Three Pink Floyd Songs Played on the Traditional Korean Gayageum: “Comfortably Numb,” “Another Brick in the Wall” & “Great Gig in the Sky”

If you come vis­it South Korea, where I live, you’ll more than like­ly pass through Incheon Inter­na­tion­al Air­port, and there quite pos­si­bly wit­ness a vari­ety of dis­plays of tra­di­tion­al Kore­an cul­ture, from acro­bat­ics to aris­to­crat­ic pro­ces­sions to a vari­ety of musi­cal per­for­mances. Since the rebuild­ing of the coun­try after the Kore­an War, atten­tion has turned to recov­er­ing the arts and cus­toms of the past and, in one way or anoth­er, mak­ing them rel­e­vant to the present. Plac­ing them in the mid­dle of an ultra­mod­ern trans­porta­tion facil­i­ty is one; inter­pret­ing the stuff of rel­a­tive­ly recent pop­u­lar cul­ture with them is anoth­er.

A few years ago we fea­tured the skills of Luna Lee, a play­er of the gayageum, a twelve-stringed Kore­an instru­ment dat­ing back to the sixth cen­tu­ry. Specif­i­cal­ly, we fea­tured her ren­di­tions of Jimi Hen­drix’s “Voodoo Chile” and Ste­vie Ray Vaugh­an’s “Lit­tle Wing,” meet­ings of mod­ern com­po­si­tion and tra­di­tion­al East Asian per­for­mance rem­i­nis­cent of what Japan­ese koto play­er June Kuramo­to and her band Hiroshi­ma pio­neered in the 1970s.

But the Kore­an musi­cal sen­si­bil­i­ty brings a dif­fer­ent set of emo­tions into play, and now you can hear them hybridized with the psy­che­del­ic, oper­at­ic, vir­tu­osic rock of Pink Floyd in Lee’s ver­sions of “Anoth­er Brick in the Wall,” “Com­fort­ably Numb,” and “The Great Gig in the Sky,” all of which must have posed a for­mi­da­ble chal­lenge to con­vert into gayageum music.

“My ances­tors played the gayageum in a small room, so the sound did not need to be loud,” writes Lee on her Patre­on page, “but my music is per­formed with mod­ern instru­ments such as the drums, bass and the gui­tar. So I had to rede­vel­op my gayageum so that the sound would match that of the mod­ern instru­ment. I had to increase the vol­ume and pres­sure, devel­op tone and increase the sus­tain sound. And hop­ing to express the sound of gayageum more diverse­ly like that of the gui­tar, I had to study gui­tar effec­tors and ampli­fiers and test them to see if they would fit to the sound of the gayageum.”

Lee’s work of push­ing the gayageum into new musi­cal realms con­tin­ues: in oth­er videos, she tries her hand at adapt­ing songs by every­one from the Rolling Stones to R. Kel­ly to Tiny Tim to the late Leonard Cohen. But some­thing about her mul­ti­ple vis­its to the ter­ri­to­ry of Pink Floyd feels right. Per­haps, should we find our­selves in anoth­er great pro­gres­sive rock era, the gayageum will be the first instru­ment to join the sub­se­quent­ly expand­ed field of instru­ments — in both a tech­no­log­i­cal and his­tor­i­cal sense — let onto the stage. Stranger things have hap­pened there, as the Floyd well know.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Voodoo Chile’ Per­formed on a Gayageum, a Tra­di­tion­al Kore­an Instru­ment

Ste­vie Ray Vaughan’s Ver­sion of “Lit­tle Wing” Played on Tra­di­tion­al Kore­an Instru­ment, the Gayageum

Hear Lost Record­ing of Pink Floyd Play­ing with Jazz Vio­lin­ist Stéphane Grap­pel­li on “Wish You Were Here”

Ultra Ortho­dox Rab­bis Sing Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” on the Streets of Jerusalem

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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