Pungmul (Hangul: 풍물; Hanja: 風物 IPA: [pʰuːŋmul] POONG-muul) is a Korean folk music tradition that includes drumming, dancing, and singing. Most performances are outside, with dozens of players, all in constant motion. Pungmul is rooted in the dure (collective labor) farming culture. It was originally played as part of farm work, on rural holidays, at other village community-building events, and to accompany shamanistic rituals, mask dance dramas, and other types of performance. During the late 1960s and 1970s it expanded in meaning and was actively used in political protest during the pro-democracy movement, although today it is most often seen as a performing art.
Older scholars often describe this tradition as nongak ([noŋak] NONG-ahk), a term meaning "farmers' music" whose usage arose during the colonial era (1910–45). The Cultural Heritage Administration of South Korea uses this term in designating the folk tradition as an Important Intangible Cultural Property. Opposition from performers and scholars toward its usage grew in the 1980s because colonial authorities attempted to limit the activity to farmers in order to suppress its use and meaning among the colonized. It is also known by many synonymous names throughout the peninsula.
Drumming is the central element of pungmul. Each group is led by a kkwaenggwari (RR- ggwaenggwari) (small handheld gong) player, and includes at least one person playing janggu (hourglass drum), buk (barrel drum), and jing (gong). Wind instruments (taepyeongso, also known as hojeok, senap, or nalari, and nabal) sometimes play along with the drummers.
Following the drummers are dancers, who often play the sogo (a small drum without enough resonance to contribute to the soundscape significantly) and tend to have more elaborate—even acrobatic—choreography, particularly if the sogo-wielding dancers also manipulate the sangmo ribbon-hats. In some regional pungmul types, japsaek (actors) dressed as caricatures of traditional village roles wander around to engage spectators, blurring the boundary between performers and audience. Minyo (folksongs) and chants are sometimes included in pungmul, and audience members enthusiastically sing and dance along. Most minyo are set to drum beats in one of a few jangdan (rhythmic patterns) that are common to pungmul, sanjo, p'ansori (RR-pansori), and other traditional Korean musical genres.
Pungmul performers wear a variety of colorful costumes. A flowery version of the Buddhist kkokkal is the most common head-dress. In an advanced troupe all performers may wear sangmo, which are hats with long ribbon attached to them that players can spin and flip in intricate patterns powered by knee bends.
Pungmul (Hangul: 풍물; hanja: 風物) was first recognized as an Important Intangible Cultural Property in 1966 under the title nongak sipicha (농악십이차, "twelve movements of farmers' music"). The designation was changed to simply nongak in the 1980s in order to accommodate regional variations. The Cultural Heritage Administration currently recognizes five regional styles of the tradition, each named for its center of activity, under Important Intangible Cultural Property no. 11: Jinju Samcheonpo nongak, from South Gyeongsang province (designated in 1966); Pyeongtaek nongak, from Gyeonggi province (1985); Iri nongak, from North Jeolla province (1985); Gangneung nongak, from Gangwon province (1985); and Imsil Pilbong nongak from North Jeolla province (1988). Each style is unique in its approach toward rhythms, costuming, instrumentation, and performance philosophy: Jinju Samcheonpo for yeongnam (영남), Pyeongtaek for utdari (웃다리), Iri for honam udo (호남우도), Gangneung for yeongdong (영동), and Imsil Pilbong for honam jwado (호남좌도).
Most scholarly works on pungmul focus on the two distinct styles present in the Honam region encompassing the two Jeolla provinces. In this region, the designations jwado (left) for Imsil Pilbong and udo (right) for Iri are determined according to geomantic principles. Looking southward from the "center" (Seoul, the capital), udo indicates "left", and jwado indicates "right". Comparative studies between the two styles brought about the development of stereotypes among professional groups. Honam jwado became known for its varying formations and rapid rhythmic patterns, while honam udo was generally seen as having slow but graceful rhythmic patterns.
Suppression and unrest
During the Joseon dynasty, this folk tradition was the primary mode of musical expression for a majority of the population. Many scholars and performers today claim that the term nongak (Hangul: 농악; hanja: 農樂) was introduced in order to suppress its broad use and meaning among the Korean population.
True public support for pungmul improved little in the decade following its recognition and financial backing from the government. There was a lack of interest among Koreans who abandoned their traditional customs after moving to the cities. This phenomenon was coupled with the introduction of Western-style concert halls and the growing popularity of Western classical and popular music.
