Une partie importante des compositions de Baudouin de Jaer sont les compositions pour Geomungo Solo. 

Le Geomungo, cithare du Royaume de Goguryeo, parfois appelée « cithare noire » est un des plus anciens instruments coréens. On en trouve les premières traces dès le 4e siècle de notre ère comme instrument sacré exclusivement utilisé dans les musiques rituelles de cour. Au fil des siècles, l’instrument se glisse dans les maisons bourgeoises, accompagnant magnifiquement les jeux et chants poétiques, déploie sa force en solo, jusqu’à devenir incontournable dans les grands ensembles de tradition chamanique du sud ouest. Le Geomungo est un instrument très complet dans l’esthétique coréenne. Il associe la douceur délicate à la force brutale et permet d’exprimer merveilleusement les contrastes de la nature. Des six cordes tendues sur la table d’harmonie, seule deux, daehyeon et yuhyeon sont mélodiques. Les cordes sont frappées à la main droite par une baguette de bambou, le suldae, qui ponctue de façon percussive un jeu d’aller retour entre force et souplesse, tandis que la main gauche fait varier en vibrato la tension de la corde jouée.  (...)

Jacques-Yves Le Docte, texte d’introduction dans le livret du CD « Baudouin de Jaer: Geomungo and Gayaguem compositions VOL I/2013 »





Baudouin de Jaer music’works and compositions
LEE JUNG-A  Geomungo player questions to Baudouin de Jaer
November 2023


     1.1. What is your composition style?

In my music compositions, I try to give maximum energy with few music information (e.j. The introduction Fives Traces (2023) for solo Geomungo is a reduction of a String Trio 2 violins and Cello). Most of my music isn’t rock, Jazz, or Hip-Hop (I mean music with a regular rhythmic pulsation). More of my music is a contemporary music (as people use this name) that we could comparted at the sculptural music. [ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KpgxQHdl78Q ] In this way, I’m using mental visual support that structures the composition (e.j. Splitting Stones Geomungo concerto with western orchestra. But a part of my work was rock with my quartet KOBA/I played bass guitar [ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ALTTbpdGpzc ] And I begin in 2024 a new band (a contemporary-rock-researching with improvisation band): x expender


    1.2. What is your ideology in music?

If we speak about my ideology in music we have to separate my music compositions (e.j. Lion dance), music improvisation (x expender), workshops (my mean workshop is: One day Orchestra (from 1991) open to every people. In this video most of the people never (or few) plays music before : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Eun_u-UFyM) . Short part of my work was analysis work [ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mFXvOq3gf48 ]. Now I’m writing also books by the same way that I’m composing music.

My ideology is to try to find little new ways in music because how is doing the world, world needs also new ways. Pleasure is very important in music. Not only the pleasure to play but also the pleasure to create a quality music even if the road to get there is long and difficult (Fives Traces). I try also to share the pleasure with all players: e.j. in Splitting Stones, the players in the orchestra plays together, but there are also solo for each musicians. More: e.j. in the trumpets each of the 4 trumpetists have a short solo and not only the first trumpet. By this way, some of my composition express about life : If is necessary to have a conductor, on the same time in a society is important that (peacefully)  everyone feels good and have pleasure of life. Sometime, there is a more accentuated connection with my music and life e.j. « La chambre solitaire » wrote by Shin Kyung-sook (1994) and I dedicated the composition to Hijae. [ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4wJ_1jbtweM ] Also in my Geomungo Byonchang (The sparkling dance of the swarm of salmons/also version for Gayageum) to respect people, territories and Nature.


