The Gleam

The luminous 3rd album from the acclaimed Korean multi-instrumentalist and composer. A gorgeous meditation on the intersection of music and light.

"The beauty of Jiha’s work lies in the spaces she leaves"
- The Guardian -

How often do we consider light?
We revel in the soft wonder of a sunrise or the majesty of a glorious sunset, but all through the day its quality and texture is continually changing, second by second, in ways we rarely register. That beauty is the inspiration for The Gleam, the third album from Korean composer and instrumentalist Park Jiha.
She distils light into sound, from the first flicker of morning on the horizon in “At Dawn” all the way to the moment when full darkness falls again in “Nightfall Dancer,” capturing the essence of it in notes and silence.

The album had its origin with the piece “Temporary Inertia,” she explains, which was created for a performance as “a meditative improvisation in a bunker designed by the architect Ando Tadao, where the ceiling had an open light way going across the room, it slowly moves during the day and leaves a very special impression when inside. I thought I could capture the emotions light gives me being just as an observer, the textures, intensity, warmness... the constant movement of light itself seems to look inert at points and needs time to be seen, to reveal things and angles you wouldn’t realize otherwise.”

Like its predecessor, Philos, The Gleam is a completely solo work, all the music composed and played by Park Jiha on the piri, a type of oboe, the saenghwang (mouth organ), the hammered dulcimer known as the yanggeum, and glockenspiel. There’s a stark clarity to the sound, yet it’s never spare or empty. There’s a searching warmth to what she does. It’s minimal without being minimalist, occasionally presenting itself with the formality of traditional Korean music that is her background, although she feels that the distance she’s put between herself and that teaching is “really what made my music what it is now.” At other times her playing is an improvisation that spirals free into the sky. It all comes together into a beautiful whole and it always flows with a natural rhythm. Like everything, it breathes.

“Breathing has been an essential part of all my work since day one,” she notes. “It definitely is intertwined within the music, as we need breathing to feel music. I tried taking my time as much as possible with this album trying to express what I felt at the moment.” Breathing is an act of constant repetition, of course, but “repetition is essential to keep a certain focus and create enough ground for the atmosphere of the track to develop and create feelings, music is very similar to nature in a way.”
The music on The Gleam often surprises, as instruments take on different colours and shades. Nowhere is that more evident than on “Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans,” a composition created as a live soundtrack for a movie of the same name, a silent black-and-white film.

“It made me think a lot on the role of light and gave me the opportunity to re-imagine this black and white canvas with a sunrise of my own,” Jiha explains. “I also divided the piri melody into two parts so it sounded like two choirs that would assemble and transition together.”

The effect shimmers, both intimate and quietly flickering, like light itself. Across The Gleam, the music patiently shifts moods, from the soft serenity of “At Dawn” to the playful, sparkling dance that marks “A Day In...” as the rhythm carries it along.

Nothing is rushed. As Park Jiha says, “things take time and the layers of events end up creating something.” Much of that sense is due to the way she composes. “There is absolutely no formal writing process, once I start feeling something that really strongly inspires me to start working. It is very instinctive. This is very emotional work for me as well and can take me a long time to get it right, but I try to focus on textures and layers of sounds I create with time to build up a piece that sounds complete to me.”

Working with it until it breathes, until it’s ready. However, there was another, inevitable factor involved in the creation process of The Gleam: Covid-19. The global pandemic has affected everything, put lives in limbo, and it was no different for Park Jiha. It meant that the performance of “Temporary Inertia” was pushed back and back “until Oct. 2020. “I did prepare for this a while ago, it just kept on being moved because of Covid regulations. They made it hard to have much in the way of performance happening, but Covid also gave me enough time to focus and give life to this new album.”

The music had already been gestating for a while, with some pieces written a couple of years earlier, but the long break offered her more chance to “slowly shape the album with a strong representation of the kind of work I am doing at the present.”

A chance for it to breathe and for the light to shine, growing from a glimmer. The Gleam shimmers and dazzles. Let it carry you.