Choi Joonyong – DanthraxSeptember 30, 2012
Oh boy. So Ryu Hankil has started a companion label to his Manual imprint, called Trigger!, specifically to release tracks that could be categorised, albeit a little loosely, as dance music. The second release on the label is something called Danthrax, a disc by Choi Joonyong, made using a personal CD player with prepared CDs. The album comes in a black digipack emblazoned with a logo very similar to that belonging to the heavy metal group Anthrax. The thirteen track titles all refer to Anthrax songs, so I am the Man becomes I am the Discman, and Among the living becomes Among the clipping, etc… It took me quite a while to stop laughing before I could try and take this release seriously.
The music here isn’t really dance music. In some ways the tracks do sound a little like Polygon Window period Aphex Twin as they are mostly made up of loosely repetitive, but too uneven to be able to dance to bit of jagged skipping CDs, but that’s about as close as it gets. The tracks are all roughly similar. Though each has its own set of sounds, the gritty, stuttering clip of a misfiring CD is present throughout, with different layers of digital distortion occurring on each piece. Having watched Choi at work with his CD players before, I think he has doctored discs so that they skip or just belch regular bursts of abstraction as they spin, and I think he has also attached things like bits of paper to the edge of the discs as they fly round. As he also removes the lid of the CD player so the spinning disc and any additional attachments can be made to rhythmically tap against things as it turns. Left alone I imagine the disc would create a constant pattern, but Choi does enough to each piece here, altering the sound one way or another to make the music never really settle into any one extended hypnotic groove. The music here is definitely composed, albeit in real time, this isn’t a case of a system being left to resolve itself.
So, a gritty, harsh set of partly percussive attempts at derailing technology and how it is supposed to be used. On the whole I probably found myself alternating between amused incredulity and the fact this album actually exists at all and a continual concern with trying to picture Choi Joonyong making this music, wondering what he is doing on each piece. As a piece of music to sit down and listen to, take in, absorb, Danthrax is hard going. There isn’t enough here to tap your foot to, and glitching edge of the music has a raw feel to it. There are none of the warm, shimmering skips we know from early Oval records here. This sounds like the sound of a CD player constantly malfunctioning, with a human hand ensuring it does so in thirteen different ways, one for each track. Danthrax isn’t as engaging or listenable as the majority of the improvisation involving Choi Joonyong and his collaborators usually is, or at least not in the same way, but its certainly an interesting and original idea, albeit a slightly addled one. I’ve no idea who to recommend this release to either, which probably means its a success in what it set out to do in the first place.