Thursday 29th OctoberOctober 29, 2009
Well despite today being my day off it has been pretty stressful so far, a battle to get a million CDrs (well a dozen or two) burnt, printed, stuffed into envelopes and off to the post office before Julie comes over to pick me up as we are off out tonight. At the same time I have been listening all morning to Circle, Â the Jason Kahn / Ryu Hankil double CD set just out on the Celadon label, playing each disc three times since I got up early this morning, so this music has become a little ingrained into my thoughts and actions today. I should add at this point the usual caveat… One of the CDrs I packaged up today involved Ryu Hankil. While I can guarantee my objectivity perhaps readers should bear this in mind. I have no connections to Jason Kahn, although I have found his recent music increasingly captivating, his recent solo Vanishing Point being my favourite of many discs of his on my shelves.
This is the first release on Bill Ashline’s Seoul based label, which displays the strapline Electroacoustic and Improvised Music from Korea on the back of the sleeve. While a pedant might point out that the music on these two discs was recorded in Zurich, its great to see another label springing up, and in particular one dedicated to supporting its local community. Despite there being seemingly few musicians working in this area in South Korea, Celadon is I think now the third label from the area serving these musicians. This can only be a healthy situation, and as much of the music has been of great interest long may it continue.
Given the instrumentation listed on the sleeve- percussion, mixer, contact mics and radio for Kahn and clockworks, mixer, contact mics and devices for Ryu, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to suspect a strong process related approach might be present in this release, perhaps things set running and left to develop slowly, but in fact the music on Circle sounds very human, the touch of the musicians’ hands can be traced throughout the two discs, and the way the two distinct parts of the duo interact and push each other is evident throughout. Kahn’s percussion work steps slightly away from the layering and heavy drones he has worked with in recent years, utilising similar techniques but with more space in his contributions, curling his sounds around the rattles, drills and shakes of Ryu’s clockwork and leaving room for the music to slowly unfold and shift direction naturally. Having never had the opportunity to watch Ryu Hankil play live it is hard to picture how his sounds are made, how much they evolve on their own through the simple genius of clockwork, and how much they are the result of objects being “played”. A combination of each is certainly the case, but somehow, despite the mechanical aspects of the music’s formation it all sounds very organic and actually under control. Kahn brings gentle rumbles and groans, high pitched screeches and thinly dispersed tones to the recordings. Ryu (I think) works mainly with these slightly jarring percussive clatters and shudders. The sounds work very well together, but the pleasure in this music comes from the way these two sets of sounds interplay. There are a few loud peaks, several plateaus where the next twist is awaited, and a good number of virtually silent pauses, periods of nervous tension where seeds are planted that grow outwards into the music.
Both of the discs follow this pattern of colliding textures, the soft against the brittle, extended smooth sounds against abrupt mechanical chatter. The first disc, containing just one piece lasting some fifty-two minutes is stretched out slowly, with ideas gradually brought to the fore and then allowed to progress until one or the other musician brings a new element into play. The second disc, a little more than ten minutes shorter feels slightly more broken up, Ryu in particular seems more agitated and impatient, while Kahn seems to strip things down even further and work with just one sound at any particular time. This second disc might be my favourite, not that there is much to choose between the two. Its slightly more edgy feel just adds to the tension we heard on the first CD.
Circle is an engaging listen if you give it the time and attention. While I can’t picture what either musician is directly doing I can feel the way sounds are used in response to each other, and how either side of the recording space nudges and pushes the other out of their comfort zones, away from where they began, each musician tugging and pushing at the other to keep the music full of energy and interest. While Circle is full of Â plenty to listen to it is also somewhat exhausting to work through, an hour and a half of unforgiving, tense abstraction that saps the energy of the careful listener. So after three full run-throughs I feel pretty much drained, as if I had been tied to one of the little hammers I picture in Ryu Hankil’s set-up and shaken constantly into submission. This is gritty, substantial stuff and is very much recommended, a great start for Celadon.