Emcee Frankie Gabriel dashed to the stage, opened the concert with a warm welcome, and credited the World Music Institute and the Korean Cultural Center of New York for bringing Black String to Chelsea Table and Stage.
The packed house came to see and hear Black String, an ensemble of virtuoso musicians of international acclaim. Their musical fare is the product of a remarkable, sophisticated audio synthesis of traditional Korean instruments blended with the modern electric guitar, digital and sampled sounds, digital loops (digitally created rhythm tracks), and an avant-garde sensibility.
Black String began with a work using a repeated simple motif. Superimposed on the motif occurred an evolution of a simple theme in duple meter (2 or 4 beats in a measure) set in a structure of natural minor modality (i.e., utilizing the natural minor scale or mode). For those who read notation, here are the motif and set of notes used to establish a modal tonality.
This technique’s pathos and sonic product was music that soared in an almost hypnotic transcendental kaleidoscope of coruscating audio colors.
After this exciting, powerful opener, the quartet’s leader, Yoon Jeong Heo, welcomed everyone and noted the title of two works, “Elevation of the Light” and “Soul from Heaven.” The titles alone suggest a philosophical, spiritual, and intellectual import, and Heo spoke of the music’s additional purpose of expelling negative energy.
The quartet’s musical continuum was complex, rich, and varied. If I shut my eyes, I could imagine a dozen performers. The artists produced many sounds, if not from a single instrument, but many.
The music set performed tonight was to reside primarily in a natural minor mode with just an ephemeral diversion or two into major tonality. Of note was the continued complexity of rhythm and combinations of sounds. The music was at times atmospheric and reflective while more often intense, driving, and powerful. A powerful intellectual element also informed masterful, subtle expressions, critical improvisatory musical collaborations and reactions, and communications across the stage.
Percussionist and singer Min Wang Hwang performed on various instruments and, along with his interactive rhythmic partnership with geomungo master Yoon Jeong Heo provided a solid creative palate for the solo and improvisation work of the quartet. And while the geomungo offered full, lower-pitched sounds, akin to the bass guitar used in most rock or fusion ensembles, the geomungo also projected various percussive sounds in the hands of a performer of Yoon Jeon Heo’s credentials.
The musicians traded thematic material throughout the evening and improvised through the song’s structures in classic jazz combo form.
Guitarist Jean Oh improvised while fully utilizing the extensive range of the instrument with daring passages, harmonics, and synth/computerized sounds. With the guitar’s versatile “whammy bar,” he achieved vibrato, pitch bending, and much more. One could not help but draw comparisons of Jean Oh’s sonic offerings to the virtuosity and experimentation of the famed Jimmy Hendrix.
“Hanging Gardens of Babylon” used a recorded rhythm track to which the troupe coordinated their playing. As in my first example of a motivic sequence and theme, this selection used a simple three-note theme interacting with a short, repetitive rhythmic and melodic pattern. These musical ideas remind me of Richard Wagner’s use of leitmotifs to represent a theme or character and Ludwig Van Beethoven’s use of a simple pattern on which to build a symphonic masterpiece. One of the most famous examples of LVB’s simple motifs appears in the opening four-note sequence of his Symphony No. 5.
Metrical shifts occurred seamlessly, and at one point, as the troupe performed a driving beat in the triple meter of 6/8 time (six beats per measure), percussionist Min Wang, Hwang, began to play on a low-pitched drum a strong two-note pattern superimposed over the triplets in the quartet’s 6/8 pattern (a rhythmic device called hemiola). The quartet troupe glided into duple meter in this complex rhythmic vortex. They were not trapped there and found their way back to the 6/8 pattern to finish the piece and reprise the three-note theme and accompanying rhythmic motif.
Black String performs a spectacular synthesis of energy-filled musical fusion. An effective eclectic merger of traditional Korean instruments, electric guitar, amplification effects, and jazz and rock idioms powers them. This aural fusion was enriched by transcendental vocal orisons and digitally created sonic tools by which the intellectually charged troupe produced astonishing sounds, ideas, and intent. It was a wonderful concert!
Korea’s Black String
Geomungo master and group leader Yoon Jeong Heo
Flutist Aram Lee
Percussionist and vocalist Min Wang, Hwang
Guitarist and electronic musician Jean Oh
Chelsea Table & Stage
Chelsea Table and Stage boasts an elegant atmosphere with comfortable seating and a diverse menu for dining and drinks.
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Hilton Fashion District Hotel
152 W 26th St
New York, NY 10001
Black String performing Hanging Gardens of Babylon