Ooh look, a CD review. Actually the piece of music I have been listening to over the past couple of days, and so writing about this evening is just part of a new release by Ryu Hankil that also includes a book of text. The book/disc is named Beckett’s Typist and is one of three new releases out simultaneously that come with accompanying texts and see Ryu exploring his explorations of the typewriter as music instrument adventure a little further. This release is one of two of the three released on Ryu’s Manual label in conjunction with a Seoul publishing house and is really very beautifully packaged- a DVD sized fold out digipack wrapped around the book of text, all very delicately designed and adorned by one of Ryu’s brilliantly simply drawings, this time of a giraffe. This particular release is a joint creation with the writer Lo wie.
The way this release works, (and I think also the other two, though I’ve not investigated them fully yet) is that Lo wie has contributed a text, which Hankil has then sat down and literally typed out on his old cast iron typewriter. Now, as I have written about here before, the typewriter is set up in such a way that depressing certain keys causes it to set of various other electroacoustic activity- little motors set in motion, buzzes, rattles etc, with electric circuits completed each time certain metal parts touch, so setting things off into action. So, Hankil has taken the text and, as far as I can tell, has just set about typing it, so that the precise shape and form of the music is dictated by the sequence of keys needed to tap out Lo wie’s work.
The text is something of a tribute/homage to Samuel Beckett. It consists of an almost repeated paragraph that feels like it is looping back on itself, which it does, but changes each time, so pulling out lines over and over in a thoroughly Beckettian manner, insistent, urgent, maybe obsessed. The opening line in each part of the text is often “I am in my mother’s room”, carefully taken front he first line of Beckett’s Molloy. The writing is very nice, imparting a particular sense of seemingly pointless, hammering repetition which is then extended further into the music produced from typing it up. We hear the expected tapping of keys, which is quite mesmeric in itself when focussed upon in this way, but then also little mechanical rattles and purrs as things go about their ways, and also a single tone, just a second or two long each time, but always at the same pitch, and repeated often, presumably when a frequently used key has been struck, perhaps the space bar? So we hear a semi rhythmic, regimentally arranged stream of keystrokes with some more irregular sounds in tow, and then that tone, which after a while feels like the obsessive repetition of Beckett, the continual use of the same motif, over and over until the futility of it all seems obvious, and yet it just continues.
So, if this music were to be released without the text, without any understanding of why it might exist, this would be an odd, and somewhat demandingly tough CD to listen to. For Ryu Hankil this all adds another stage to the circle that hi typewriter is going through. He chose the typewriter as his next ‘instrument’ some times before he actually found one, or had worked out how he could perceivably perform music with one. He even made a disc of solo pieces for electronics titled Becoming Typewriter, so advertising his intentions as that album came to terms with the personal decisions required with changing one’s creative methodology. Then, once he had obtained his typewriter, he explored making music with it, playing a fair number of live shows with it. The plan had always been to take the object back through a complete cycle and return it to literature and writing once its life as a musical instrument was exhausted. Here on this release, and on the other two, we then see Hankil virtually complete the circle by using the typewriter for the task it was originally intended for, albeit with a musical element added in to the equation. Communicating with Hankil lately it seems that there is a final section to the circular process to be completed before his project is effectively over.
This is fascinating, thoroughly charming work then. The text is excellent, and its extension on beyond the page is equally clever, and actually, once you get used to the repetition, very easy and enjoyable to listen to. I am reminded, inevitably given I spent so long with the composition recently, of Cage’s Empty Words, whereby writing has been taken through a particular process to transfer it from the written/printed page in to the realms of sound. Beckett’s Typist then is great. How it differs to the other two similar releases we shall wait and see. I’ll get to them later this week.