Baudouin de Jaer: Compositions for Geomungo and Gayageum

[23 October 2013]

By Deanne Sole

Last year Sub Rosa released an album of gayaguem tracks by the Belgian composer Baudouin de Jaer. It sold out and they’ve released it again with a second disc. The new disc is a set of compositions for the geomungo. Both of the instruments are Korean, and zither-like, but one is treated more roughly than the other: you can hear the rasping sounds of the strings being brushed between the strikes. Roughness is a Korean aesthetic, says the booklet—“In Korean aesthetics purity does not exist as such ... there is always a certain degree of asymmetry, trouble, or liveliness.”

De Jaer seems to get a kick out of working with that “asymmetry, trouble, or liveliness,” though his compositions are less stringent and more melodic than the classical Korean tunes I’ve heard on these instruments. He likes to unnerve you with an almost-realised riff from some familiar song that floats up to the edge of your mind and disappears before the track will let you get a grip on it. He runs down a scale, relishes the sound, runs down it again slightly differently, then does it for a third time, probing at the noise. I thought of Gertrude Stein and her repetitions. Like her, he seems to be paying attention to the individual units of his art: a single word in her case, a single note in his.

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