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RYU HANKIL, HONG CHULKI, CHOI JOONYONG - INFERIOR SOUNDS

2 tracks

running time: 58:05

INFERIOR SOUNDS BY RYU HANKIL, HONG CHULKI, CHOI JOONYONG

Ryu Hankil : typewriter, snare drum
Hong Chulki : turntable
Choi Joonyong : cd-player

recorded, mixed, mastered by Hong Chulki
cover design by Choi Joonyong

recorded at STEIM during the residency(2011/01/17~19) supported by STEIM and LIG Arts Foundation

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2011.11

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14 USD

 

STEIM Residents: Experimental Music from Korea from STEIM Amsterdam on Vimeo

2011/01/17 at STEIM (photo: Hong Chulki)

related recording
all Ears Festival for Improvisert Musikk 2011

 
(online release, 2012: Audition Records)

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reviews

[review by Brian Olewnick, from Just Outside]
Album title of the year? Though closer in character to previous work out of Seoul, this too strikes me as having moved toward a fuller, somehow more accommodating sound. There's a kind of surge in effect throughout much of the disc's two almost half-hour tracks; one pictures a large mass of all these thorny, harsh elements "balled up" into a larger form that steadily oozes along. As in the Celadon release, the aural landscape is active, silences rare to non-existent. It's more than harsh enough for your average passer-by but less so than I might have expected, given past music.

So in many ways, including the coincidence of their fairly close release dates, I think of these as a kind of diptych. And it's just as hard to parse on some ways. Knowing the instruments involved are typewriters, turntables, CD-players and a snare drum gives one an idea and if you know earlier work from these musicians, you'll have an inkling, but there's less overt aggression than encountered in the past. I'm of course reluctant to conclude anything of a general nature from only two examples but I'm naturally curious to find out if this represents anything of a recent tendency there. Whatever the case, this adjustment, if it is such, suits really well with me, nudging the music just a hair toward a more user-friendly sound. It will still easily drive any adjacent acquaintance from the room, don't misunderstand, but the music feels more solid and focused than ever. Excellent work. (and a wonderful packaging idea)

[review by Richard Pinnell, from The Watchful Ear]
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 havent written a review for two days so its time to knuckle down again. 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 trios 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 isnt 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 thats saying something indeed.

[review by Frans de Waard, from Vital Weekly (812)]
In the early days of 2011 Korean musicians were busy working in Amsterdam, in Steim to be precise: Ryu Hankil (typewriter, snare drum), Hong Chulki (turntable) and Choi Joonyong (CD player). The latter wrote about inferior and superior sounds as 'not all sounds equal to us' and 'every person must have a criterion but a particular standard seems to have become universal and fixed'. This is a work of improvisation and if you remember, I pretty much like all of their previous work. At times a bit noisy, usually with a conceptual edge to it and freely improvising with the limitations of an instrument they choose. The two pieces here seem two straight forward documentations of a session in which they improvise on their instruments. The downside is that there are not many differences in approach here. They play in both pieces more or less a similar way. Scratching objects, plucking the typerwriter or the surface of the snare drum, manipulating the turntable and the CD player, occasionally typing a real letter. All of it is quite nice, but one piece of thirty minutes would have proven as much as two tracks. I think with some more rigorous editing both pieces could have been combined into one, simply by superimposing them and then mixing them together. I think it would have an equally strong point. Not to be played in one go, but one at a time is quite nice. (FdW)

