Musical Resources: Modern Korean Music


While previous posts in this series have focused on inspirational media that you can use for ideas while preparing for your game, this post will focus on musical resources you might want to use during a game. For many game groups, music can be a great tool for evoking the mood and setting of a distant, fantastical place, and this goes double for games set in a fantastical world that takes inspiration from a specific real-world setting, such as the traditional Korean culture from which The Koryo Hall of Adventures takes its inspiration. In a future segment, I’ll dig into some recommended musical resources for groups that are interested in getting a more authentically historical sound for their game. However, this week my suggested resources are for those who prefer something a little more modern to accompany their play sessions, a couple of bands are immediately worth looking into.

The band Xtatika was a trippy American rock group album fronted by a Korean-American singer. “Tongue Bath” (Tzadik, 2001) was their brilliant experimental album that fused wildly avant-garde music with hard rock tones, and traditional Korean percussion. The band is now defunct, and may have put out other, more mainstream-sounding albums, but “Tongue Bath” is really the only album I can recommend as being particularly Korea-flavored. For groups who prefer something a little more modern as background music for play sessions, it’s an option that might fit the bill, especially for combats and action scenes. Not much of their work is available online except on this soundcloud profile. The song mentioned in this paragraph only brings up geolocked content, so if you search for it, you may get geolucky.

A similar option is the Seoul band Jambinai, which has long been mixing modern rock music with traditional Korean instruments to great effect. All of their albums have a noticeable presence of Korean traditional instruments. Their music ranges from a dark, spooky style in their earlier albums, to a darker and heavier sound, to a much lighter and airier mood. They have a very broad range, and make excellent use of traditional Korean instruments in a more modern style.

Here are a couple of tracks from their most recent release “Différance” (差延,차연) from 2017, but their first release, a self-titled E.P., is also highly recommended.

It’s also worth checking out some neo-traditional Korean music. I’m going to give two recommendations here.

First, there’s SU:M (숨), which is one of the more interesting groups working in the area of neo-traditional Korean music. While a lot of groups working in this subgenre end up melding the cheesier elements of so-called “smooth jazz” with traditional Korean music, or playing tedious classic rock covers on gayageum, SU:M does something very different: they play original chamber music composed for a mix of instruments, some Korean, some Western, and some from elsewhere. While their music isn’t the kind of thing you’d use to set the mood for a climactic battle, it’s likely to work for a lot of the rest of your sessions.

And finally, I’d recommend giving the group Neo-Sinawe (新,시나위) a listen. They’re a little more heavily focused on traditional Korean instruments than SU:M—though they also include foreign instuments, they go out of their way to maintain a more traditional sound-base overall—and since they like to work with a bigger ensemble, their music tends more toward a livelier and more energetic style that calls to mind festivals and celebrations, happy reunions, and homecomings. Here’s a live show they did that’s pretty indicative of their style.

Hopefully these groups will provide a strong starting point for you to start exploring. In a future post, I’ll return to musical resources, and discuss more traditional forms of Korean music you can use in your games.


Appendix K

The Koryo Hall of Adventures draws on Korean history and culture, as well as the experience of living in Korea, and not all players and Game Masters are familiar with this cultural background. Appendix K, named as a riff on Gary Gygax’s now-celebrated “Appendix N,” attempts to provide a list of references to help better visualize this campaign setting. In this series, Gord Sellar covers movies, television series, books, music, and other works that offer inspiration, adventure seeds, ideas, helpful visuals, and more.

Gord Sellar is a writer and musician who has lived in South Korea since 2002, and contributed energetically to the cross-pollination between its local SF scene and the English-speaking world. In addition to academic work on Korean SF, he has blogged extensively on the subject, and has served as a co-translator, editor, and support person for multiple major efforts to translate Korean SF to Western audiences (such as Kaya Books’ anthology Readymade Bodhisattva and Clarkesworld’s 2019 Korean SF translation series). He wrote the screenplay and musical score for the first Korean-language adaptation of an H.P. Lovecraft story, the award-winning “The Music of Jo Hyeja” (dir. Jihyun Park, 2012), and his adventure Fermentum Nigrum Dei Sepulti is now available from Lamentations of the Flame Princess (US webstore | EU webstore).

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