Sunday 23rd JanuaryJanuary 24, 2011
So a little subdued today after a couple of busy days in London. I spent some time trying to get all of the CDs here that are not on shelves onto shelves, and managed about half of them. Back at work tomorrow. I imagine the other half will still be there next time I get a break!
So a few words about the two nights of the Balloon and Needle event I attended at CafÃ© Oto. There were three days to the residency, but as the first consisted mostly of workshops and film screenings, and as I don’t live right on Oto’s doorstep, I made it along to the second and third evening. Friday night then consisted of three solo sets, a film based piece and then a closing trio. The evening opened with Ryu Hankil performing with his typewriter set-up. When I last spent some time in Hankil’s company he was talking about how he was struggling to find a way to make music with the typewriter. He had chosen the “instrument” before he had figured out exactly how he would make music with it, an idea that I liked a lot, and so it was really good to see him ‘play’ it on Friday and see what solution he had arrived at.
From what I could tell, Hankil had set up the typewriter so that depressing different keys sent some kind of electric signal to small motors placed on a snare drum, so if he sat and typed a text (as he did during this performance) so things would vibrate, or throw a small lever at the snare’s skin, and generally make percussive sounds in a very Unami-esque manner, each one of these small events potentially affecting the others as things moved about, fell over and collided with the next. So the music set the scene nicely for the two days ahead, quite fractious and uncertain, full of silences but constantly on the edge of collapse or sudden drops into noisy chaos. I’m a big fan of Hankil’s music, and this was a great example of it, mixing a carefully considered use of space and timing with elements of chance and danger.
Choi Joonyong’s solo that followed played with similar ideas of uncertainty and genuine improvisation along with a similar investigation of the sonic properties of an everyday item, a theme that runs right through the music of all of the Korean musicians taking part in this event. Joonyong worked with two faulty, opened up portable CD players that constantly tried to play the discs inserted into them, but instead emitted just a string of little blasts of jagged sound every so often. He then attached small chopped up slips of post-it notes to the exposed discs as they span, and (I think) arranged them so they brushed against contact mics or something similar, so the digital fragments were joined by a whirring, fluttering sound. After setting up this self-contained system, Joonyong took to pushing it further as he unplugged part of the set-up from the PA, plugging it into a couple of large Fender amps on wheels that he took to pushing off into the audience, scattering those sat watching. One of the amps he pushed away into the tiny room to one side of the venue that at one stage housed the Sound323 mini shop. By pushing the amp into the room and then opening and closing the door on it he affected the sound heard by the audience, and as he had disappeared out of site generated much amusement. Humour was in fact a constant and very welcome element to the performances all weekend. Joonyong’s solo then was both fascinating and really exciting as it was also sonically interesting. The degree of danger again was evident, particularly as he seemed oblivious to the electric cables trailing behind his as he pushed the amps about, knocking things off of tables and wrapping up audiences members sat in his way.
The third solo, a performance for a series of broken hard drives by Jin Sangtae was in comparison to the first two sets, relatively controlled and far more ‘musical’ in a traditional sense of that word. He uses the hard drives in a similar percussive way to Hankil’s set-up, but with more use of feedback and contact mics to produce a fuller, more rounded electroacoustic sound. I enjoyed his set a lot, but it couldn’t help feel a little safe and controlled after the two performances that preceded it, not that it was safe in any way, but nothing looked like it was going to be wrenched off of a table or suddenly fall apart. The music Sangtae created was warmer and fuller than the broken up abstractions of the night’s first two sets, and had a more layered, constructed feel to it, so similar but also a nice contrast to the approach of Hankil and Joonyong.
There followed a performance of a film screening called “After Psycho Shower” by Lee Hangjun with some assistance by one or two of the others (hard to tell who, it was dark and the musicians were the other side of bright projector lights) that began with flickering loops of the woman from Psycho caught mid-scream shot from several projectors all onto the same wall. Somehow, though I am not certain exactly how, the sounds of the old traditional cameras turning and roaring was captured and fed into a mixer, so the jarring grabs of film that splattered all over the wall were joined by a churning, roaring soundtrack, each jump of the film’s loops matched by a similar leap in the music as the direct motion of the film winding its way through each projector could be heard in the music. I suspect that separated from the visual aspect the sounds here would have been a lot less interesting, but watching and listening together was (for once) an experience that needed both elements to really work for me.
