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[Herald Interview] Musician Yang Bang-ean aims for another peak after marking 25th anniversary

Musician Yang Bang-ean introduces
Musician Yang Bang-ean introduces "25th Anniversary Vinyl" during a press conference in Seoul on Monday. (Endorf Music)

Yang Bang-ean, a composer, pianist and producer born and based in Japan who holds Korean citizenship, frequently used the words “development” or “evolution” when answering reporters' questions on Monday.

When he decided to rearrange “Echoes,” which he composed in the early 2000s, for his new album, it was because he “had to develop further this personally important piece.”

The 62-year-old also said he wants daily evolution and to keep showing progress when he reaches another milestone, like his 30th anniversary.

“(Development and evolution) for me are very trivial -- something like becoming slightly better than yesterday. Today I can play the part that I couldn’t play yesterday. In this way, I can head for another peak,” Yang said during a press conference in Seoul on Monday.

Yang, also known by his Japanese name Kunihiko Ryo, was born in Tokyo in 1960 with a North Korean nationality. He was a medical student before he launched his music career as a producer, composer and band member. In 1996, he made his solo debut with “The Gate of Dream,” an album of instrumental music featuring a mix of piano music, gugak and pop music.

In the past 26 years, he has had many significant moments that helped him grow as a musician, he recalled.

The most significant moment, he said, was when he came to South Korea for the first time after obtaining South Korean nationality in 1999 to expand his music career outside of Japan.

"Once I arrived in South Korea, I went to my father's hometown Jeju Island and created a song called 'Prince of Jeju,' which made me feel really comfortable," he recalled. "After that, I received a lot of support from Korean people and had many opportunities open up. You can say that South Korea raised me and my music," he added.

The musician has been introducing barrier-breaking music and is taking part in several projects. He served as the artistic director of Yeowoorak Festival, hosted by the National Theater of Korea, from 2013 to 2015 and was appointed the music director for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games. In 2002, Yang’s "Fronter!" was selected as the official theme song of the Busan 2002 Asian Games.

To commemorate the 25th anniversary of his solo debut, he released a vinyl record set of four LPs and is set to hold two concerts next month.

His concert, titled "Neo Utopia 2022," will take place on Dec. 3 and 4 at the National Theater of Korea. The concert was originally scheduled for last year but was pushed back due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The concerts in December will feature musicians from both Korea and Japan who he called inspiring, including vocalist Ha Hyun-woo, drummer Senri Kawaguchi, guitarists Tetsuo Sakurai and Nozomi Furukawa and violinist Kang Echae. Ha, the lead vocalist of the rock band Guckkasten, and Yang worked together on the rock version of Jeongseon Arirang, a folk song, in Yang’s 2017 album “Echoes for PyeongChang.”

The four-LP vinyl set encompasses Yang's musical career so far and also introduces new tracks.

“I was born in 1960 and when I listened to music it was through analog methods like LPs. Even when I debuted in 1996 the world still enjoyed them. But all of a sudden, they disappeared. So recording my songs in the medium was very meaningful,” Yang said.

By Park Ga-young (