[review by Michael Rosenstein, from Paris Transatlantic (spring 2012)]
A flurry of recordings on the Balloon & Needle and Manual labels over recent years has helped spread the word about the pool of musicians working out of South Korea, with the 5 Modules series and Hong Chulki and Choi Joonyong's hum and rattle revealing an active scene with a visceral approach to improvisation using contact mics, mixers, and open-circuit electronics along with cracked and hacked electro-mechanical devices, including damaged hard drives, clock mechanisms, typewriters, and the innards of CD players. These two recent releases offer a look at what the crew has been up to lately. The five extended improvisations on (pronounced "eum young", the Korean words for shades or chiaroscuro and sound) feature turntable-activated grit and texture from Hong Chulki, crackles and stutters from Jin Sangtae's deconstructed hard drives and the buzz and hum of electronics and guitar from American ex-pat Kevin Parks, whose suspended chords sound almost radical amidst the usual rattles, clatters, pops and buzzes. The album is held together by the looping pulse of the mechanical devices, which propel the music forward and provide a cascading backdrop for the gestural activity, and by the active manipulation of space and silence. There's the feel of a mad machine gone awry in the first piece, while the second is a more jumpcut scratch-and-scrabble affair, whose constantly shifting layers and timbres are steered with clear articulation and masterful control. The final track stands out, with Parks' twangy, resonant, detuned guitar hanging against the sizzling sonic graffiti of his partners. Recorded (superbly) in the close quarters of Dotolim (check out YouTube to see just how tiny the space is), every nuanced sound comes through with clear separation.
On Inferior Sounds, Chulki is joined by Ryu Hankil on typewriter and snare drum and Choi Joonyong on CD player for two extended improvisations, which, without the foil of Parks' guitar and electronics, are rawer and more rambunctious. There's a rough, noisy intensity to the playing, but also the sense of material barely under control. Process seems to be as important as result and all too often the inherent instability of the sound-generating devices seems to escape the musicians (the gadgets have, after all, been set up to do just that – it's a strategy central to the music). Seeing it live makes more sense, but on a recording the level of engagement is difficult to maintain. Crank it up and it's easy to get swept away for a while by its boisterous vigour, but there's not enough to pull you in for the long haul.–MRo

[review by Jesse Goin, from Crow With No Mouth]
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Next to the temple on Bush Street was a grocery store run by an old woman. Suzuki Roshi used to buy the old vegetables there. Finally one day the woman said, "Here are some fresh ones. Why don't you take them?" "The fresh ones will be bought anyway," he answered. ~ David Chadwick, Crooked Cucumber: The Life and Zen Teaching of Shunryu Suzuki

I want to find some kind of instrument from abandoned objects. So I used clockworks, typewriter, and telephone. I want to suggest to the audience that these kinds of objects have their own sound. ~ Ryu Hankil, Impakt

>Imperfections in script, verbal pauses, and poor phrasing are regularly passed over in the greater purpose of communication, yet they always threaten to break out into an impassable noise and cause real havoc. ~ Douglas Kahn, Noise Water Meat: A History of Sound In The Arts

There are essentially seven improvising musicians working in Seoul who have managed to reach the ears of intrepid listeners far from their home-base [yes, dammit, intrepid - the informed and encoded chat about this area of music on various social fora would suggest we're discussing a branch of free improvisation that bears some orienting and soothing signifiers from familiar antecedents - most often we're not, it doesn't, and from time to time let's be uncool enough to recognize the guts, curiosity and patience required to get past the sweeter meat and closer to the bone]. They are Park Seungjun, Ryu Hankil, Choi Joonyong, Hong Chulki, Jin Sangtae, Joe Foster and Kevin Parks.Three Seoul-based imprints have made this crew's work available - Ryu's Manual label, Choi and Hong's Balloon and Needle, and Bill Ashline's Celadon. I have amassed around 20 releases from this small pool, and can report there is a considerable scope and range to be found in their various collaborations and events, documenting their activities of the past six years. I can equally suggest that one can find, particularly in the harsher work of Choi, Hong, Jin, Park and Ryu, elements that have made their releases of the past several years some of the most uncompromising music I have heard. Uncompromising suggests a music that ennobles the listener for, well, being intrepid. The truth is, I anticipate each new release from Seoul with a surprising fondness for what I trust will be a frequently bruising and rough ride. The surprise, for me, is an appetite developed over a few years and many close listens to the Seoul group for their aforementioned elements of sound.

The elements? They love the cast-off and broken, they clearly love ugly, they begin their improvisations at the threshold where most of us, upon reaching it, linger only briefly, and they risk failure with a bracing brio that suggests they love stretching the tightrope as tautly as possible, and at the dizziest heights of anyone improvising today.

