Uncertain TimesSeptember 11, 2007
I’m a little late to this extraordinary recording, having owned it a while but only just found the time to play it. However as Mattin’s partially incomprehensible sleeve notes suggest we all need to reclaim our own notion of time, this probably doesn’t matter so much. Time is definitely a central theme of this CD. Ryu Hankil is credited with playing clockwork with a contact mic, and for much of the recording the listener is removed from any preconceived notions of how time is used in improvised music, left with broken parts of a strangely unfamiliar clock ticking, long silent spaces and periodic long passages of electronic drone that do not allow for any flow, yet also somehow also avoid tension. There seems to be little connection between the sound events that occur, and whilst the rhythmic turning of odd deconstructed clockwork-like sound features throughout the piece there is little symmetry to the overall construction that jumps viciously from pin pricks of sound dropped into silence to brittle blasts of digital noise.
I’ll be honest I don’t know what to make of this CD. It falls somewhere between the emptiness of some of Unami’s past music and the raw, dirty electronic sound that is becoming synonymous with the fast emerging Korean improv scene. In places the use of mutated clock ticking and subdued laptop hum produces some interesting shapes picked out of the silence, but in other places the harshness and sheer volume of a drone and the overall ugliness of the sounds used make this a difficult listen. Here and there we are presented with long passages of repeated sounds that resemble the recordings of clockwork slowed right down, each “tick” extended into a rougher sound event. By all accounts Unami heavily edited and reworked the live recording in post production, and its possible these passages are the result of him slowing the music down, again playing with the notion of time. Its also possible that one or both of the laptops are responsible for producing these sounds in real time. There is a definite sense of uneasy imbalance thoughout however, caused in part by this feeling of slowed time.
The music is improvised but there has had to have been some considerable discussion about the shape of the music beforehand. On another sleeve note Hankil mentions that he gained a lot from the musical relationships formed between the quartet, which can be divided into two established duos (Unami/Mattin and Hankil/Sangtae) meeting for the first time. The odd, fractured feel of the entire 55 minute piece resembles more a Radu Malfatti score played with broken electronics than it does an improvisation, and it seems unlikely that this music was arrived at without either some degree of predetermined approach or massive post production treatment. If this music is indeed the result of four musicians playing together and discovering common ground then it is remarkable that they have all arrived here in this strange unorthodox place.
So a CD that has really got me thinking, the kind of challenge we are used to from Mattin and Unami. I can’t help but feel I am missing something important here, something that has caused this music to take such an alien, uncomfortable form. Its miles from easy listening, an intriguing mystery at best, downright impenetrable at its worse, but a disc that has certainly got me thinking hard about its nature, and wondering what on earth I am meant to do with it. Challenging stuff, in the very best sense of the word.