In 1977, prominent architect Kim Swoo Geun designed the Konggansarang (공간사랑), a performance hall for traditional Korean music and dance located in the capital, and invited artists and scholars to organize its events. During the performance center's first recital in February 1978, a group of four men led by Kim Duk-soo and Kim Yong-bae, both descendants of namsadang troupe members, performed an impromptu arrangement of Pyeongtaek (utdari) pungmul with each of its four core instruments. Unlike traditional pungmul, this performance was conducted in a seated position facing the audience and demonstrated a variety of rhythms with great flexibility. It was well received by audience members, and a second performance was soon held three months later. Folklorist Sim U-seong, who introduced both men to the Konggansarang club, named the group SamulNori (Hangul: 사물놀이; hanja: 四物놀이), meaning "playing of four objects". Samul nori eventually came to denote an entire genre as training institutes and ensembles were established throughout South Korea and Japan. Usage of the term nongak was retained in order to distinguish traditional pungmul from this new staged and urbanized form.
Pungmul is played in many Korean American communities across the United States. There are several community-based pungmul groups in many cities, including Oakland, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York City, and Baltimore.
College-based groups also exist at the University of California (Berkeley, Los Angeles, Davis, San Diego, Santa Barbara, Irvine), University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Stony Brook University, Columbia University, New York University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, Yale University, the University of Chicago, the University of Pennsylvania, Cornell University, California Institute of Technology, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Buffalo, Binghamton University, Syracuse University, Stanford University, The University of Toronto, etc.
However, even though pungmul has rapidly gained popularity, it is difficult to learn and play in the United States. One major reason is the lack of resources and teachers compared to Korea, where local centers exist for preserving and teaching indigenous styles of pungmul. In the United States, most groups must rely on the limited number of pungmul players who happen to live in the vicinity, if any. In addition to the difficulty of finding a pungmul teacher or master, the lack of information is also a hindrance for those who wish to learn pungmul by themselves.
Last but not least, obtaining or purchasing the instruments is also a major difficulty. Most Korean folk instruments must be purchased and shipped from Korea, as they are not readily available in the United States. In most cases, a few members of a pungmul group would bring one or two pungmul instruments, after visiting their home or relatives in Korea. pungmul groups so far had to reply on such occasional trips to Korea for the replenishment or purchase of the new instruments. Naturally, through such a method, only a limited number of instruments can be brought in, and sometimes the pungmul group has to go on with broken instruments for a long time, until one of its member makes a trip to Korea.
The lack of teachers/masters and resources and the difficulty of obtaining instruments are some of the most apparent obstacles of the pungmul activity in the U.S. There are also subtle, yet important and unique issues that the pungmul groups in the US have to resolve. As mentioned before, pungmul has been accepted and gained popularity in many Korean-American communities across the US during the past few years. However, playing Pungmul in the U.S. now takes on quite a different meaning from playing Pungmul in Korea or playing it 10 or 5 years ago.
For the second generation of Korean-American pungmul players, who constitute a large fraction of the pungmul group, pungmul is a medium through which they can experience the cultural heritage of their parents' motherland and a way of discovering their identities and the roots. For the 1.5 generation or the recent immigrants from Korea, pungmul is a source of joy and pride about their motherland's culture. For the people from other cultural and ethnic origin, pungmul provides an easy access to learn and experience parts of Korean culture. However, its power of bringing people together has not been fully realized yet. Even though pungmul has had much positive influence on the Korean-American community in the past, there are still many gaps that have to be bridged. The cultural and generational gap between the first and the second generations of Korean-Americans is one such example.
- Important Intangible Cultural Properties of Korea
- Korean dance
- Music of Korea
- Namsadang, itinerant performance troupe having pungmul in its repertoire
- Samul nori, traditional percussion genre derived from multiple pungmul styles
- Bussell, Jennifer L. (1997), A Life of Sound: Korean Farming Music and its Journey to Modernity (B.A. thesis), Department of Anthropology, University of Chicago, archived from the original on 3 July 2007, retrieved 10 June 2011.
- Kwon, Donna Lee (2001), The Roots and Routes of Pungmul in the United States, Music and Culture (Korean Society for World Music) 5: 39–65, ISSN 1229-5930, archived from the original on 27 August 2008, retrieved 10 June 2011.
- Park, Shingil (2000), Negotiating Identities in a Performance Genre: The Case of P'ungmul and Samulnori in Contemporary Seoul (Ph.D. thesisISBN 978-0-599-79965-3.), Department of Music, University of Pittsburgh,
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