Entries tagged with “Hong Chulki”.

Choi Joonyong/Hong Chulki/Sachiko M/Otomo Yoshihide Sweet Cuts, Distant Curves (Balloon & Needle)

Like many of the EAI scenes the Korean contingent welcomes outside voices and frequently hosts musicians from all over. With it’s near proximity there have been many collaborations with Japanese musicians and there seems to have been a bit of cross pollination between the two groups.  In 2006 Sachiko M and Otomo Yoshihide came to Seoul and played as Filament and in various ad hoc groupings with local improvisers(4).   This included the quartet of Sachiko and Otomo with Choi Joonyong and Hong Chulki who subsequently made a studio recording which was released as this disc.

And there was no Korean noise-related music back then. So discovering Japanoise like Merzbow and Masonna was a big influence for starting Astronoise.(1)

Choi and Hong moved into improvisation from an initially noisier background and it seems to have been collaborations with visiting musicians that moved them into the more deliberate and less aggressive forms of improvisation they seem to focus on now. They still incorporate a lot of those harsher sounds into their work, but with a much greater emphasis placed upon the sounds then upon the energy that is often more of the focus in noise. In a large part I think that the tools that these two in particular, but also many other Korean improvisers, seem to favor shape what they do.

I think we’re likely to use sound reproducing machine because they are easy to find, and maybe because we’re not that good at playing real musical instruments (laugh). If any machine has an input and output, we just plug it onto itself and make a feedback loop, or open it to mess with it. As for me, I got inspired by turntable artists like Otomo Yoshihide and Christian Marclay. I had the idea to use a CD-player like a turntable, but not the way you would use a CDJ-machine. (1)

Appropriating consumer electronics in this fashion leads to unpredictable and often out of control results. While this is fairly easy to shape into a barrage of noise it is much more difficult to sculpt into the precise ultra-controlled realm of EAI.  This also seems like a further iteration of the use of electronics in this realm, first it was instruments that were approached differently (prepared guitars, feedback saxophone and the like) then it was tools of music production that was subverted (mixers, turntables, samplers), then appropriated electronics (circuit bent guitar pedals, homemade synthesizers, open circuit manipulation) and now the application of many of these principles to consumer electronics.

I do little bending or making short circuit of CD-players, but I often end up breaking it (laugh). Yes, I touch the print board with tiny screwdrivers, but these days I’m trying to use CD-players’ innate sound such as the spinning sound or the sound of lens pickup moving.(1)

This subversion of electronics is quite clearly in the lineage of their collaborators on this disc, Sachiko M and Otomo Yoshihide.  There has been a long tradition of using the turntable beyond how it is used in DJ and hip-hop circles and Otomo has been a major figure in this movement. Combine this with his use of guitar in a post Keith Rowe fashion he really represents a fairly long continuation of adventurous exploration of musical tools. Likewise Sachiko M is an influential pioneer of electronics repurposing beginning with her unorthodox, though more standard, use of the sampler with Otomo’s Ground Zero project eventually abandoning its essential nature by just using its sine wave test samples. As progressive as this pair has been there has been a certain listlessness in their work for the last couple of years.  This was reflected differently from the two of them, Sachiko just seeming to lose interest and not foraging ahead in new projects or collaborations, while Otomo threw himself into more and more work that seemed less and less creative and thought through.

Sachiko I feel has returned to form as evidenced by her excellent solo Salon de Sachiko (Hitorri) which was recorded a year after this collaboration.  Sachiko is such a meticulous improviser that even during this somewhat listless period she would play in established groups (such as Filament and Cosmos) and the music would always be rock solid, often fantastic. After this release though she seems to be back in force as evidenced by the performances she put on at the Amplify festival this fall.  Otomo, on the other hand, seems lost in work, playing more music then ever but so much of it seeming disjointed with odd collaborations, seemingly incoherent choices (such as all the work in pseudo-jazz forms) and a genuine lack of restraint. His interests seems to have moved on from quiet, sensitive explorations and yet he seems to still be able to pull them off when the need arises.

