Members: Su Yean (gayageum), HyeYoung (geomungo)
Occupation: Composers, producers, performers
Current release: The new DAL:UM album Similar & Different is out now via Glitterbeat/tak:til.
Recommendations: The little prince.
If you enjoyed this interview with Su Yean and HyeYoung of DAL:UM and would like to stay up to date on their activities, visit them on Instagram, Facebook and Youtube.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
Su Yean: I graduated from the Korea National University of Arts, a place where many brilliant artists (creators) study together. The seniors and teachers who showed great performances in Korea and abroad inspired me and I naturally dreamed of becoming an artist.
HyeYoung: I started my music career within a conservative family that conserves and inherits traditional culture and wanted me to pursue the same path.
After joining the Seoul Traditional Music Association in 2014, I started to expand my internal recognition and music creation by working with passionate colleagues. I liked addressing music more by sympathizing with the emotions and ideas of other artists than with a particular texture of sound.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
HyeYoung: I was greatly inspired by Jae Ha Lee, a geomungo player. Regardless of the boundaries of between creation and tradition, he has a mind and an attitude as part of which he treats music with his faith and his identity in his performance. I received lots of good impulses from him for making music that contains my thoughts and my feelings as dal:um.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
Dal:um mostly cares about the space (blank) between the music, between the sounds. This has been our aim since we started. So, we do not fill something up thoughtlessly with music.
Also, we are focusing on showing individuality, respecting each other’s differences.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
As we have been trained and worked as music performers for a long time, we felt a lot of obscurity and uncertainty when it came to our own creations in the beginning. But we realised that we could achieve our own unique color by taking out our inner thoughts and feelings step by step as a language of music.
Based on the many experiences and performances that dal:um has now been through, we are looking forward to growing further in the future.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
Dal:um focuses on extracting a silken sound from the Gayageum and Geomungo. So, we minimized the mechanic sound of the instruments as much as possible. Once we'd formed the ensemble, we carried out a “monthly Dal:um project” as part of which we presented our works every month for seven months. After that we did our first recording.
As much as possible again, we aim to work on the basis of the unique tone that only Gayageum and Geomungo have.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
We do not use any other instruments or tools. Rather, we started improvising by focusing on what our instruments had to offer, on their unique tones, rather than a melody or a rhythm. There are still many things we don’t know about music or creation, so we are in the process of exploring this step by step.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
The first album of dal:um contains collaborations with a few composers. First, we shared a common topic that we wanted to talk about, listened to their thoughts and conveyed our ideas to them. Some songs are made by accepting these ideas from the composers.
In the case of "Tal", it was a co-composition work from the beginning. After sharing the idea and making a song about Korean mask dance with composer Jiwoon Choi, we completed our first draft on the Sanjo Gayageum and Geomungo. And based on this draft, Dal:um arranged it for a Gayageum with 25 strings to perfect a more dynamic song.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
HyeYoung: My life is largely divided into 2 different routines: when I have a piece I'm working on - and when I don't.
When I have a project, I mainly do my work at night. During the daytime, I'll focus on other schedules or practices, but I'll think about my work all the time until I sleep. I have a habit to record my ideas whenever they come out in my mind. When I need to rest, I do exercises or go out to the suburbs to enjoy driving and a cup of coffee. I often listen to the songs (not the kind of music I worked on) and watch a movie over a beer.
Also, I like to travel alone, so I'll go on a trip overseas whenever I have enough time and money (only the local city these days). I usually visit art galleries, museums, and restaurants with moderate recognition to feel the color and culture of the area. Then, I focus on myself by evoking thoughts.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
I remember that we won a prize in a competition with the song "Tal" after rearranging it. Thanks to this process, we managed to get our own color and a clearer direction. Since this moment, we felt that we had one step forward in our music creation.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
I think that inspiration and ideas which suddenly pop up in our minds are simply due to the atmosphere and content of the song only. In fact, we spend lots of painful time to write a song. We try hard until the result comes out. So, it seems that a certain creative spark comes to us when we surpass the limit of physical strength and mental concentration.
This pattern can seem to be hilarious, but we have to do it for our good quality of works.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
It is difficult because the category of this question is too wide to answer. If we adopt this into our real life, we would try to reduce conflicts instead of insisting selfish claims like right or wrong, mine or yours based on common ethics such as respecting each other and protecting mutual human rights.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
HyeYoung: I think that the overlap of hearing and smelling is something I relate to. When the two remembered senses are interacting with each other, specific emotions, experiences, or emotions come to mind.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
Dal:um tends to approach to the direction of life.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
I think that music is a language capable of expressing things which are non-explicable. Music seems to be the language that can relate what cannot be explained.
We express our thoughts and interpretations about certain keywords at that moment into the music, and the listeners can also create their own impression, but potentially with different interpretations. I think that’s the charm of music.