With the reissue of Park Jiha’s 2016 debut, Communion, the South Korean composer and multi-instrumentalist has gained considerable notice for her positioning of traditional Korean instrumentation in contemporary contexts. Park has drawn on jazz, minimalism, and ambient music to hypnotizing effect, and Philos, her sophomore album under her own name, is no different. What separates this new work from previous ones is that Park composed and played virtually all of it herself. Communion found Park collaborating with John Bell, Kim Oki, and Kang Tekhyun; the duo [su:m] paired her with gayageum player Seo Jungmin; and Park has also performed as part of the contemporary classical ensemble Geori with Jared Redmond, Lee Dong-uk, and Baek Dasom. Philos, in contrast, primarily consists of Park’s trusty trio of Korean instruments: piri (double reed bamboo flute), yanggeum (hammered dulcimer), and saenghwang (mouth organ).
The tracks here are anything but limited in scope, however. Opener “Arrival” thoughtfully pans the pulsating strikes of the yanggeum to create an uneasy tension, as sounds of the piri fill-out the haunting atmosphere. On some tracks, Park incorporates field recordings to conjure up evocative imagery. “Thunder Shower,” for example, pits a thunderstorm against the cascading melodies of a yanggeum, which oscillates between providing meditative accompaniment and embodying the accumulated force of heavy rain. On “Walker: In Seoul,” the same instrument illuminates the calming beauty of city life, intermingling the music with sounds of rustling leaves, passing automobiles, and the opening of bus doors. Elsewhere, “Philos” captures the spirit of a deep and rich love; “When I Think of Her” finds Park singing, which imbues the track with a near-mythical quality; and “Easy” features dissonant instrumentation as a potent backdrop to a poem read by the album’s one featured artist, Dima El Sayed. Prettiest of all is closer “On Water”: the delicate sounds of yanggeum and glockenspiel ripple softly as the piri takes center stage for an achingly romantic solo. Regardless of the approach Park takes, every track on Philos showcases her ear for composition and the honing of her craft. Through her traversal of various genres, the collapsing of past and present, and the juxtaposing of nature recordings with studio-recorded sound, she carves out liminal spaces that are seductively dreamlike.
Published as part of Foreign Correspondent | Issue 2.