CD Reviews

Tuesday 21st July

July 22, 2009

Very late home tonight, and would rather fall straight into bed, but seeing as I promised to write more tonight here we go… This morning before heading off to work I flicked through the pile of not-yet listened to CDs here to select something to play on the way to work and subsequently write about tonight. As i did so I realised a good few discs had been in the pile for quite some time, and really needed to be listened to soon. So I picked up three such CDs and ripped them all to my iPod, and selected the first of them, Jin Sangtae’s Extensity of Hard Disk Drive to listen to today. This release came out at the back end of 2008 alongside the Sweet Cuts, Distant Curves release by Otomo et al on the Korean Balloon and Needle label. At the time I listened a lot to the other disc and somehow overlooked this one.

Jin Sangtae is based in Seoul and makes music primarily with deconstructed hard disk drives. This album is a solo release made up of three improvisations for this obscure choice of instrumentation. The liner notes to the release try and explain how the sounds on Extensity are made, but having read them a few times I’m still not certain I understand fully. Certainly the translation from Korean might not help matters, but I suspect that even if the notes were written in perfect English, or if I could read perfect Jorean such an explanation wouldn’t be clear to me. It seems that Jin connected two disassembled hard disk drives and manipulated the vibrations coming from them some how, then capturing the sounds this makes on a closeby microphone. Sangtae also goes to great pains to tell how he worked hard to keep external sounds from his studio out of the recording, as he wanted the final product to be as pure a reproduction as possible of the sounds made by the faltering electronic devices.

So what does it sound like? Well, kind of like that horrific sound you get when a CD has come loose inside your player and it spins frantically, combined with the grating sound of a car gear box stuck between gears, or when a sheet of paper jams in a computer printer and the machine turns over and over trying to feed it through with no success… In fact the actual sounds we hear do indeed sound like malfunctioning automata, but those sounds are also somehow kept under control, so instead of shuddering torrents of grating noise we get tiny clicks and jabs, often turning over into looped rhythms, mostly quite quiet, but occasionally allowed to bloom out into extended showers of sound. I really have no idea how Jin is able to control what the drive units actually do, and subsequently what sounds they make, but there is a mixed feeling of chaos and quiet control to at least the first couple of tracks here. When sounds do occur they feel like the result of mechanical failure, but the way these incidents are spaced apart and placed alongside other, different yet similar sounds suggests careful control. The third track is allowed to blossom out a bit into natural clattering failure a little more than the first two, though still the piece feels fully composed in the moment, not just the end result of a systems failure.

I don’t like the way the music often slips into small looping rhythms much, but in general the sounds are rather enticing. I do think that perhaps the erratic qualities of the chosen instrumentation and the musician’s decision to work with smaller sounds in space make it harder for these elements to work in a solo setting, and I have certainly preferred many of the collaborative settings I have heard Jin perform in to this disc. Combined with other sounds his broken electronics sound less exposed, and the faults of the methods used (limited sound palette, that looping tendency etc…) would be less apparent, but still Extensity is a curious and quite pleasing listen. Its a disc I am more likely to think back to as a quite original way of making music rather than one I am actually likely to play too often, though I imagine its fair to say this is as good a release using this particular method of sound production as you are ever likely to hear.

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