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Award-Winning Duo CelloGayageum Shaping a New Musical Identity

Founded in Berlin, the Duo CelloGayageum resonates with the harmony of Austrian cellist Sol Daniel Kim and Korean Gayageum player Dayoung Yoon. Since their formation in December 2016, the duo has traversed through various cultural landscapes, leaving their signature symphony, an amalgamation of Western and Far Eastern traditions, lingering in the air. We delve deeper into their musical voyage in this interview.


Austrian cellist Sol Daniel Kim and Korean Gayageum player Dayoung Yoon

Gen de Art: What can you tell us about how your unique cultural backgrounds and musical influences come together in your music, and how have they shaped the identity of Duo CelloGayageum?

Duo CelloGayageum: Korean traditional music is primarily rooted in rhythmical patterns and melodic lines, while classical and Western music focus more on harmony. Our approach is to bring these contrasting elements together to create the foundation for our melodies. What makes it even more intriguing is that both the cello and gayageum are typically considered melodic instruments and not harmonic or rhythmical. So, balancing melody, harmony, and rhythm with just these two instruments is a challenge. However, this limitation drives us to think creatively outside the box, resulting in our unique sound and style signature.


Gen de Art: Your collaboration has led you to perform at various festivals and events across Europe. Could you share a memorable experience or performance that stands out to you as particularly significant in your journey as a duo?

Duo CelloGayageum: While it may sound repetitive, every performance has been a memorable moment for us. Regardless of the venue, be it indoors or open-air, once we start playing, the audience becomes captivated and listens attentively. Our combination naturally piques people's curiosity, but what truly amazes us is that every concert leaves the audience stunned. This sense of pride fuels our humility, motivating us to continue exploring new pieces and sounds. It's worth noting that most of our concerts in Europe have been consistently sold out, which we are incredibly grateful for.


Gen de Art: Creating original pieces is a remarkable aspect of your work. Could you describe your creative process when composing music together, and what inspires your compositions?

Duo CelloGayageum: Composing our music is a collaborative process. It all begins with a spark of inspiration, often drawn from everyday items or common experiences, like the air we breathe or the water we drink. From there, we brainstorm and exchange musical ideas, shaping them into a framework. The process continues with adding and subtracting textures and layers until we are satisfied with the piece. We make an effort to start each composition with an open mind and a clean slate to avoid repetition.


Gen de Art: The coexistence of Western and Far Eastern musical traditions in your music is fascinating. How do you navigate the challenges of merging these two distinct styles, and what techniques do you use to find that perfect balance?

Duo CelloGayageum: Balancing the Western and Far Eastern musical traditions is indeed a challenge due to the different acoustical characteristics of our instruments. The cello is designed to project sound in large concert halls, while the gayageum is traditionally played in smaller venues with the floor acting as an acoustic reflection panel. This makes it challenging to find the right sonic balance between the two instruments. We constantly listen to each other carefully during performances to ensure both instruments are heard equally.


In terms of musical styles, we learn from each other's traditions to understand how music was performed and perceived. For example, we discovered that Western music became more rhythmically static after the invention of the metronome, while Korean music relies on the dynamic interpretation of rhythm by the performer. We adapt to the moment, responding to changes during a performance, as our instruments react differently to temperature variations. The gayageum becomes higher in a hot environment, while the cello gets lower. This requires constant adjustments to our playing and instrument tuning. Overall, we've learned that there are no absolutes in music; everything is relative, and that's the beauty of it.


Gen de Art: Being recipients of the 'Soorim Culture Prize' and a grant from the 'Seoul Foundation of Arts and Culture' in 2018 is a significant achievement. How did these recognitions impact your musical career, and what future aspirations do you have for Duo CelloGayageum?

Duo CelloGayageum: Winning the Soorim Culture Prize and receiving a grant from the Seoul Foundation of Arts and Culture had a profound impact on our musical career. The Soorim Culture Prize provided us with exposure and valuable connections to Korean presenters, while the grant allowed us to produce our first album, "South Wave, North Wind," and gave us the opportunity to perform our debut concert in Seoul. These recognitions essentially kickstarted our career in South Korea.


Looking ahead, our aspiration is to travel worldwide and share our music, promoting Korean traditional music culture to a global audience. We hope that Duo CelloGayageum becomes a recognized and celebrated name in the music industry, potentially even becoming mainstream one day.


Gen de Art: Could you share some insights into your ongoing exploration and experimentation with your respective instruments and how it influences your evolving sound and style?

Duo CelloGayageum: Constant innovation is at the core of our work. We strive to reinvent familiar patterns in new musical contexts and incorporate modern playing techniques into traditional music. We also avoid favoring one tradition over the other, as we believe in finding new combinations with existing sources. In a world where it may seem that all possible sounds have been discovered, our focus is on discovering fresh approaches rather than searching for entirely new sounds. After all, as history has shown, even unconventional actions like throwing pianos from great heights have been considered a form of music.

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