By Hwang Jang-jin staff reporter
outstanding combination of Oriental depth and Western diversity, "Palman
Taejangkyong (Tripitaka Koreana)," an album recently released
by Kim Soo-chol, is an exquisite balancing act. Aimed at popularizing
a proud cultural heritage, the music is soulful and passionate, holy
and romantic, and timeless and contemporary. Tripitaka Koreana, a
Buddhist scripture carved in 81,258 woodblocks, is one of the most
prominent treasures of Korean Buddhism and was placed on
Unesco's World Cultural Heritage List in 1995. But the world's
oldest and most comprehensive Buddhist canon is actually inaccessible
to most people because it is written in Chinese, extremely expansive
Kim's album is part of the project by a nonprofit organization
to make it more familiar to ordinary Koreans and foreigners.
The Research Institute of the Tripitaka Koreana, which has produced
CD-Roms of the Buddhist canon since 1993, commissioned Kim to transform
its spirit into music in 1995. Kim, 41, is a popular singer-composer
who is well known for his talent in handling diverse genres and devotion
to popularizing traditional Korean music. "It is the most difficult
piece I have ever written," says Kim, whose credits include about
30 albums and over 35 pieces of movie and TV drama theme music.
Kim, a non-Buddhist, at first had no idea how to put into music the
profound meaning of the Tripitaka Koreana.
He tackled the problem by researching Buddhist texts and quizzing
experts. To get inspiration he frequently visited
Haein Temple in Hapchon, South Kyongsang Province, which houses
the Tripitaka Koreana, and recorded the sounds of the temple: its
bell, the chanting of sutra, running water, wind and birds singing.
He even quit smoking and drinking so he could "purify his body
and mind." "But the most helpful thing was talking with
Rev. Chongnim "Kim says. The Buddhist monk is the director and
founder of the institute who requested him to do the composition.
One day while Kim was working on the project, the preist visited
him and said that because of financial difficulty there may not be
much financial reward for his work.
"I was a little disappointed. But his smile has the power to
move people. Just the fact I worked with such a respectable man made
me happy,"Kim says. Kim was given the minimum costs of producing
Kim has been known to be able to make four, 1/2-minute songs
in just three minutes. But the music took more than two years to write.
Besides musical translation, making the music appeal to a broad audience
varying in age and nationality was very difficult, he said.
"My task was to make the Tripitaka Koreana better known
among ordinary people and foreigners," Kim said. "This piece
is based on traditional Korean music, but to broaden its appeal, I
couldn't make it either too Korean or too traditional."
Kim drew influences from Western classical music, Korean traditional
music and contemporary popular music to write the work, while trying
not to compromise integrity.
"There isn't any combination of Western and Korean music
whose roots are fundamentally different. There is just a harmony between
them," Kim says.
"Palman Taejangkyong" consists of four acts which
are based on "harmony" between the different musical genres.
The theme centers on the history and lessons of the sutra. The Tripitaka
Koreana was produced with the purpose of enlisting the power of Buddha
to help fend off invading Mongol during the Koryo Dynasty(918-1392).
The first act starts with simple and quiet melody depicting
peaceful Koryo, and changes into a tense rendition of percussion instruments
In the second act depicting disastrous war scenes, musical instruments
used in Korean, Chinese and Western church music weave into a haunting
The third act proceeds with synthesizers to represent the repentance
of those who were involved in the war and their hope for Buddhist
compassion to salvage the earthly world.
The last act combines Western orchestral sounds with traditional
Korean music to depict the peace and harmony which came after the
completion of the Tripitaka Koreana. The hopeful melody played with
Western musical instruments is repeated by solo performances by Korean
bamboo flautists to conclude the 42-minute-long work.
This album is the first in a series of Tripitaka Koreana-themed
music for Kim who is planning to produce three more albums. The second
and third albums will be targeted for youth and foreigners featuring
diverse contemporary styles including rock, reggae and dance music.
The fourth album will contain the sounds recorded around Haein Temple.
For information about the album, call 3785-0632 at the Research
Institute of the Tripitaka Koreana."
buddhist Sutra Reincarnated as Modern Symphony
TIME , 1998. 5.20.
