Musical Resources: Traditional Korean Music

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Photo by zero take on Unsplash

In a previous installment, I recommended some more modern or neo-traditional musical resources for groups playing in Korea-inspired fantasy games. This time around, I’m turning to more traditional sources, both as a soundtrack element and as a support tool for players.

First off, players of Jaein characters—the bards of Jeosung—will want to check out the extremely useful resources exploring traditional Korean music on the Antique Alive website. For those who have looked at the pictures of the instruments in the rulebook and are wondering what they sound like, or who want a little more information about the instruments, the website is an embarrassment of riches that will give you a good sense of what things sound like, what styles exist, and more. Please note that, as an educational site, the resources are not readily available for download: they’re designed for you to stream directly from the webpage. Therefore this is more of a resource for use between sessions, just to get more information on some of the things mentioned in The Koryo Hall of Adventures rulebook.

You may also find use the articles in the KBS World series Sounds of Korea, which discuss many aspects of traditional Korean music and instruments, although sometimes with a tendency toward promoting neo-traditional or “fusion” music over authentic traditional Korean music.

No doubt there are also groups who would prefer a more traditional style of Korean music as accompaniment to their sessions. To them, the following should provide a starting point from which they can explore the vast range of recordings available within the world of traditional Korean music.

Streaming Traditional Korean Music

One challenge until recently was that Korean traditional music wasn't easily accessible online outside of Korea. However, that has changed in recent years, and you have a few options for streaming it.

Since Spotify recently launched in Korea (and is popular among English speakers), a playlist has been created that contains work by a number of practitioners for both modern of traditional Korean music. The intent for this playlist is to include a wide variety of sounds and to give you a starting point for hunting down the right game music for your group. You can access this playlist easily on the Koryo Hall of Adventures Board under the Maps & Play Aids menu item, or directly on Spotify.

If you’re in a place where you don’t have easy/legal access to Spotify, there’s still one more great resource online, a Korean radio station that streams traditional Korean music to the web: Gugak FM. You won’t have any control what streams there, but if you’re just looking for something to set a traditional mood redolent of fantastical Jeosung, or especially something that might help get you in the right mood for an adventure prep session, it’s definitely worth a shot.

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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.

Twitter (X): @gordsellar