There followed a very loud, and in light of everything else that had preceded it, somewhat predictable noise set that utilised the same amplified projector sounds along with Hong Chulki’s turntables and Choi Joonyong generating feedback from an electric guitar. The films ran throughout. It was deafeningly loud, and it became very difficult to tell apart the various sounds within the overall blast of sound. This performance, of all of the two days’ sets was by far the least interesting to me.
The Saturday was split into two long forty-plus minute performances. First there was a solo from Chulki, who gradually built a construction up of shards of noise, bits of feedback and amplified bits of turntable pick-ups grabbing whatever Chulki threw at them. The performance in the most part wasn’t actually that loud, only bursting into heavy feedback here and there, but for the most part gathering its intensity from the long, slow deliberate construction of sounds. The sensation I had while sat there listening was one of industrial spaces, as Chulki’s sounds were all metallic and harsh, and closing my eyes to listen brought visions of sprays of sparks and hot glowing metal into my head.
The focussed intensity of Hong Chulki’s performance was the perfect balance to the somewhat absurdly chaotic, yet equally charming and often hilarious set that followed. All five Koreans took part, and were joined by Benedict Drew. All of the musicians’ equipment began set up in a circle of tables in the centre of the room, a sheer mass of ‘stuff’ that looked like an amateur electronics enthusiast’s garage sale. The performance began with Drew going through a comic routine of trying repeatedly to set up a film screen in front of a projector, using various items to ‘support’ it, never settling on any solution. From the start, Jin Sangtae had placed a small transistor radio, antennae extended and turned on quietly onto Hong Chulki’s slowly turning turntable, so as it span it passed a pick-up of some kind, creating a blast of feedback. From there, all rules went out of the window. At one point Choi Joonyong stretched a line of clear tape from Drew’s wavering film screen to the antennae of the radio, pulling it through the mass of equipment across the room. This caused the radio’s pin to alter and eventually stop. A projector was set up with the post-it notes attached to the spinning reel, so an acoustic flutter could be heard, and this projector was lit by the beam from another, which cut across the room right through the audience. Then Lee Hangjun and Ryu Hankil set about trying to run a strip of film tape from this spinning projector, through the audience and into the waiting typewriter…
Eventually Ben Drew set his film running, which was a long shot of him sat at a table trying to unravel a mess of audio tape. He also has a reel to reel tape player, microphone over it, and later in the performance he pulled the tape from the reels, a groaning sound emitting from the machine as he did. he then set off with the end of the tape around the room, so encircling the audience entirely with it, sounds being made as he went, and every move made by an audience member causing the tape to pull a little more and create sounds. So much more happened along these lines, but remembering it all is not easy. At one point as Joonyong stood on chairs trying to smother the celiing-mounted PA speakers with the musicians’ winter coats Jin Sangtae was seen taking apart one of the projectors and Hankil crawled about under it all, trying to pull sounds from a metal table he had attached contact mics to.
Everything then was somewhat chaotic and unpredictable, breaking down the barriers of performer/audience in a nice, completely unthreatening manner, but also finding a way to make music, generate sound that seemed to remove the usual considerations of sound placement, replacing it with a thoroughly organic system of going about various activities that happened to make sounds, and as the assorted group members did different things, almost oblivious to one another, it all came together into one big mass of sound events. The performances were recorded, and while I somewhat doubt that what resulted from this set could be considered something that could work as a stand-alone audio recording it would be very interesting to hear it and see what came out from all of this chaotic activity. This final set felt really very free and natural, something really wonderful to be part of and watch unfold around me. On the bus on the way home I bumped into a musician friend that has been in attendance, who told me that it had actually all felt quite traditional to him and that, in a good way the group had been improvising in quite a pure, gentle manner. I have to agree. Although somewhat unpredictable, the feeling of sheer unbridled creativity with the items placed in front of the musicians fitted the notion of free improvisation perfectly to me.
I enjoyed this final set a great deal, it felt fresh, invigorating and a tremendous show of friendship and combined, trusting creativity. This little group of Korean musicians brought humour and playfulness to CafÃ© Oto, not only through their music but in the obvious joy they showed at being together. I left them Saturday night feeling a great sense of warmth and pleasure at having been able to witness their work. They are off around Europe now- catch them if you get a chance.