Koreana (Korean Buddhist canon), inscribed on 81,258 wooden blocks,
is one of the most prominent treasures of Korean Buddhism for its
exceptional textual quality and for having entirely defied the scourge
of time and the elements for over 750years. As the oldest, most
accurate and extensive version of the Buddhist scriptures in the
world, it is used as standard reference in Buddhist studies not
to mention that it was designated as a World Heritage treasure in
The Eighty Thousand Great Scripture was compiled over a period
of 15years from 1236 to 1251 during the Mongolian invasion as a
result of the Korean people's wish to call for the spiritual power
of Buddha and a drive out the invaders. It has been kept intact
in mountain quarters of Haeinsa Temple in Kyongsang-namdo.
Beyond promoting its historical and cultural significance,
Rev. Chongnim set his ambition at bringing back the ancient scripture
to today. The call prompted him to launch a crusade to make the
ancient scripture more accessible to the public in this high-tech
To this end, the clergyman set up the Research institute
of Tripitaka Koreana in 1993 and has been leading efforts to computerize
the scriptures and transform the themes of this religious work into
modern music since 1995. The work of inputting the tripitaka on
CD-ROM, a process which involves transcribing, editing and proofreading
over 52 million Chinese characters, takes so much time that it will
require the work of some 40 staff members over five years to complete
by the year 2000.
As for the title music of the Buddhist scripture, he wished
for something that could embody the compassion of Buddha toward
all living creatures on the planet and the devotion of the people
who actually made the gigantic treasure.
Departing from his original idea of dedicating a piece of
purely traditional music for the orchestral version of the sutra,
he decided to give it a modern touch in recognition of the need
to create a music universally acceptable to people from "all
corners of the world."
In choosing the person best suited for creating the music
he sought, one man who occurred to Rev. Chongnim was pop singer-composer
Kim Soo-chul, who was already known for his unrelenting quest to
popularize traditional Korean music in a modern setting.
Kim, now 45, was legendary guitarist and rock vocalist in
the early 1980s as well as the talented composer who masterminded
the theme music for the 1988 summer Olympics in Seoul and the 1994
Exposition in Taejon. The multi-talented musician, also well-versed
in Western classical and Korean traditional music, has been at the
forefront of a trend to fuse the two styles.
Kim also composed the theme music of the 1992 blockbuster
"Sopyonje," which was embellished with the plaintive 'Pansori'
(a operatic, narrative Korean folk song) soundtrack following traditional
rhythms and melodies.
In late 1995, despite the fact that Kim is not a Buddhist,
he accepted a deal that guaranteed him no financial rewards.
"I didn't have even the slightest clue as to how to express
Buddha's ideas through modern music," Km confessed. "Creating
a musical version of the Korean Buddhist canon was like carving
each letter of the scripture in an imaginary world of the music
In the hope of receiving some inspiration to carry him forward
with his task, Kim resided for months at Haeinsa Temple with its
resident monks and spent many a sleepless night in search of even
on single note that would fit the religious message of the scriptures
most. A 14-hour-work schedule was normal, and Kim received no compensation
for his work other than funds for marginal production costs which
were provided by a corporate sponsor, Samsung.
Furthermore, his engagement in the monumental project brought
on many significant changes in his attitude toward life. "I
quit smoking and drinking on the idea that a 'polluted mind and
body' would never get me to the truth buried in the treasure,"Kim
noted.? Three years of devotion finally paid off when his four-act
composition was completed and dedicated before Buddha in the form
of a CD album.
"The ancient scriptures have finally made popular debut as
a symphonic masterpiece intended to spread its guiding tenets, "said
Rev. Chongnim during a dedication ceremony held at Chogyesa Temple
in downtown Seoul last Friday.
The composition features a rare blend of traditional percussion
instruments and Western church music in the background while latest
Western instruments are played according to Korea's five-note melodic
The themes Kim tries to depict are grounded in the period
of Korean history which gave birth to the great Buddhist sutra of
the 13th century. Inspired by its historical lessons, he viewed
the essence of human life as a struggle filled with pain and conciliation
before entrance into enlightenment was permitted.