Filament, especially in recent years, seemed to be about fluctuations in stasis. As evidenced in the fantastic box set they released in 2004 they had pared their sound down to absolute essentials, fluttery whispers from Otomo’s turntables,  long tones from Sachiko with perturbations coming in the form of simple amendations to these basic units. Adding additional players to this spartan affair is always fraught with risk and I’d say there are few collaborators that would work with this as opposed to transform it into something else. Their collaboration with Günter Müller for instance, while a fantastic trio, wasn’t really Filament anymore. Given how chaotic a lot of Hong and Choi’s work seemed at the time this was certainly something that one would expect could go in the direction of becoming something else.  However this collaboration turned out to be absolutely amazing, producing music that one evokes much of Filament and yet goes quite beyond the finite limits that that project seems to have set for itself.

The disc is made up of three pieces, the first in three parts (1/1, 1/2, 1/3) the second a short interstitial track (2),  the third in two parts (3/1, 3/2). The trademarked stasis of Filament is strong in the first piece, with Otomo layering whispers of sound from the turntable, perhaps just the lead-in track of a record, or the needle brushing over a soft surface. Sachiko lays back for quite some time in this piece and then carefully places soft, short twitters from her sine wave generators.  But along with this are short bursts of tattered feedback, never loud but a low stutter rising out of this soft bed.  This along with electronic hums, mechanical rattles, short rumbles and hisses of static, come in and say for only the shortest of visits. This creates a fascinating, multi-layered effect, one that obscures any sort of mental assemblage – it doesn’t lend itself to easy systems of structure. There are no major dynamic shifts, though there are louder and softer bits, it just seems to become such.  There isn’t a rapid fire run through of numerous sounds and techniques, but likewise the sounds aren’t overused and never become predictable. No this music is slippery, complex and yet constructed of the barest minimum of parts. The middle track seems to work with the fewest parts, left to stew for a bit but over its short six minute length there does seem to be a building toward something that never arrives leaving us again with a fragmented vacuum.  The final piece seems to be led a bit more by the Koreans; it is they who setup a grinding mechanical bed that the other sounds work in. Here Sachiko leaves a single tone running for long periods of times, merely backing it off and changing it to different frequencies at various times.  Even with the greater sound density of the Koreans mechanical apparatus they space it out, bringing these sounds and waiting to switch them to another. The final moments of this track is some of the most post-industrial sounding and works as an endcap to both the piece and the disc. Not a climax in any sort of traditional way but an ending, closure.

This collaboration was certainly never a certainty and I have to say the results probably exceeded my expectations. This was one I’d heard about right when it was performed and with my love of Filament and my increasing interest in the Korean scene I was highly anticipating it’s release. But I had no idea which direction it would go and I couldn’t be more pleased with the results.  It is fitting I think that the disc is not Filament + Hong Chulki and Choi Joonyong but that it is an equal collaboration between Sachiko M, Choi Joonyong Otomo Yoshihide and Hong Chulki. As for the title, well your guess is as good as mine.

1) Choi Joonyong interview at Foxy Digitalis
2) Hong Chulki page at Balloon & Needle
3) Choi Joonyong page at Balloon & Needle
4) Review by Joe Foster of the 2006 concerts.

Ryu Hankil/Hong Chulki/Choi Joonyong 5 Modules V (The Manual)

I’ve always like that the 5 Modules project had a built in limit of five releases. The first four were released in 2007 and the final installment came out in July this year.  This disc, 5 Modules V, differs from the previous four in that that it is made up of three composed pieces, one each from Ryu Hankil, Hong Chulki and Choi Joonyong. The pieces each use a simple score and tend toward a combination of improvisation, simple structure and process.  The basic structure inherently uncatchable, combined with such repurposed technologies as clocks, turntables and CD players give these pieces an incredible strong sense of failed modernity.  The subverted mechanics evokes the dissolution of the industrial age and the whole endeavor has always seemed to come across as music made in the ruins of civilization. It seems a fitting conclusion to a series that has always flirted with chaos, disorder, subversion of simple tools and expectations.

