Event Review | For [su:m] the Bell Tolls (MusiCube)

By Adam Riley 05.09.2015

Image for Event Review | For [su:m] the Bell Tolls (MusiCube)
Who is [su:m], how is the name pronounced, and what does it mean? Well, this is a female duo from South Korea - Jungmin Seo and Jiha Park - who have been friends since University, decided to keep working together, and have been striving to get their creative content out into the world for the past eight years, with increasing in recent years that to a lot of hard work and dedication. Their music makes people take a pause for breath because of its sheer beauty, and in that effect they truly live up to their name, since it is Korean (soom) for 'breath.'

Tuesday, 1st September was not the first time they have graced the UK, having previously thrilled festivalgoers at both WOMAD and WOMEX, popular World Music events, yet it was their first showcase in London, so it was quite the coup for the Korean Cultural Centre UK and organiser Serious to snap them up for the launch of the K-Music 2015 series of music showcases that are currently running through the month of September across London.

Image for Event Review | For [su:m] the Bell Tolls (MusiCube)
Photograph Source: Vio Kim ©

The Southbank Centre is a massive venue filled with enough diversity and culture to please almost anyone from around the globe, but on this particular night it was the arts side of South Korean music that was being offered up in the cosy location of the Purcell Room in the Queen Elizabeth Hall. Pleasingly, it was not merely the Korean contingent that made up the numbers in the audience, with an array of visitors intrigued to find out what all the fuss was about.

Shocked those in attendance may have been, then, when the first 25 minutes were dedicated to a solo piano performance from Arthur Jeffes of Penguin Café. Working as a tone setter, though, the mood was certainly ideally relaxed by the time Jiha and Jungmin came meekly onto the stage, without saying a word, and sat down in preparation for what can only be described as a mind-blowing, life-changing spectacle that nobody will forget anytime soon.

Jungmin mainly focused on her 25-string kayageum, which can only really be described as a large guitar that cannot be played standing up! She made mention of how this bespoke version of the traditional Korean instrument was her preferred weapon of choice, and considering the melodies she was able to produce using it, the decision was indeed the right one. At times she was almost plucking at people's heartstrings with the raw emotion pouring forth during the songs. Those who have listened to David Wise's sublime soundtrack for Tengami will know just what to expect. It was suggested, in an upcoming interview on K-Pop Korner, that they should consider making music specifically for the score of a movie or soundtrack of a videogame, and Nyamyam's debut release is the perfect example of how their style would match perfectly to the right product. Will it happen further down the line? With any luck it will…

Image for Event Review | For [su:m] the Bell Tolls (MusiCube)
Photograph Source: Vio Kim ©

As Jungmin strums along with grace, Jiha, on the other hand, is a Jack (or should that be 'Jill'?) of all trades, except the saying needs adjusting for her, since a 'master of none' does not apply, with her in fact being an expert with them all. Loving wind-based instruments, she excelled with a mix of piri (two-reed, oboe-style), saenghwang (a gloriously oversized mouth organ that looks like it has been given a Steampunk facelift, with bamboo pipes shooting vertically upwards), and the taepyeongso (another double reed instrument, this time trumpet-esque in appearance), all giving off a distinctive sound not often heard over on Western shores. Not satisfied with showing off her expertise with those, though, the variation of skills kept coming, and there were moments of glockenspiel delight and even the use of a 'yanngeum' that has metallic strings that emit a sound somewhat akin to a harpsichord. Oh, and she even sang on one song, bringing people near enough to tears with the beauty of her voice. With a few vocal tracks on [su:m]'s second album, compared to the instrumental-only debut of 'Rhythmic Space: A Pause for Breath,' it can only be hoped that even more are coming for the eventual third album.

Everything was rounded off as Arthur Jeffes came back on stage to perform the final song of the night with su:m, and this collaborative effort was so well received that it has to be hoped that more of the same is forthcoming in the near future.

'A resounding success' may be a phrase over-used by some, but in this case it is perfectly apt for what was a sublime start to the K-Music 2015 festival. It truly was a breath of fresh air, and some videos from the night can be viewed over on the K-Pop Korner page, plus be sure to head over to [su:m]'s official Facebook for more details on their tour dates and upcoming music. KCCUK and Serious have a fantastic line-up of acts, with differing styles throughout the course of September, so be sure to read up on what is still to come in MusiCube's overview article, and stick around for updates on the second event's artist, the retro chic trio that is The Barberettes.

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