White, minimalist and Zen. That about sums up the atmospherics of the new premises of the InKo Centre at 18, Adyar Club Gate Road. Add to that the winding little stone-flagged paths leading to The Gallery, a 650 sq ft display area, The Studio a barn-style performance hall, the glass-walled Café and a craft shop and you have airy, light-filled spaces that hold abundant promise for culture aficionados.
Inaugurated by Kyungsoo Kim, Consul General of the Republic of Korea, Venu Srinivasan, Goodwill Envoy for Public Diplomacy of the Republic of Korea, and B.S. Seo, Managing Director, Hyundai Motor India Ltd, the Centre launched its arts programme with ‘Ceramic Connect,’ an exhibition of ceramics and paintings by Indian and Korean artists and a concert by E-Do, an ensemble of six talented Korean musicians, whose style blends traditional Korean sounds and jazz with contemporary stage-show dynamics.
Lead artist Kyung-Hwa, Yu, General Art Director, Seoul Metropolitan Youth Traditional Music Orchestra, is one of Korea’s most acclaimed musicians, credited with reviving the chulhyungeum, an ancient instrument. She was accompanied by Kyung-Koo, Lee ( daegeum or long pipe/flute), Jung-Chul, Seo (double bass), Young-Deok, Jo (guitar), Jae-Hyeon, Shin and Jin-Yea, Sim ( ajaeng and sori ).
In the opening number, ‘Birds of Oblivion,’ the double bass sounded the constant sustained note from which the traversing notes of the stringed ajaeng took off, thrown into sharp relief by the piercing, plaintive call of the flute. Rapid upward flights with vibrant shirring in the higher octave outlined the melody in a scale corresponding to the Carnatic raga Suddha Dhanyasi. Alternating areas of calm and flurry quickened in pace and volume, building urgency.
‘The Road’ illustrated the noble course charted by the great king of yore, Sejong, and the immense welfare he brought to his subjects. This 4-beat composition that subsequently segued into 3-beats, conveyed a gamut of emotions – exaltation, triumph and peace, with voice and flute assuming prominent roles, the latter emphasising double oscillations and a refrain which encouraged a lively medley.
The third piece, again in the pentatonic Suddha Dhanyasi scale, was based on a traditional air. It was interesting to observe how background strumming and voice maintained a soothing 5-beat cycle even as the guitar wove in cross rhythms. There was both strength and delicacy in the handling of individual notes in the upper octave, even as the reflective flute established islands of calm.
Rooted in traditional elements, the concluding song, ‘Shinawi’, featured energetic improvisational passages on what was described as a 10-beat grid that surprisingly, morphed into a 7-beat and finally a 4-beat cycle, the last accentuated by guitar riffs and a tremendously powerful voice unleashed. Kyung-Hwa later revealed that although Korean tradition does not include a 7-beat rhythm, she had learnt it in India during her tabla lessons with Pt. Divyang Vakil and incorporated the same. A truly innovative touch!
Lining up an impressive array of rhythmic permutations, the compositions were structured to provide wide avenues for improvisation. While the pieces were high on drama created by starkly contrasting sound scapes and frequent crescendos, there was, arguably, a tad more drama than necessary, perhaps springing from the need to adhere to the current multiple- crescendos-maximum-applause benchmark set by most fusion performances. Re-thinking and re-defining this aspect may work better in the interests of a more harmoniously balanced whole.
Especially since the graceful solo passages on flute, guitar and ajaeng leave you wanting more.