CD Reviews

Monday 15th February

February 16, 2010

Oscillation vacillationI really need to spend a few hours tidying up my desk here again. I am off of work tomorrow so will probably do so then. The CDs are beginning to take over once again and if I don’t keep them under control the consequences could be disastrous. Seriously though I need to put discs back into cases and onto shelves while I still remember what goes where…

Tonight’s CD is easy to locate the sleeve for however, given that it is a cleverly designed little envelope made up of two interlinking L-shapes of card that, once you’ve got the knack of it wrap around the disc, with the CD itself almost holding the sleeve in place rather than the usual opposite scenario. The CD is named Oscillation Vacillation and is a newish release on the Korean Balloon and Needle label featuring two recordings by the quartet of Joe Foster, Hong Chulki, Takahiro Kawaguchi and Ryu Hankil. (Usual caveats here, I released a CD involving Hankil late last year and am currently trying to organise him a UK tour in March, but my objectivity isn’t affected etc…)

So this CD includes two recordings both made on the same day in Korea, possibly at a live concert, though this isn’t clear. The first piece is sixteen minutes in length, the second a fraction short of forty. The sleeve details are minimal, with most of the information about who played what listed on the face of the disc itself (slightly annoying!) but for this performance Takahiro Kawaguchi worked with his remodeled counters and self made objects, Hong Chulki used a turtable minus its cartridge, and Ryu Hankil settled for just a speaker and piezo mic vibrations. Joe Foster’s choice of instrumentation is not listed for some reason, but I think I only hear electronics in there. It isn’t at all easy to tell who is making what sound, but throughout the first piece and during much of the second the skittering, clattering half rhythms seem to definitely come from Kawaguchi’s clockworkesque set-up, with Ryu Hankil choosing not to work with his clockworks on this recording, presumable for fear of ticking. whirring overload. If the rattles and churning sounds provide an undercurrent to the first track then the sounds overlaid by the other musicians do not necessarily follow in any pattern, and certainly they are more sparse than perhaps this line-up might promise. There are little bursts of gritty, short-circuiting electronics, the raw scrape of amplified surfaces rubbing against each other and a generally percussive feeling of scattered debris rather than extended sounds or anything leaning towards noisy layers.

The style of the actual recording here gives the music a certain “in the room ” feel that makes me wonder if it is a live concert recording. I’m not sure how many microphones were used to capture the sound, I suspect not that many, and all of the four players are recorded acoustically in the room here, no feeds seem to be taken from any mixer despite most of the group working with electronic methods. The thick, slightly roomtone heavy recording has a certain mystery about it then that goes some way to shrouding which musician makes which sound even further. So what we hear is a solid, thoughtful couple of sets of improvised music using non-traditional instrumentation but with much of the individual character involved in the “playing” removed, or at least inaccessible for those of us that were not there at the recording. The sounds that we hear are most often placed well, working with and occasionally against those around them but pushing and nudging in a slightly unsettling manner. There is in fact a mostly calm, slow feel to the music, but there is a jagged, dirty edge to the sounds we hear that give the music an unsettling feel. Every so often when warmer, sinewave-like tones appear from one musician or another they almost feel like friendly anchors in the music, touches of colour in an otherwise awkward, jagged black and white painting.

Oscillation Vacillation is an engaging piece of work that does repay close, attentive listening. The patterns that form in the music, partly through the rhythmic elements are interesting when set against the unpredictable events happening alongside. there is a real sense of restraint in the music, and a feel of musicians contributing just enough to lay out a difficult, barren landscape that can be negotiated but only through considerable investment in the music on behalf of the listener. The rewards aren’t obvious here, there is no clear beauty to the music and no quick and easy hooks to latch onto, but this is thoughtful, intelligent music that demands thoughtful listeners. Enjoyable stuff indeed.

Comments (7)

  • Alastair

    February 16, 2010 at 8:50 am

    Richard, forgive me for saying so, but it’s not for you to say whether your objectivity is affected by any working or other relationship with a musician. Only the reader can decide whether that is the case by reading the review and listening to the recording in question.

    I don’t doubt that you attempt to be objective in your reviews, and am sure that you often succeed. But it’s for other to decide whether you do or not.

  • Richard Pinnell

    February 16, 2010 at 12:14 pm

    Yes of course Al. The whole point of me providing the caveat information is to allow others to make up their own minds. I don’t think there is anything particularly incorrect about me pleading/stating my own case for objectivity though. Whether others agree with me is a different matter altogether.

  • Fister

    February 17, 2010 at 12:31 pm

    Objectivity? Is that even possible (or desirable)? At the very least it’s exceedingly rare

    Anyway, a few comments–

    One or more of Hankil’s clockworks gave up the ghost that day, unexpectedly. But he had been augmenting his instrument recently, so he played with that stuff (exposed speaker cones & piezo (contact) mics).

    The recording wasn’t a live performance, but a session in a college classroom with just us present.

    I believe it was recorded with one stereo mic by Hong Chulki. Hong and Kawaguchi played with no amplification, by the way.

    Glad you enjoy the disc, and thanks for the kind words!

  • hck

    February 18, 2010 at 12:18 am

    This was recorded by stereo microphone with line-in inputs from Hankil and Joe. And no amplification for myself and Takahiro. We just sat a bit closer to the microphone. The whole set up looked like this.

    Thanks for the thoughtful review.

  • Richard Pinnell

    February 18, 2010 at 12:23 am

    Thanks for the extra info Joe and Hong.

    Thanks for the photo as well, though now I just want to know who was playing the giant sponge sat by the laptop??

  • Fister

    February 20, 2010 at 4:20 am

    That’s my hat

  • Richard Pinnell

    February 20, 2010 at 10:53 pm

    and wherever you lay it?

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