Scene from Heung Boo-Ga (excerpt), from P’ansori, Nonesuch H-72049.
This is a woman singer, backed by a single drummer. The drumming consists mainly of interjections between the lines being sung. Also, there is a sound like a foot stomping on a stage, which may or may not be produced by a drum. Although the drumming is only intermittent, the piece has a steady beat due to the singing. The vocal part consists of lines that are long, melodic, and intricately melismatic, but still have a steady pulse underlying them.
You have to pay close attention to this piece to really appreciate it; otherwise it can sound like just so much primitive wailing (that was my initial reaction to it). Also, you sort of have to get past the voice, which isn’t pretty by conventional, Western standards. But, if you do that, and, if you listen closely, you will hear some lovely, complex melodies being sung. However, they’re not repeated, so it’s easy to miss them or overlook them. I have no idea whether this piece is semi-improvised or composed. If the latter, then, since it seems to be through-composed, I can’t imagine how the singer can possibly remember all of it (I have no idea whether it’s written down or not), especially since p’ansori can be quite long.
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(This was originally published on my leipzig48.com “Dancing about Architecture” blog in 2006.)