The first act, titled"The Gathering storm," stars
on a light note but soon suggests the tension that might have prevailed
before the Mongolian invasion of Korea with the continuos use of
heavy percussion instruments such as the barrel drum, and squeaky
A theme which in furthered in the second act, "The Tide
of Battle," is that taking someone's life during a war is no
better than taking one's own soul. The second chapter features a
war scene which ensues the total destruction of humanity. Human
beings are described as a greedy, ignorant and sinful creatures
who pursue mundane interests as the ultimate goal of their lives.
Soloist performances of the ajaeng (seven-string violin of Korea),
taegum (bamboo flute) and taepyongso (corn piccolo) are alternately
fused with the slow, processional orchestral backdrop before the
powerful five drum dance music concludes the ruthless battle scene.
"The various instruments, each with different characteristics,
represent the horror, painful outcries and sorrow of war,"
said the crossover composer.
The highlight of the third act, titled "journey to Valhalla,"
occurs when an occult synthesizer sound, which was designed to symbolized
the shame and repentance of war, is heard. "Our ancestors must
have felt a sort of repentance as well as compassion for Buddha
when carving the giant sutra, and their state of emotion is the
theme of this act. " Kim stated.
The title of the fourth act, "At St. Peter's Gate"
is borrowed from a christian concept. It describes the peace and
harmony which came into being thanks to the devotin of a people
who craved the materialization of the grace of Buddha in this world.
A soothing solo performance of the bamboo flute is mixed with solemn
orchestral music to end the 42 minute musical saga,
"Composing this religious theme music was the most important
and difficult work of my career,"
Kim admitted bashfully. "The dedication of this music will
hopefully serve to further promote the recognition of the scriptures
among the public, not to further my popularity." Kim is now
bent of putting out other crossover editions for youth and foreigners
featuring reggae, rock and dance rhythms. He also plans to record
temple life in the distant mountains on CD titles by fusing the
sounds of wind, flowing water, and chanting with the music of the
drum and wooden gong.
The orchestral tripitaka will be released on the Samsung
Music label today. The CD record is available at any record store,
but purchase through the Research institute (02-3785-0632, 797-0585)
will help the costly effort to computerize the Buddhist scriptures
in coming years, according to Kim Jong-hun, an official of the institute.
Choe Yong - shik Staff Reporter
Big Man' Kim su-chul lost in sounds of
traditional Korean Music
/ AUGUST 18, 1995
By Sohn Tae-soo Staff reporter
pop singer tries to bring ethnic music closer to everyday life
More than a decade has passed since singer Kim Suchol gave up
Though his popularity is not so high as it was in, the
1970s, on the very few occasions that he dose perform he can still
command 5 to 6 million won for an outdoor concert.
Since the early 1990s, the 38-year-old singer has been
devoting his time and energy to experimentation with the sounds
of various traditional Korean musical instruments.
Making Korean music popular around the world is his foremost
concern. "To bring traditional Korean instrumental music
closer to everyday life and to the world's pop music scene is
my life-long task. "Kim told The Korea Herald.
"I hope that the audience of the global village can
gain a better understanding of the beauty and depth of Korean
music through my work," he said.
Kim writes music for both Western and traditional Korean
instruments. He sometimes combines the two and reforms instruments.
For composing he uses such instruments as synthesizers,
electronic guitars, taegum (transverse flute), kayagum (12-stringed
zither) and taepyongso (Korean-style oboe with a conical, metal
bell and a wooden pipe).
Versatile in everything from pop and jazz to ballads and
children's songs, Kim said his experimentation with these instruments
is part of his continuing search for better music, regardless
of genre, time and space.
Of his own music, he prefers to describe it as "harmonization"
of traditional Korean and contemporary Western music rather than
an "encounter"or "mixture."
Kim has poured out some 1.5 billion won into buying musical
instruments and releasing albums since the early 1990s. This is
quite a sum, considering that the entire government budget for
the Year of Music last year was 1 billion won (some $1.3million).
"Korean music is still regarded as a genre that can
be played and enjoyed by only a selected few. Though he is not
an expert in Korean music, Kim Su-chol is surely one of a few
young artists who have broken this prejudice, " said Park
Bum-hoon, music professor at Chungang University and conductor
of the National Orchestra of Korea.
enjoyed popularity as a singer from the late 1970s to mid-1980s
with fans among all age groups. This career began in 1977 when
he organized a group "Guitar and the Song" as a freshman
at Kwangwoon University.
