South Korea is a country of uniformity. Although a million miles from the draconian society just north of the border, and ultra-modern in general Asian terms, South Koreans like to be different together,eschewing the basic notion of individuality.
Over the last few years however, South Korean culture has begun branching out and has started permeating the West, mainly through its cinema (the films of Park Chan-Wook being a notable example) and this weekend in Cork sees one of the first musicians from South Korea to visit Leeside, playing in the ESB Substation on Caroline St.
Itta (her name translates as ‘ exist’ in South Korean) brings her experimental solo show to Cork as well as playing with Japanese laptop artist, Marqido, later that night as 10. ‘ Experimental’ is such a loose definition these days and could really mean anything,but listening to Itta’ s music and choice of ‘ instruments’ it would be hard to define it with any other terms.
Primarily a vocal artist, Itta has incorporated into her act a range of children’ s toys, played through various effects along with organs and piano. The result is a bizarre mix of melody and dischord, electronic sounds and psychedelic wailings that somehow combine to produce a mix that, yes, we can call music. If experimental music.
“ I was walking on the street in Seoul,” says Itta, of her inspiration to use toys as part of her set, “ and saw children who were playing with their toys. Their eyes were so bright, filled with sun and I felt that I would like to be like them, to have eyes as happy when I play music. Have people listen to music I make and see their eyes like that.”
Needless to say, this approach was something different on the music scene in Seoul. According to Itta, it is a pretty populist market where the charts rule and everyone is trying to sound like each other. Much the same as anywhere else so. “ It’s so narrow,” she says, “ so it’s hard to say that there’s a real music scene at all. People only listen to what is popular, so if they don’ t recognise something, they don’ t bother listening to it.
“ Sometimes indie musicians start making popular music, they don’t understand what the indie spirit is. I am a total outsider in the narrow Korean music scene, not just Seoul, and there are only a few outsiders. It has been a hard time musically for me for a few years, but now it’s changing slowly. Nowadays we (10) meet a lot of different, young people who have inspired us to keep going.”
Itta first met Marqido when he toured South Korea in 2005. “ He played at Bulgasari event, which is like the first experimental music and art event series in Seoul. At that time, I was the regular member of the Bulgasari, so we could watched each other’s performances, then I told him that ‘ I want to make music with you’ .”
The pair have since toured South East Asia, China, the US and Europe as 10 and this will be their first time playing gigs in Ireland. They have had great success contacting similar performers from around the world through the internet and these online connections have opened a whole new world to them outside the limited alternative scene in Seoul.
“ I grew up listening to music from both East and West,” says Itta. “ I liked to listen to radio when I was young, so I loved stuff like Pansori and Samulnori (traditional Korean music) and also classical music such as Ravel and Debussy. But it was all like this – I listened to pop music too and even Enya from Ireland, so I am excited to be going there.”
Throw the contents of a kid’ s toy box into this mix and there should be some interesting sounds emanating from Caroline St this Saturday.
Itta – I Ya Gi (story)