I got home from work tonight a little after midnight, having had to work an unexpected long shift. The temptation to not write anything tonight, given that I am not feeling that well and am flipping’ tired was considerable, but I haven’t written a review for two days so its time to knuckle down again. Â So despite having such a stinking congested cold that my hearing is blocked to some degree I have finished off the review I began a few days back of Inferior Sounds, a new disc by the Korean trio of Hong Chulki, Choi Joonyong and Ryu Hankil. Fortunately, while not quite hitting the abrasive harshness of other releases from this group of musicians it is loud and sharp enough to cut through. It is also, quite predictably, a really good listen.
The title Inferior Sounds is a particularly wry one. Exactly what it refers to, beyond an admirable show of humility I am not certain, but maybe the instrumentation here is a clue. Turntable with records, (Hong) The mechanisms of CD players (Choi) and a typewriter with contact miss attached, that somehow also activates objects on a snare drum (Ryu) are not the kind of instruments you expect to read on an everyday CD sleeve, so do the trio think of them, and the sounds they make as inferior to sounds made by ‘normal’ musical instruments? This is an interesting thought, as having been completely blown away by these musicians playing concerts in the UK a couple of times this past year, what really struck me, aside from the captivating visual elements to the performances was how very musical the events had been, even though the same unusual instrumentation had been used. Perhaps then the sounds are to be considered inferior to the visual elements of the performances? I doubt that this is the case, despite the trio’s interest in film. Its hard to know where the title comes from then, but it is fun wondering.
So the music here is raw, crunchy, part percussive, part buzzing, searing electronics. Having seen the musicians work together just days before this album was recorded at a residency in the Netherlands, I can visualise where the different sounds emerge from, Opened portable CD players with things stuck to the spinning discs would be placed next to microphones and whatever else was to hand to create whirring, ticking sounds, metal objects would be touched gently against the spinning turntable to create sheets of fierce sound, the typewriter would just be used to type something out, the physical striking of the keys caught by microphones, and things sent scuttling and hammering around a drumhead as a result. Then there will have been much more in between. As I saw these musicians improvise live with overhead fans and guitar amps on wheels pushed around a room, there will probably have been more discovered in the Steim residency space to spark the imagination of these playful musicians who seem somehow to find novelty and freshness in situations seemingly overlooked by others.
Inferior Sounds isn’t as heavy and full-on as previous albums from the small Korean improvising unit. There is little in the way of clear silence here, there is usually something rattling or humming away, but the music breathes much easier than the noisier blasts of previous releases. Its as if the group wish for each sound to be heard, its contribution evaluated, considered, perhaps found to be inferior, but not lost altogether in a harsh maelstrom. We still get some quite severe sounds, and there is nothing even faintly close to pretty here, but listening closely is easy, and enjoyable, a rough, rugged experience but one that I came back to over and over again. If the music of the Seoul improvisers is evolving, it sounds less wild, slightly more considered, slightly more thoughtful, but then if you have been lucky enough to witness the seemingly out of control live performances they have put on of late you might well ask how this could be. Inferior Sounds then, consists of two half hour long pieces that might just be their best output on CD yet, and that’s saying something indeed.