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Park Jiha’s debut album Communion - released internationally by tak:til last year - drew well deserved attention to the young Korean instrumentalist / composer’s vivid soundworld. The widely acclaimed album graced 2018 critics lists at The WIRE, Pop Matters and The Guardian. Her new album Philos - which she calls an evocation of her “love for time, space and sound” - is every bit as inventive, elegant and transcendent as her debut. While Park Jiha’s music is often contextualized by its kinship with minimalism, ambient and chamber jazz, her creative backbone is Korean traditional music. Jiha formally studied both its theory and practice and has mastered three of its most emblematic instruments: “I play a traditional Korean instrument called piri which is like an oboe. Piri is a double reed bamboo flute so it can be quite loud. But I also choose saenghwang (mouth organ), yanggeum (hammered dulcimer), percussion or vocal according to the type of music I’m composing. Picking an instrument has to do with the voice in which I choose to talk. Just like human voice, every instrument has its own charm.” On Communion Park Jiha wove these ancient instruments into an ensemble sound that included other musicians contributing on vibraphone, saxophone, bass clarinet and percussion. The effect felt revelatory. An admixture that brought together different epochs and cultures and yielded sonic possibilities that were more futurist than traditionalist. It seemed to naturally evoke Jon Hassell’s Fourth World ethos, a music that morphs across time and tradition.
Park Jiha’s new album Philos, is both an extension of, and a swerve away from, her previous record. It shares its predecessor’s patience and deeply resonant hypnotic effects. It similarly looks to the future, while continuing to converse with a rich instrumental language from the past. But the overall tone and intent feels much more interior and personal - more rarefied. This evolution was purposeful and integrated into the way the album was composed and recorded. Jiha tells us: “When making Communion I focused on harmony with the different musicians. But this time, I wanted to get back to putting the focus on what I do. I played all of the instruments myself. This way I could make the tracks more solid, and I could focus on one thing at a time." Whereas Communion featured the classic soundfield of a group of musicians playing in a room, Philos trades that for more density and concentration. Each sound has been given the artist’s full attention. Fashioned, blended and layered in the way that she hears it. Nothing surrendered to interpretation. Jiha contends that her new musical approach is reflected in the title of the album. In Greek Philos is the plural for philo which can mean “love” or “the liking of a specified thing.” “When I am working on music, I put a lot focus on what I am doing. I think in the end that is love. Philos is about the process of intense repetition. That is a very powerful love, especially on this album, where I worked on all the tracks by myself. This is why I called the album Philos.”
The album’s compositions include Arrival, which slowly introduces every sound featured on the record. The gift of unexpected rain in the heat of midsummer is heard on Thunder Shower. Easy is a poem written and recited by the Lebanese artist Dima El Sayed who visited Korea to participate in the Hwaeom Spiritual Music Ritual and was inspired by Park Jiha’s work. The title track Philos was created by overlapping sounds and stretching time. Walker: In Seoul evokes the vivid soundscape of the city in which Jiha lives. When I Think if Her features the ghostly melodies of the yanggeum and saenghwang. Park Jiha reaches for a sturdy simplicity. A borderless connection between her life and her accomplished musical art: “My musical influences come from my life, and I think music comes from being human; a person’s music is ultimately representing that person. I know for sure that I have been living sincerely when I make music.” On this album Park Jiha plays the piri, saenghwang and yanggeum, as well as layers of sounds derived from time & space.