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Curtis Andrews Pungmul: South Korean Drumming and Dance

(Nathan Hesselink)
Nathan Hesselinks Pungmul is a thorough and engaging sociomusical analysis of one of Koreas most popular and iconic music
genres, pungmul, tracing its origins, later developments, and current
transformations, focused mostly in the Northern Cholla province of
Korea. The text is organized into six chapters detailing various aspects
of pungmul, ranging from historical, institutional, and personal
perspectives (especially of culture bearers), organology,
cultural/societal use, methods of transmission and learning, formal
analysis, and a summation/reflection by the author. An inviting
Introduction opens the book and invites the reader into the world of
pungmul and end notes augment the text as a whole.
Hesselink maintains a balanced yet authoritative perspective
throughout the text, which seems to be aimed at academic audiences
in general, especially those with an interest in Korean music. The
majority of the writing is from his perspective, taking the reader on
semi-autobiographical manner as it relates to his introduction, formal
and informal research, learning, and performance of pungmuls
musical and non-musical (yet important) aspects. That said, he
manages to avoid an overabundance of personal reflection and
interpretation, allowing the work to speak for itself for the most part.
Still, peppered throughput the text are the authors own anecdotal
offerings, sometimes humorous in nature, that balance the sometimes
factual nature of the material. The inclusion of the voices of his two
main mentors (impressively translated from Korean to English) as well
is his rich translations of various Korean research texts (some into
English for the first time), establishes two things 1) an indigenous
perspective on musicality, aesthetics, and musical thought and 2) the
authors sensitivity to those perspectives. The authors own questions,
reflections, and at times objective stance related to these perspectives
further impresses the reader.
Perhaps one of the enduring strengths of the text is the fact that
is the first English language text dealing specificall with pungmul and
the several first-time translations of texts related to the genre. This
plus the detailed information related to specific rhythmic patterns and
dance formations make it valuable resource for students of Korean
music and those interested in cross-cultural comparison. The reader
comes away from the text with strong sense of what pungmul is, as
pure music an dance, and its meaning to practitioners, and to Koreans
in general and its place in society.
The text does not form a narrative in a typical sense, but does
follow the authors gradual immersion into the world of pungmul.
There is a healthy dose of foreign terms (to an English reader)
regarding Korean music and culture, which could be overwhelming for

some readers. But it does reinforce the fact that the Korean
perspective is alive and well in this text and has its own ontological
slant that is worth including. A series of colour plates bring the text to
life and add a sense of vitality. While there is much talk of the music
however, a lack of even simple notation to inform the reader of the
basic character of some of the rhythms would have been useful for this
reader. But an accompanying website does fulfill this role, eventhough
it takes one away from the text itself.