Boomkat Product Review:
'Scattered Melodies: Korean Kayagum Sanjo' collects incredible Korean 78rpm sounds recorded in the early 20th century and seldom heard by western ears.
Like the best of compilers Robert Millis and Alan Bishop's hauls from south east and far east Asia, these recordings will stun and spellbind listeners of dilated disposition. They focus on recordings of the Kayagum, a kind of smaller cousin to the Japanese Koto, invented by a Korean musician named Kim Chang-jo around 1890, not long before the earliest performances on this record.
The instrument is most notable for it's twanging resonance and vibrato achieved by various expressive tricks and techniques of the individual player, and combined with the inherent crackle of the original medium - poetically described as "a death chorus from the tiny insects" from which shellac was made - it makes for a visceral and haunting sound, one that's got us entirely rapt.
The players improvise in a style called "Sanjo", literally "scattered melodies", which neatly sums up the splintered, pinging notes and rhythmic patterns, and as the label point out, occupies a space somewhere between folk and classical, but is evidently best compared with the expressive quality of American blues, especially when synched to the fractured drums that accompany some pieces - honestly, if we weren't told otherwise, we'd almost think this was a prototypical Derek Bailey or some super raw Alan Lomax field recording from a Mississippi backwater.
I can safely say, even at this stage of the year, it's one of the most interesting and fantastic archival finds of this year. Highly recommended!