In this new series, The Jeju Weekly brings you the best of The Korea File, a podcast by Andre Goulet on Jeju and Korean contemporary music, film, politics and culture. In this edition Goulet talks to ethnomusicologist Tanner Jones who is studying Jeju’s traditions of shamanic drumming.
Tanner Jones is an ethnomusicologist, a field he describes as a “combination of music and anthropology.” For Jones, music is as intertwined with culture as swirling colors in a glass bowl, mixing yet remaining distinct, and retaining traces of genetic relationships to other cultural influences.
He first came to Korea in 2010, on “a whim,” to discover Korea’s musical traditions and work as an English teacher as part of the Teach and Learn in Korea (TaLK) program. After his first year he felt starved of “scholarly interaction” and yearned to become more active in the music scene.
He then embarked on a journey to discover Korea’s musical heritage which now sees him living on Jeju and researching the local “pungmulnori,” a form of drumming, dancing and singing often used for shamanic ceremonies. It bears a resemblance to the more famous “samulnori” made famous by the theatrical performance, “Nanta.”
Jones says Korean shamanic music is very “percussion-driven” and often accompanied by string and wind instruments. On Jeju, however, the music is purely percussive and the style of “buk” (traditional drum) produces distinctive “syncopated rhythms” (in which weak beats are stressed over strong beats).
It is a style that has enthralled Jones, and despite many Koreans telling him that shamanic traditions are “dying out” here, he believes it retains widespread cultural importance.
“I have met very devout Catholics that see shamanism as culturally important to them and so it is a very live and living thing,” he said, adding: “Tangibly a lot less than it used to be, but I don’t think it is as dire of a situation.”
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