Tuesday 17th MarchMarch 18, 2009
Yawn. I listened to some Korean music today.
Actually not just Korean, but certainly music recorded in the years 2007 and 2008 in South Korea as part of the Relay series of concerts and released now on the Manual label as the Relay: ArchiveÂ two-disc set. These discs capture the best of the last couple of years worth of concert recordings from the series that was organised by the small group of improvisers we have become familiar with working in Korea. Its been a busy day and this evening when I should have been listening to music and writing here I was once again tied up in IHM discussions so I have only managed to listen properly to one of the two discs. I’ll try and get to the other one tomorrow.
Generally speaking there is some fine music on this first disc, capturing the spirit of a time and place that was (probably still is) a real hotbed of creative music. The first of the five tracks here is by the quintet of Choi Joonyong, Joe Foster, Hong Chulki, Jin Sangtae and Ryu Hankil recorded just over a year ago. Trying to tell apart the five musicians here is a virtually impossible and somewhat pointless task. All play electronics of one kind or another, ranging between ticking clockwork sounds and rough scratchy noises. Not being able to tell the musicians apart easily makes it hard to assess the degree of communication taking place, but this is not that important as the end result is great, an edgy on/off, stop/start affair balancing a reasonable amount of silence with blocky, simply defined little structures formed by two or three of the musicians at a time. There is little layering of sounds and no room to hide but the music works very well.
Next up is the trio of Choi Joonyong, Hong Chulki and the German clarinetist Kai Fagaschinski recorded just eleven months ago. The addition of Fagaschinski’s reeds to the electronics duo is an interesting and risky mix that I’m not certain always succeeds. In places as Kai floats long dreamy notes over the stuttering rubble of his Korean collaborators the music has a simplicity to it that is pleasing to the ear but probably doesn’t stretch any of the musicians at all. When Choi and Hong cut loose a little the clarinet seems lost, unable to compete at the same volume or within the same aural palette. Often collisions of different instrumentation like this work very well, but here the differences between the two sets of sounds and the way they are used might be a little too far.
There follows a twelve minute noisy wrestling match of a track by Toshimaru Nakamura Â and Park Seungjun. Like two fighters just hurled into a ring together the two sets of wild electronic sounds wrench each other about at quite a pace. Compared to much of Toshi’s other music this is physical, muscular stuff that has a playfulness to it that works just about long enough to see the track out.
The fourth track is my favourite though, featuring the trio of Taku Unami, Klaus Filip and Jin Sangtae. To begin with there is a nice sense of balance to this grouping, the mechanical objects ticking and clattering by Unami mix with the jerky electronics of Sangtae and the smooth laptop tones of Filip to great effect. The music is beautifully constructed, like a piece of fifties architecture, not that many dramatic flourishes but where they exist they are perfectly placed to compliment the rest of the work. This sense of designerly (not designer) construction comes from a combination of great timing and a restrained set of sounds used put together. Lovely music that I would have been happy to have heard a lot more of.
The final piece is by the trio of Choi Joonyong, dieb13 and Joe Foster. This one is a little harder to put your finger on. The recording itself is a little more distant and echoey, and the sounds used are a little less predictable, with records spun at wild speeds on dieb13’s turntables sat alongside broad swoops of descending electronic tone (I suspect from Foster) and in a couple of places even suddenly spoken words. Odd rhythmic pulses come and go and digital squiggles are left almost randomly here and there. There is less of a fluidity to this piece, its hard to know where the music is going before it shifts direction. Â This is a curious piece that begs several listens and yet still doesn’t fully reveal much about itself.
The Korean scene has been as vibrant and creative as any over the past few years and this first of the two discs underlines this. There is a spark of energy to all of these pieces that can be found in most of the work on the Maunal or Balloon and Needle labels. It will be interesting to see where they go next. I’m personally off to bed, but I’ll play the other disc tomorrow.