Korean traditional instrumental duo 숨[su:m] has wowed world music audiences across the world with their contemporary interpretation of music using traditional Korean instruments. After receiving rave reviews from their showcases at SXSW in Austin last year, 숨[su:m] has been busy touring the world music festival circuit. Comprising of Jiha Park (Piri, Saenghwang, Yanggeum) and Jungmin Seo (Gayageum), 숨[su:m] is coming to Adelaide to perform at the WOMADelaide in March. We speak with Jiha Park about the music and meaning of 숨[su:m] and performing at WOMADelaide.

Jiha its great to talk to you again. How are you?

I’m fine thanks!

The last time we spoke was at SXSW in Austin last year.

Ah yes I remember!

We’ve finally get to see 숨[su:m] perform in Australia! You are performing at WOMADelaide in March and I want to know what your thoughts are in coming to Adelaide?

This is the first time that 숨[su:m] will be performing in Australia and New Zealand as a team. We will be performing songs from our two albums. 숨[su:m] is going to show the Australian audience music that is performed with traditional Korean instruments. We’re going to be performing contemporary music with a fusion style.

Last time we spoke we didn’t actually talk about the instruments that yourself and Jungmin uses in 숨[su:m]’s performances. Jiha, can you talk about the instruments that you use?

I play a traditional Korean instrument called Piri which is like an oboe. Piri is a double reed bamboo flute so it can be quite loud. For WOMADelaide I will be performing on the Piri mostly. Another traditional Korean instrument I will be using is a Saenghwang. A Saenghwang is another instrument made of bamboo which has many pipes. It is similar to a mouth organ. Its an instrument where the sound is made from inhaling and exhaling the air. We found our audience to love the look and sound of the Saenghwang. Jungmin will be playing an instrument called Gayageum which is a traditional Korean string instrument which is made of wires similar to a grand piano. Gayageum is usually a 12 string instrument but Jungmin plays a 25 string version. This is a much more developed version. The sound is fuller and much more expressive. Plus I’m also going to sing as well.

Can you tell me how 숨[su:m] formed?

Jungmin and I were friends from university. What happened was our music professor gave us a collaboration course work to collaborate on together. So Jungmin and I worked on this together and decided after we graduate that we should form a group. That’s how 숨[su:m] was formed. Jungmin and I have been performing as 숨[su:m] for eight years now.

What does 숨[su:m] mean? Is there a particular meaning behind the word?

숨[su:m] is actually a Korean word meaning breathe. Of course for some of our instruments the breathing technique is very important. When we listen to music there’s three ways to listen: 1. We choose the music we hear 2. We accidentally hear the music and 3. Nature’s music that is all around us. So this is just like breathing; sometimes there is technique whereas sometimes we breathe subconsciously. The breathing 숨[su:m] and the music 숨[su:m] has very similar relations to our life. That’s the reason we chose the name 숨[su:m].

For the audience at WOMADelaide who is seeing 숨[su:m] for the first time, what should they be expecting?

We at 숨[su:m] will do our best to present our best sound for the audience at WOMADelaide. We are going to show everybody how interesting traditional Korean instruments can be and how beautiful a sound they can make. We will do our best in our performance with high energy. Even though we will be performing with instruments that may be unusual to the audience, we believe our music style is very current and modern so the audience can relate to it. We hope the audience will enjoy it very much!

In 2015 숨[su:m] had a very busy year touring the world. What has been your highlight from your travels around the world?

We have been touring a lot in Europe, USA, Canada and Brazil. Every single stage we performed in was very special for us. We have been very fortunate to collaborate with many musicians around the world. This was fantastic to work with other musicians and see how they can influence and apply to our music. Every single tour has been a fantastic learning experience. I can’t pin point one particular moment but every single experience has been amazing.

Jiha thank you and we look forward to seeing 숨[su:m] in WOMADaide in a few week.

OK thank you! See you soon.

숨[su:m] will be performing at WOMADelaide on 12th and 13th March. For more information on WOMADelaide and ticketing HERE.

For more information on 숨[su:m] check out their website and Facebook page.