  1. How did you get to know the Gugak and Geomungo?

Round 2003, a friend of me (Jacques-Yves Le Docte) offered to me a Hwang Byung-ki Gayageum CD. I was composing this period solo 25 violon sonatas and, to compose one of this sonata De Door, I was changing more and more the tuning of my violon to have low and so slowly sounds using more and more pizzicato also with pushing strings under the bridge (I didn’t know that by this way my violin becomes a kind of very small Gayageum!)  When I listened the CD, I got a choc. I said myself: I would like to meet Mr Hwang Byung-gi. I meet him in 2004 in Seoul during the DMZ festival. I showed him my solo violon pieces scores and playing for him some extracts. The day after morning, he offered me more of his CD. Ryu Kyung-a choreographer proposed to me to follow some Gayageum lessons (with Park Jae-young). Coming back Brussels, I receive for one-year Gayageum by the Belgium ambassy and they found one in Paris Cultural Centrum. I composed for Gayageum round one year. When I gave back the Gayageum I offered copy of my music scores. One month later, SNU invited me to experiment/practice my Gayageum compositions. Like this starts this nice aventure. Two of the seven students gave a nice concert with them and came also in Belgium: Lee Hwayoung and Kim Hyunchae. We keep contact. Lee Hwa young present to me (deeply thanks to her) some music friends and by this way I discover other Korean instruments. By this way, I would like to compose for Korean Orchestra.  One day Lee Hwayoung opens a door of a SNU’s room: and I meet Lee Jung-a and the Geomungo. It was for me an amazing instrument. And Lee Junga a real amazing player. Directly, the evening, I try to compose a short composition (no good!): so : step by step, year after year, travel to Korea after travel to Korea I discover a little more this so nice bass instrument: this discovery was impossible without helping from Lee Jung-a (and the support of the SNU) and in a second step with Kim Joonyoung (and the support of the National Gugak Center) and other wonderfull players: thank you to them.


  1. Why did you write Geomungo works?

The Geomungo is for me the best instrument to express my music way. For me Geomungo is a kind of mix of my violin (that I studded from I was 7 years old,) the bass (with big strings) (that I played in my Quartet KOBA), and harpsichord attacking the strings like little suldae. I was looking to reduce my 1986 to 2022 works for one and same instrument (now in the Five Traces/Fives traces becomes like my music-score-backup on hard cd!) I start with piano solo, violin solo, Gayageum and last step: Geomungo. For me this instrument is an orchestral instrument: he has big and thin strings, percussions, pizzicato, chords, effect, also with a bow. Many possibilities. He is like a full orchestra!


  1. You have released various pieces of Korean traditional music such as Gayageum and Daegeum, and among them, you are releasing many pieces of Geomungo. What is the reason?

For me, to compose is synonym of to explore : when I start to compose for solo violin, I decide to compose 25 pieces. For piano: 10 Crocus. For Gayageum 5 Sanjos and 10 Studies. This is a way/method to explore the instruments on the long way. (Like composer composes Thema and variations : why 30 variations?  : to explore all possibilities: this is the same way. I like the Geomungo for his deep sound with very expressive large vibratos. All western string instruments are much tighter. Also I prefer the very windy natural sound of the Daegeum than the western metallic flute. I also composed many duos for two Geomungo : for the same reasons : to explore.  


  1. What was impressive about Geomungo music and even Korean music?

I love the slow Jeong-ak music so “simple” stripped down and powerful connected to nature. The geomungo is connected to the center of the earth. It's like Salpuri dance so strong too.Geomungo looks like all instrument but for me is a real instrument of the future! Electronic is one (good) time: nature is forever.


