What makes Korea so special, is the way it combines a respect for its distinctive past while staying at the cutting edge of technology and innovation. And if there’s one group that sums that up in music, it’s Geomungo Factory. The geomungo zither is over a thousand years old and you won’t find an instrument like it anywhere else in the world. It has six silk strings and is played by hitting and plucking them with a short stick, giving it a deep, muscular sound, both rhythmic and melodic. But Geomungo Factory have created new instruments – the ‘xylophone geomungo’, the ‘cello geomungo’ and the ‘electric geomungo’ with a wah-wah pedal. Like Konono No. 1 from Congo and Hanggai from Inner Mongolia, Geomungo Factory sound ancient and contemporary at the same time.
Geomungo Factory includes three geomungo players, Yoo Mi-young, Jung Ein-ryoung and Lee Jung-seok, who are all well-trained traditional players, plus Kim Sun-a, who plays gayageum, the plucked zither with 18 or more strings, which is much more commonly heard in Korea than the geomungo. “Most people think traditional music is boring,” they say, “so we want to make geomungo music that we can share with people and is fun.”
The band started in 2005 with ten geomungo players, but they’ve found their most fruitful formation in the past few years. Yoo Mi-young is the smiley, effervescent member of the band, who composes a lot of the music; Jung Ein-ryoung is the more serious-looking one who lets her hair down on the electric geomungo; Lee Jung-seok , the only male member of the band, started as a classical violinist, but was won over by the raw power of the geomungo’s sound.
Last year, they performed in Europe for the first time with a sensational showcase at WOMEX, the world music expo, and this is their very first British concert. Most of Geomungo Factory’s music is self-composed – and while you can make comparisons with Steve Reich, jazz improvisation, folk and ambient, and parallels with groups like Portico Quartet, it all sounds totally original. Their piece ‘Movement on Silence’ builds up from sonorous bell-life sounds to life affirming rhythms, while ‘Groundless Fear’ takes you into scary regions of the subconscious. Their music is full of delicate plucked strings and visceral bowing, throbbing beats and imaginative textures. For this concert, the first half will be based on traditional repertoire - “you can’t make innovations if you don’t know the tradition,” says Lee - the second half is built around their new compositions.
Geomungo’s album Metamorphosis got a five-star Top of the World recommendation in Songlines magazine – “The music of Geomungo Factory sounds very contemporary and very ancient at the same time. A deep, muscular sound, both percussive and melodic, is at the heart of their musical world”