The first track, musicboxxx, composed by Choi Joonyong, is a loping set of repeated sounds; multiple simple rhythms with slight variations that run for the tracks duration. The score is simply that each player is to take their assigned instrument and to follow a specific instruction operating on a single axis, in this case it is the speed of rotation. Choi Joonyong, for instance uses a cd player in this piece and his instructions were to “change it from slow to fast and vice versa“.  Hong Chulki’s was instructed to operate his turntable in the opposite fashion: “change it from fast to slow and vice versa” while Ryu Hankil’s clocks were to be left alone(2).  With these clocks running as a damaged metronome the rotating sounds limped along, sometimes fast, sometimes slower until after a predefined ten minutes they drop out in short succession. It is the interlocking and variably rhythmic nature of this piece that I think makes it so interesting. The use of rhythmic elements is both rare and rarely done well in these abstract musics and this piece I think both manages to pull it off and rather subvert the notion of rhythm at the same time. The rhythms only really exist on one level, that is to say in the sound elements that each musician utilizes. Structurally the variation in the rhythms between the multiple sound sources do not ground the piece in a common rhythmic structure or fit together in a polyrythmic type of scheme. No the rhythms here only exist on the surface level and ultimately they actually are just a feature of the sounds and are not a structural element.

pieces, by Ryu Hankil is a fairly precise set of instructions for the three players which are to be repeated three times. These three “movements” are clearly defined by a one minute silence between each one. The sounds are described as being “vibration sounds” and they do seem to capture that in this realization.  Rattles, non-linear rhythms, short bits of feedback and the like are the tools chosen for this piece. This piece is interesting in that it uses precise timings, but the nature of the events are fairly vague. For instance one rule reads “after 1 minute playing, change second vibration sound and playing 1 minute(2).  So you play your first selected sound for a minute and then change to your second sound and play it for a minute.  Of course these sounds are only defined as “vibration sounds” which is certainly something to try to evoke but at the same time gives you a lot of flexibily. For each of the three movements the players are supposed to change the order of the three sounds that they have chosen.  This piece actually reminds me of the “internal scores ” that I have worked on, by with the precise element of the stopwatch. It’s clearly defined movements and alterations in the presentation of the sounds, combined with the natural variations in the performance of the sounds makes for engaging listening. One aspect I quite enjoy is how the timing is not quite identical for each player and their is a tapering off at the end of each movement.  If this was what I call an “internal score” (see this post) then there would be no stopwatch involved (beyond the ultimate duration) and that sort of effect would be heightened. This I think would be an interesting variation on the piece.

feedback ring for three electric players(2)

Hong Chulki’s, feedback ring for three electric players, is the most clearly defined process piece in that it’s score is basically a flowchart of how the instrumentation is to be set up.  The feedback ring is the three musicians instruments setup to feed into each other in an infinite loop. Within this setup one presumes that the instruments are left to respond as they will to the input that they receive, which results in an ever shifting, multi-layered tones of feedback with the background rattles, buzzes and hums from the constituent parts.  It isn’t specified but one does also assume that there is some intervention from the musicians, if not in directly playing their instruments, then in adjusting the mixers so that this doesn’t just spiral into a massive wall of distortion and feedback. This is pretty clear from the constant build up and backing off of the screeches of feedback, that combine to form the non-linear structure of this piece. I find the layered sounds in this piece fascinating and the details amidst the moments of chaos highly engaging.  I also think that the combination of process and control is an interesting one: it isn’t simply wound up and left to play out on it’s own, it requires human intervention and thus becomes a more rewarding experience. One could imagine a purely technological solution, threshold devices that can keep the volumes and intensities within preset limits and that might present interesting, albeit different, results. But this simple setup and basic human intervention is I think a fantastic thing in and of itself.

This foray into composed music is really one after my own heart. They work with improvisation as an element and setup formal systems as a set of constraints. This to me is an area that is rife with possibilities, an edge zone where the most dynamic and unexpected results lurk. Taking simple concepts, and applying them to the detritus of modern society that these three use for their instruments is incredibly successful, they are constantly flirting on the edge of incoherence but the structuring elements keeping it hovering in vital territory.  The music from these three and their fellow musicians in Korea has been amongst the most vibrant and dynamic and this is I think the strongest statement to date from them.  I’ve been fascinated with the music from the scene for several years now and it continues to be an area I’ll watch with rapt attention.

1) 5 Modules V webpage
2) 5 Modules V composition notes (pdf)