Knapp said he hopes the center will continue to be a vehicle for collaboration and bring together local musicians, students and faculty.
As a result of musical collaboration, new sounds, rhythms and textures are created, Lee said.
“Certain musical genres can travel across these national boundaries where you can have interesting encounters and it can lead to new collaborations,” Lee said. “I hope people learn about the power of music to create communities.”