He formed the "Little Big Man" group the next
year and went onto stardom with song "Seven Colored Rainbow."
Since then, he has had more than a dozen hit songs and released
25 albums (including 11 solos).
Kim's career as a composer is no less impressive. He has
written music for 15 television dramas and 19 movies including
"Sopyonje" and "Berlin Report." He even writes
music for dance.
He worked as a composer for the opening shows of the 1986
Asian Games in Seoul and the 1988 Seoul Olympics. He was the music
director for the '93 Taejon Expo.
Kim has been awarded with various prizes including the Grand
Prize at the annual KBS Song Contest in 1984. In 1989, he became
the first pop singer to receive the top prize in the composition
division of the annual Korean Dance Festival.
Kim's versatility as an artist dose not stop there. He has
played a leading role in two movies--"Whale Hunting"
in 1986 and "Kumhong, My Love" in 1995.
with Korean music
interest in Korean music dates back to 1980 when he was a senior
at Kwangwoon University. He formed a cinema group to produce a
film on young Koreans "The Mask," which advanced into
the final competition of a youth film festival in France.
"While I was writing music for the movie, I felt the
limits in my ability to handle Korean music," he said. "I
was very ashamed and suffered from a kind of guilt."
So he decided to learn Korean music properly. His first
teacher was Prof. Park Bum-hoon who taught him how to play the
piri, Korean flute.
"It took two or three years for me to get a grasp of
Korean music," Kim said, not easy or interesting but boring,
difficult and sometimes "irritating." But his knowledge
of other music helped him to gain a deeper understanding.
the past 10 years, Kim has undertaken an experiment to reform
traditional Korean instruments.
The first target was the changgo, an hourglass-shaped Korean
drum. He made holes on one side of the drum to compare the sound
with that of an untouched one. He found that the sound changes
according to the size of the hole.
He produced five types of changgo with holes of different
sizes. The smallest hole is 10cm in diameter and the largest leaves
the side uncovered.
The same experiments were made on all six different sizes
of the changgo and therefore, he now has 30 different varieties.
It proved to be a costly endeavor as hundreds of changgo
were broken in the process.
These new instruments were introduced in a performance during
the 80 minute opening ceremony of the '93Taejon Expo.
Kim's experiments continued with the ajaeng, an eight-stringed
wooden zither. He challenged the conventional perception that
the instrument is only played with a bow.
"I found that it can also be played by tapping or
striking the strings with a stick," he said. So two players
are needed to play the ajaeng:one can saw a tune with the bow
and the other, by striking the strings with a stick.
The ajaeng as a percussion instrument was introduced on
an album released last year "The Road to Hades."
has given lectures on musial sounds at such universities as Seoul
National, Chungang, Korea and Ajou for the past two years.
His latest concern is comparative musicology.
"I am interested in the history of sound in Asian countries,"
Kim said. Understanding the culture of a certain country is prerequisite
to understanding its music, he said.
Kim plans to visit India in September to meet traditional Indian
dance master Birju Maharaj and will soon start his study of Indian
music. He has acquired some rare tapes from India and Nepal featuring
music of the Indian string instrument "Sitar" or the
percussion instrument "Tabla."
He said he would also visit China, Japan and Africa.
Kim is also interested in keeping nature in music. "I
hope I can create music which even foreigners can naturally understand
and listen to without any difficulty. That music must not sound
mechanical but closer to the character of nature."
Kim is currently working on his new CD album, this time
on the subject of environmental protection.
"The problem of human alienation was one of the most
urgent issues earlier this century but destruction of nature has
emerged as the new problem of today," he said.
of Hawai'i at Manoa
Center for Korean Studies
1881 East-West Road / Honolulu, Hawai'i 96822
Telephone:(808)956-7041 / Facsimile:(808)956-2213
March 18, 1996
Soo Chul Kim
behalf of the members of the Center for Korean Studies at the
University of Hawai'i and the Korean scholarly community in the
United States, I would like to thank you for your participation
in "Korean Culture: New Identities" to be held on Friday,
April 12, 1996 at the Imin Center, Jefferson Hall, on the University
of Hawai'i campus. This cultural event is organized in conjunction
with the annual meeting of the Association of Asian Studies, the
largest international gathering of scholars studying Asian societies,
to be held in Honolulu from April 11-14, 1996.
are excited to invite eight of the finest artists like you to
introduce Korean music and dance to thousands of international
scholars who will attend this academic convention in April. This
will be an excellent forum to present the creative art of Korean
culture, via the melding of traditional and modern forms, to the
learned community of scholars who are largely unfamiliar with
am deeply grateful for you willingness to help us stage this important
cultural event. It is a rare opportunity to have as many eight
world-class Korean artists in a single performance presented in
a university setting. I can assure you that this will be one of
the premiere Korean cultural events to be held in the United States
in recent memory. Thank you very much.
