If you were at the Daorum concert at the Sydney Opera House in March 2008, you had a taste of the journey of musical exploration and discovery that drummer Simon Barker has been on for the last few years.
Intangible Asset Number 82, the directorial debut of Emma Franz, takes us on this journey and has its Australian premier at the Melbourne Film festival on 2 August.
In 2001, Simon heard a rare recording of Korean shaman Kim Seok-Chul, a grand master in his seventies playing with immense energy and complex technique. He knew immediately he was listening to one of the world’s great improvisers. Simon had been at that time travelling to Korea every few months to play with Korean and Australian jazz groups, and sometime in 1997 he was introduced to Korean traditional music. It was while taking lessons in Korean drumming in 2001, that he heard the recording of ritual music by multi-instrumentalist Kim Seok-Chul. It had a profound effect on him, he says, and ultimately changed the course of his life.
Intangible Asset Number 82 documents Simon’s attempt to meet and learn from this master musician.
As the years passed, it became clear that meeting Kim Seok-Chul would not be a simple matter. The film documents the final of many journeys to Korea that Simon made with the hope of meeting the shaman, and it’s a journey of revelations and depth. Intangible Asset Number 82 takes us through cities and into dense forests, to the base of a waterfall and into a deeply intimate ritual between a family and their dead. At the centre of everything is music. It is an incredibly powerful force throughout the film, and the soundtrack includes tunes that will be familiar to Australian jazz lovers as well as an introduction to Korean sounds and musical concepts.
While he remains focused on his hope of meeting the master musician, ultimately Simon has to go with the flow, as the journey moves him (finally) closer to his goal. “To be honest I had no idea what we were getting ourselves into as my previous trips to Korea were spent mostly in the larger cities. During this trip there were so many extraordinary experiences which were unplanned that I gradually lost any sense of what might or might not be possible. At one point we were talking to Kim Dong-Won about pansori singers singing on waterfalls and a few hours later we found ourselves deep in the mountains, experiencing Bae Il-Dong’s incredible voice.”
That old cliché about ‘the journey, not the destination’ must have seemed particularly apt and it makes for a film that includes all the ingredients of suspense, drama, breathtaking scenery, an introduction to the new and a connection with one of the oldest types of human story—a rite of passage. There’s also a happy ending. “As time passed our chances of meeting Kim Seok-Chul seemed pretty slim. When things changed it was a great surprise and an unbelievable coincidence that we were in Korea at that time, a week later and things would have been very different.”
Because things definitely did change. After nearly a decade of searching Simon finally does meet Kim Seok-Chul. It is a meeting that, like most of the film, seems imbued with destiny. A powerful meeting of teacher and student, venerated shaman and seeker-of-wisdom.
Simon has long had an interest in music from our own region, and he’s not alone. Asked about his interest, he says “Over the last 40 years there have been numerous examples of musical collaborations between Australian and Asian musicians including the work of Peter Sculthorpe, Don Burrows, and The Australian Art Orchestra to name just three. For me, it feels natural to explore the musical traditions of our neighbours and to ultimately strive for an approach to the instrument that reflects our experience in this region.”
Screening details for Intangible Asset Number 82:
Sunday 2 August, at 4:30pm
Greater Union Cinema, Melbourne
(131 Russell Street – between Little Collins & Bourke St)
Tickets are available at the Melbourne International Film Festival website.
For updates and further information on this film or to sign up to the mailing list go to www.intangibleasset82.com
Check out a review by Bill Leak from extempore Issue 2
Image: Simon Barker and Bae Il-Dong in the studio. Picture by Emma Franz
Miriam Zolin is a writer who enjoys listening to jazz and improvised music. She also edits extempore Australia’s journal of writing and art inspired by jazz and improvised music.