  1. What part do you think is important when you compose a geomungo work?

Feeling that you are going from point A to point B. (Five traces: start on the ground Trace I and go to the sky Trace V). To fell the pleasure of the colors between the IV° and V° strings. How to dose the use of the I° rope and even more the VI° rope. The VI° string is like a gong in the orchestra: you should not use it too much. When the VI° arrives: it’s a nice surprise. But it depends on the compositions and the roles of I°/VI° and IV°/V° vary from one composition to another. The pleasure of an F on III° or F I°.  Everything is calculated and I try each passage myself in my mind before fixing it. (And some passages on my Geomungo). You have to use special effects at the right time (suldae on the kwae, percussion, bow etc.) it all depends on the context of the composition. Sometimes it is good to change tuning (solo performer Five Traces needs 2 assistant with 5 geomungo to change de tuning during the concert) but in the concerto I only changed once a single IV° string from Bb > B. What is important with the Geomungo is to always try to keep this side close to the Earth, mathematical, connected to the universe, to the stars. Geomungo is truly the soul of the earth. Geomungo has something sacred. He attracts the energy of all universe past, present (and future)! The suldae is a magic wand. It’s such a sensitive instrument. One day it sounds, one day it doesn't sound the same anymore. The moments when the performers are fully with their instruments and their environment are moments of unforgettable splendor. Geomungo gives another savor of my life. The flexibility of the strings is so strong that the vibratos allow a much deeper language from the human being to nature. [And without its cords it is like an ancestral African telephone which was rung by two large suldae.] My compositions for Geomungo are a river in which I managed to express myself and say everything I don't know how to say with words. I love so so much my violon but is easier for me to speak with Geomungo! The Geomungo is a deep friend. He's like a person. I'm starting to get to know him a little. But I still have to work. He gave me a lot of courage to get through human life, which is not always easy. And if I could write a Geomungo Sanjo that would stop wars on Earth, I would tp work days and nights for years. This is why this instrument is so important. Could music have something to tell us that we humans have not yet understood?! Because the Geomungo is strong, multiple, deep and peaceful. His hearing in his back is like a mouth that speaks to us.


  1. After you started composing your music with the Korean instruments, do you have other special factors that you take in account especially when you write for geomungo?

After the compositions, I always work with the performers, I listen to their comments, and I am ready to make corrections, notes, fingerings, and tempo. Sometimes I delete passages that don't sound good. I also listen for interprets errors. Sometimes a fault of the performer, if it is an unconscious better solution or an opportunity for a surprising and more interesting element, I change the score. Working with the performer is always a re-composition. And when editing a CD I can still modify things. This is also why I reduced my work for one instrument compositing in only one music lines ( piano 2 lines, Organ 3 lines, orchestra 32 lines) because working with the players, concert after concert, evolution of mind, is easier (if it is necessary) to changes the music note in a best expressive way.


       8.1. What is the background of composing <Lion Dance>? How did you get to know a traditional Lion dance of Korea? And why did you use ‘the lion dance’ as a motive?

My first Korean soprano and orchestra composition was never played by an orchestra but only at the NGC as a quintet (thanks to the payers and to the wonderful singer). I always thought that the text I wrote (on this time dedicated to the soprano Lee Juna in the Kagok style) was too surreal and was not appreciated. I showed this composition to Prof. Kim Young-jae: looking at the score after a few seconds he said to me: you love nature! It was a very beautiful moment in my life. Then I had a meeting with Hwang Byung-gi who looked at the entire score. He sensed my passion for Korean instruments. At the restaurant, he called Won-il. I had an appointment with Won-il. He was preparing the recomposed concert with 4 non-Korean composers and one composer was missing. Why he proposed to me to be one of the 4 composers. We had to start with a traditional Korean tune and make a composition from it. I hesitated with The song of sinners which draws the nets but I chose Lion dance. Choreographer Ryu Kyung-a was also preparing her show LION for Belgium with the members of Kwandae. I analyzed the composition, I deconstructed it and then reconstructed (recomposed).


       8.2 <Lion Dance>: what is it you want to express?

I put a story behind the sounds like a libretto behind an opera. I was looking for music to speak without words. (Cf. file + Cf. Video Lion dance/de Jaer on Youtube)

  1. Introduction: Symphonic Introduction ff: the cover of the story book Symphonic introduction p: the front page. Introduction with stones: the preface
  2. 36 views of the young Lion dancing in the Forest - The views are interrupted by a Korean Bak’s sound
  3. Trip of the Lion to the border of the Forest. He goes across the Wind’s turning room and later across the cylindric space of the changing Times
  4. At the border of the Forest, the old Lion is looking to the starring Sky and discovers 3 planets of sounds; both of them are touching them self
  5. The Lion interrogates the Sky! Aspirated in the echo of his questions, the Lion fly into the Sky!
  6. Symphonic Final; we close the book, the story G ... closing the book, the Lion’s soul is escaping!


