Canadian flutist and composer Ron Korb has travelled the world with a unique fusion of Celtic, Asian, classical, jazz and Latin influences in his music. His latest album, “Asia Beauty”, has been nominated for a Grammy in the Best New Age Album category. We spoke with him about his work.
Parvati Magazine: You have studied classical, jazz and Celtic music before seeming to find your musical home within evocative Asian melodies, playing the bamboo flute. What is it about these sounds that calls to you?
Ron Korb: I really love the complexity of the sounds of the various Asian instruments – rough yet elegant, quiet yet powerful, ancient yet fresh and contemporary. I have travelled in many parts of Asia numerous times including China, Taiwan, Singapore, Japan, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and I always feel I have a strong connection there. I feel at home.
PMAG: Many of the songs on your Grammy-nominated album “Asia Beauty” follow a story you wrote called “Dragon Flute and the House of the Five Beauties”. Did you set out with “Asia Beauty” specifically to tell this story through music?
RK: Yes, many of the pieces were inspired by “Dragon Flute and the House of the Five Beauties” but you can also look at them having a double meaning. For instance Forbidden Love can apply to the story but can also be seen as expressing unrequited love because of the taboo surrounding romantic attraction interaction between the old social classes.
I like the listeners to read the story while immersing themselves in the album and let their imagination take them on a journey through this exotic world. However, on a different occasion they may listen to the same song and experience whole new imagery.
PMAG: In “House of the Five Beauties”, we meet a young flute-player who learns to go into another dimension through playing his music. Through this, and by expressing the sound of joy, he saves the land from an evil influence. This is a far-ranging and evocative track, with multiple flutes and Eastern and Western stringed instruments as well as piano unfolding over a contemporary backbeat. What influences your instrument choices when you are telling a story through sound?
RK: It depends. In a piece like The Reed Cave it is obvious that it be a solo flute like the jade dragon flute in the story. In the opening “House of the Five Beauties” I chose the qin (a 7 string zither dating back thousands of years) to establish that we are indeed in a very alien ancient land. Then the raspy yearning sound of the erhu with its colourful Chinese ornaments is perfect to play the melody with the western ear reassured by the acoustic guitar. To create the sense of grandeur from the story I used cellos, bass guitar, drums, cymbals, gongs, hand pans to fill up the sound spectrum with various flutes doubling and harmonizing the melody.
PMAG: You have now been making albums for 15 years and sold out crowds in Asia and Canada alike. What do you do to stay healthy and retain a sense of balance during a hectic tour schedule?
RK: Excellent question.
It is really important to get enough sleep and to keep a regular work schedule. It is all important to nurture yourself with things apart from work like making time for friends and family and enjoying the outdoors. As far as touring it is prudent to plan things so things are not too hectic. Eating properly is often a struggle and things will always go wrong here and there so it is a good idea to adopt a calm mental attitude.
PMAG: Olivia Newton-John has been cheering you on over social media for your Grammy nomination. How does it feel to know that your music is reaching and touching so many people?
RK: It is wonderful and very gratifying that the music of Asia Beauty seems to be touching so many people and even producers, recording artists and celebrities. When you release an album you often wonder how it will connect with an audience. Especially when it has so many elements like Asia Beauty and is 74 minutes long, you wonder if in this day and age anyone will be able to devote the time and attention to take it all in and enjoy it. I am really happy that many people have told me how they can enjoy listening to the album over and over and can hear different things each time. They also really enjoy the CD book with all the photos and descriptions. The packaging is in the form of a book so it is almost like they are reading a book with a CD than the other way around.
Award-winning flautist Ron Korb is famous for playing a wide variety of indigenous woodwinds from around the world. He has toured extensively throughout Europe, Canada, the USA, Central America, Australia and Asia. Ron’s compositions evoke imagery of the diverse cultural traditions and experiences of his travels.
Ron’s latest album, the Grammy-nominated Asia Beauty, has won “Best of Show” at the 2015 Global Music Awards as well as awards for Best Instrumental Solo performance (Blue Bamboo) and Best Album Design. It also won Best Instrumental Album and Best Instrumental Song (Two Mountains) at the Akademia Music Awards in Los Angeles.