Seoul,20 October 1995
DER BUNDESREPUBLIK DEUTSCHLAND
OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF GERMANY
Soo Chul Kim
It is my pleasure to hereby confirm that the Government of the Federal
Republic of Germany invites you for a visit from November 18 to
December 4, 1995.
programme for this journey will be arranged by the Federal Press
and Information Office, all costs of travel, accommodation and transport
will be met by the German side.
Embassy will provide you with a programme of the visit as soon as
the final arrangements have been made. Meanwhile the Embassy submits
additional information which might assist you to prepare your visit
hope that you will have a pleasant trip and a successful stay, and
I am most confident that this visit will further contribute to the
good relations existing between our countries.
1992/12/25 The HanYang Journal Interview with Kim Soo-chul
to Traditional Sound
Turn 'Little Giant' into 'Big' Giant
Choi Yong-jun Reporter
When Kim Soo-chul was known as a popular singer, he was nicknamed
the "Little Giant." Now that he is no longer a "pop"
singer, he is trying to bring Korean traditional sound of music to
the world. He is trying to harmonize foreign music with Kugak, (Korean
classical music). To this end, he is working to strengthen and invigorate
indigenous music so that it will not be overwhelmed by foreign popular
music. The Hanyang Journal interviewed Kim Soo-Chul on his music and
his purpose of his harmonized music.--Ed
Q: What is your motive in using Korean
A: In 1980,
my friends and I formed a movie club to study each other's field.
I took charge of the music field in the club. We planned to produce
a movie, in which the theme was 'Tal' (Korean traditional mask). The
movie was to be exhibited in the Junior Film Festival which was held
in France. We needed the Korean traditional sound to learned Korean
classical music and I perform it because I recognize its difference.
I modernized the Korean classical music's technique and I create its
sound through my original idea. For example, when I play Kayakum (Korean
harp) with a guitar, then I must know the compositional technique
of Kayakeum. My method is to introduce this harmonized music.
Q: When did you begin to harmonize Korean
traditional music with your music?
A: I began
to try it step by step from 1983. I participated in the composition
of music and its adaptation such as in the movies, dancing, plays,
dramas and so on. If the music fit then I used it.
Q: How many areas did the harmonized
music occupy in your music after you studied Korean classical music?
to the character of the event or theme of the music, it was decided
according to its importance. For example, when I took charge in
the '88 Olympic and '86 Asian Game's festival music. The Olympic
and Asian Games are international events, excessive Korean traditional
sound is not suitable. These events needed a harmony of sound. So
it was necessary to harmonize both western and oriental sound. When
foreigners heard the music, they accepted our traditional sound
without difficulty. In the case of the EXPO event, which will be
held in 1993, the event will be an up-to-date, exhibition. So, its
music must be up-to-date, too. Above all, it is the most important
thing that our traditional sound becomes the heart of its event.
Q: How did you use Korean classical music
or study your musical composition?
use Korean classical music, I try to arrange the sound with a modern
composition technique. Generally, such a method is called an introduction.
People think that such a sound is played by electronic music. This
is not a good idea. It is never resolved through the simple introduction.
That is to say, Korean classical music is in a class of its own.
Western music has its own class. That is why I learned Korean classical
music and I perform it because I recognize its difference. I modernized
the Korean classical music's technique and I create its sound through
my original idea. For example, when I play Kayakum (Korean harp)
with a guitar, then I must know the compositional technique of Kayakeum.
My method is to introduce this harmonized music.
Q: What do you think about others who
criticize you on your efforts? Some students who major in Korean
classical music has done this.
can be used in many ways. Of course, every nation has its own music.