[Question 9. Cf. question 8]


  1. There are a lot of percussion elements in the song, do you think these state laws are important?

A. The real point is not this story. This story structures the composition and gives the most “visual part” at the listener. The real goal is to share the path of rhythmic construction of rhythm 4 of the woodblocks against rhythm 3 of the melody inside the global music (I used this rhythm of four in the Geomungo concerto Splitting Stones). It is like to sea/listen Moon around Earth but suddenly you could see the deformation of the space with the turning passage of the Moon around Earth (of any other planets): I mean to see/listen inside. Why on one of my CD, I just keep the percussions part of Lion Dance. The quad rhythm is therefore the backbone of the composition, and the melody revolves around this rhythmic axis. B. But the changes in energy due to the contrast of the structures parts.
C. As well as the very small final solo of Geomungo at the end [like a very small sketch of a future Geomungo concerto].


  1. Why did you use Western string and gayageum techniques in ‘Lion Dance’? And what was the effect of using that playing technique?

No doubt because on the violin (cello, etc.) and guitars the sound is very different whether it is played near the bridge (sul ponticello) a little far away (ordinario) or “in the middle of the strings” (sul tastiera). This sound color changing effect for the Geomungo and the Gayageum is useful to express myself. 


  1. Is there a way to play Geomungo that you want to develop?

The day after finished the Geomungo CD VOL II, when I feel to compose the Fives Traces, I wanted to compose 5 long, calm and peaceful melodies. But these are 5 fairly complex pieces that “came out”! If there is one thing that I would like to develop, it is an art of great simplicity but which speaks. With few notes, no effects, no speed, music more in the extension (but different) of my Heroes of Thought. But everything I composed I had to do was steps. Also I would like one day that a Geomungo performer (with Puk and Changgo) would play the 5 traces in concert, in 3 hours, like an opera without words (very virtuoso) And two people would be present to give him the geomungo with the tunings different. After the Geomungo concerto Splitting Stones, I could compose another concerto for orchestra and Ajeng. I also hope to find a Geomungo singer who sings to play my Geomungo Byongchang.


  1. Please give advice for Korean Geomungo players and other composers who are going to work with Korean players.

I would like to take time to write/to share a book of 10 studies and 50 exercises for Geomungo. [To share the point of view of a non-Korean who loves contemporary composition and who has studied gayageum/geomungo as best as possible for 20 years;-)] This study/practice book to develop a more acrobatic technique. (Few Geomungo players also correctly master the use of harmonics> this book could propose some exercises). Often, performers who are able to play a repertoire with varied notes (example of B, C#, F# in a Bb-F tuning) are those who have (worked) a so-called absolute pitch. Also players have to understand and hear in themselves a score before playing it. Because composition isn’t improvisation. (Would the confusion arise that Sanjo (first oral then written) is the name for a composition of scattered melodies?) To composers of instrumental/experimental music (not film music, jazz, world music), I would say to get off the beaten track, to freely explore their imagination, to take risks. Not to be too quickly satisfied: that composition should not resemble an improvisation (unless that is the desired effect), that one must listen to the composition in itself, sometimes composing little pieces of a few seconds which will come together like a puzzle, in other cases of structure the music before composing and therefore draw it before choosing the notes. You have to try to surprise our self and the audience!  Even if the result seems very classic, JS Bach's Goldberg variations or his Art of the Fugue are good examples. But in contemporary music of our 21st century everything is possible, everything is permitted. There are no limits. A composition can be either <a beautiful story> or the mirror of our view of the world, each composer in his own way (openness, research, return to calm, need for vigor, etc.). I had 3 composition teachers: Philippe Boesmans (BE): you have to start the composition from an idea and to compose every day/even one note! Henri Pousseur (BE): “Precision of the music notation” and “knowledge of the past”. “Each note of a dodecaphonic series is like the individual of a society”. Frederic Rzewski (US): “Everything we think we are composing new music has already been composed 7 times before!” “When you hesitate between two musical ideas, why not take both”.