Sharing the video of Zoom meeting held on June 9, 2020.

Blistered Fingers and Bleeding Throats: The Aesthetics of Korean Traditional Music 


Speaker: Jocelyn Clark

The sublimation of physical and emotional pain and its transformation into beauty is historically one of the central tenets of traditional (South) Korean “folk” music aesthetics. Singing or playing an instrument often requires physical sacrifice, evident in, for example, bleeding blisters on the hands or lesions on the vocal cords. The Spanish poet Federico García Lorca described the famous cante singer La Niña de Los Peines as singing with “a scorched throat—a furious, burning duende.” In Korea, the duende emanating from the “scorched throat” of the pansori singer is connected to both the “welling joy” (and humor) of heung as well as han—what Korean drummer Kim Dong-Won has called “fermented sorrow,” the layers of festering pain that accumulate over a lifetime. Kim and the pansori singer Bae Il-Dong have resurrected a little-known aesthetic term from literature, jolbangmi, to describe the wood-scraping and voice-scratching “rough beauty” of Korean musical aesthetics. In this talk, I explore the Korean aesthetics especially as they relate to the metaphysical, physical, and historical suffering experienced by performers of Korea’s traditional musical forms. I relate these to other Korean art forms, their grounds in history and philosophy, especially to the Daoist notion that “Great skill may appear  inelegant, or coarse,” and discuss the future of these aesthetics in a global post-COVID 21st century digital world.