New Recording: “TONGTOKKUNG”

Just to prove that I still write notes-on-paper music without electronics, I’d like to share a piece that was premiered by the TaiHei Ensemble last Sunday. I usually direct the ensemble, but this last quarter, due to traveling, hosting, and academic responsibilities, I entrusted the job to my friend Aaron Pergram, virtuosic bassoonist and altogether extremely organized person (not a label I use lightly).

Aaron did a fantastic job, and you can hear the whole program here, but, for some reason, he’s passed the baton (the figurative baton) back to me.

Anyway here’s TONGTOKKUNG:

TONGTOKKUNG – Simon Hutchinson


Esther Fredrickson, flute;
Jannie Wei, violin;
Katie White, viola;
Kelly Quesada, cello.

One of the great influences and inventions of Western Music is its notation system. This system of recording a document of a musical work on paper allowed composers to explore complex counterpoint and harmony and convey these ideas to other musicians. From the perspective of world music, however, this system also has its limitations, and these shortcomings become more obvious when we notice that Western Music is primitive in its exploration of timbre, microtonal inflection, and rhythm relative to some other cultures’ traditions.

While I still use Western notation, I hope to explore some more complex rhythmic ideas in my piece, TONGTOKKUNG. We open with an uneven meter of seven beats, not uncommon in the rhythmic explorations of 20th-century composers, but then that rhythm switches to a traditional Korean rhythm, tongtokkung, a far more complex pattern of 24 beats. The piece then switches between these two ideas, and, to my ears, the “uneven” seven beats becomes a point of rest compared to the intensity of the tongtokkung.

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