Also they make an effort to develop their own traditional music.
I think that the purpose of music is to use it correctly when one
creates a new composition. Also its purpose is to improve one's
culture. So such a criticism is not important to me. Music is not
the only way to do this. If one professor taught traditional music
to three students then among them, one will preserve its theory,
another will play the music and the third will introduce it widely
and try to transform and create it vigorously, all of this important.
Of course, this is a simple example. But, I choose the third way
and I have my own way to use Korean music in an effective way.
Q: Have you ever suffered from any discouragement
in the study of Korean classical music?
is difficult to express the problems. Anyone will have a hard time
in what he is doing. Above all, time and consistent efforts are
Q: I think that your musical genre was
hard rock in your youth. How can you explain your musical genre
course, I began my music career with hard rock. Mostly, these efforts
were during my youth in the group,'Little Giant' But, genre does
not mean everything to me. After studying the Korean classical music,
my music changed with a new concept of sound. I think that sound
exists in everything. The concepts of sound are very wide and complex.
So much sounds exist in this world such as the sound of civilization,
continental sound, sound of an island, sound of a peninsula, and
so on. I want to know all the sounds worldwide through our traditional
sound. And through these sounds I want to play our traditional sound
to the whole world. For this purpose, I must know our traditional
Q: Recently, I think that your musical
attempt became smaller than before through the T.V. or mass-communication.
Do you have any reason for this?
now, I have attempted many musical efforts through the mass-com.
And I will continue to make such an effort. But, recently, it is
a fact that my public appearance has become less than before. I
think that the influence of the mass-communication is very strong.
I don't avoid appearances on the radio or T.V. But, now-a-days T.V.
show programs are for teenagers. The teenage generation asserts
itself strongly. I cannot force them to accept Korean traditional
sound. If they want to listen to traditional sound, then I am willing
to play our traditional music for them.
Q: Do you have any philosophy toward
has a meaning in itself. Chaos is in the primordial order. I create
new order to the sound of chaos with my thinking and passion. We
must not attach our thoughts to things indiscriminately.
Q: I know that until now you have participated
in many art fields. And you are known to many people in various
fields. Do you think you are influencing them with your music in
A: I think
that every field is important in its surrounding. A person must
put himself in another person's place. Such viewpoints are important
not only in the music fields but also in any thing.
Q: What do you think about the recent
is a good phenomena that music of various genre are produced often.
But, excessive attachment toward popular music is not good for improving
Q: How do you think that the harmonization
of Korean classical music and western music will influence the Korean
is no doubt that what I am doing will stimulate an improvement in
our traditional sound. I play a bridge role between our music and
western music. If my attempts are widely emulated, then people can
become accustomed to our traditional instruments and their sound.
But, it is more important that the musicians do their best.
Q: What is your musical plan in the future?
A: I will
concentrate on expressing our historically famous people in sound.
I want to express King Sejong's spirit and his love of the mother
tongue. And I will do my best in promoting our traditional sound
worldwide. This is my future plan and hope.
letter on the release of
'88 Seoul Olympic Music Album
The dominant tendency in contemporary Korean music is towards the
analysis of foreign music and mainstream popular music, better known
as pop music. The two primary illustrations of this tendency is
in the composition of new music using Korean instruments played
in a foreign style and by creating popular music in its many varied
catagories. Kim Soo Chul is one person who is on the top of this
trend. He fuses Western and Asian music through the composition
and arrangement of his works and Western-style instrumentation.
In addition, he creates a new sound by expertly combining popular
Korean musical rhythms and melodies. Through his utilization of
Korean instruments such as the Tae-Geum, Tae-Pyung-so, Kayageum,
Chul-kanyageum, and the A-jaeng, he creates a memorably pure Korean
melody. It is worth nothing that the sound of the TaePyung-So rhythm
is well suited to the creation of popular music and in particular,
the rhythm of the Ja-jin-mori and Sa-mul-nori are very effective.
Since these works allow those familiar only with foreign
music the opportunity to be introduced to the beauty of the Korean
melody, I consider them very informative and enlightening. In light
of his untiring endeavors towards the experimentation and concentration
on his work, I would like to express my sincere admiration for Kim
Jong Min/Music Critic Professor at the Academy of Korean Studies