The Suzuki Roshi anecdote recounted above is expanded upon in Chadwick's biography of the man most responsible for planting the seeds of zen in U.S. soil, and whose life was an extended, improbable improvisation that tossed every expectation borne by his students ass-over-teakettle into the authentic, crucial confusion and crisis that makes an immediate experience of the new possible. Chadwick reports that Suzuki's wife would be understandably dismayed at his bearing home from the market his ugly produce. I felt sorry for them, he'd say, no one else chose them. A goofy, if affectionate glimpse of the Roshi, sure, except that his predilection for the cast-off and ugly was utterly sincere.

This aspect of Suzuki's sensibility occurred to me when I was writing my first piece about Seoul frequencies, and has percolated since. The crew loves ugly - amongst them, only Ryu's chattering typewriters and timepieces, and occasionally, Hong's whirring turntables, offer an assuaging, familiar sound. Abrasion and plangency are the framing devices for their individual gestures and actions. Where their contemporaries, such as Malfatti, Sachiko M, or any number of other practitioners of the ultra-spare draw the listener to the center of their sound by reduction, near inaudibility and the like, the Seoul group compel you to listen to the mistakes made by the broken technology littering our lives, with no less meticulous attention to structure, dynamics, paradox and surprise. This last is why I think two local noise musicians I introduced to their work called it "academic noise", meaning, by my lights, the Seoul frequency group is interested in more than pole-axing you.

On Inferior Sounds, Chulki, Ryu and Choi animate their disjunctive, sputtering and spitting sound-makers in two 29 minute teeth-shaking improvisations. Snare drum, broken portable CD players, turntables unsullied by records, and contact mics generate noise far too tactile and unpolished to be regarded as academic, or artful. What I hear is closer to the initially appalling beauty of The Brothers Quay, who choreograph both wood screws and scraps of meat with fantastic pirouettes and jeté, and dramatize the nocturnal and miniature worlds of limbless, glass-eyed dolls with unironic tenderness. The trio are neither simply going for your throat, nor studied and airless enough to be regarded as academic; they love that ugly produce, so much so they set aside the lap-tops and guitars they've all been associated with to bring the roughness, the rudeness and the ruckus. ...the sounds we make seem to be received as inferior to the sounds from a laptop, Choi said about this release; but we think that the sounds made from friction, gravity and elasticity of the real world without any processing are the real sounds. Not inferior/superior, nor hierarchical, real.

By contrast, it's easy to joke that Hong and Jin's trio date with Kevin Parks, , is easy listening. Well, all things being relative, easier. Parks, as much of a sui generis guitarist as anyone I can think of, seems to ameliorate the ugliest fruit with occasional bright chords, swells, sustains and laser-like slices of tonality. This is not to suggest Parks remotely controls the affair - Hong and Jin offer rough and tumble dynamics, with the trio sounding at times like, well, improvised guitar with two percussionists. Bearing in mind whom we are referring to, the second track actually sounds at one juncture as if Hong is doing press rolls on his empty turntable, while Parks and Jin trade bleeping and squelching fours. Track five, a beauty, offers guitar- glimpses of McLaughlin's Extrapolations period, with a looped bird song, and the sense, as on most of the Seoul crew's recordings, of distant, grinding gears at the edges of the stereo field. Released on the Celadon imprint, the recording and the design are lovely, bearing the touch of the obssessively quality-minded Bill Ashline.

As Kahn has it above, the Seoul group unfailingly threaten to break out into noise and havoc; somehow their energetic affection for, and integration of, the ugly, the broken, and the failed, makes their music sound, to my ears, so much more intrepid than many of their peers.

Thanks to Bill Ashline, for permission to lift from his yet unpublished paper, Low-Fi Values and Hacked Electronics: On The Aesthetics of Contemporary Korean Free Improvisation the quotes from Ryu, Choi and Kahn.

Thanks to Kevin Parks, who provided, at my asking, the Korean title of this piece. The title is the Korean translation for crooked cucumber, Shunryu Suzuki's nickname when he was a young monk. Oddly, Parks did not ask why I requested a Korean translation for crooked cucumber.

Kevin Parks' several collaborations with Joe Foster all merit your immediate attention; the duo's 2010 release Acts Have Consequences owns the status of being genuinely unlike anything else I heard that year in this area, and while I happily placed it on my best releases of that year, I did not find the words to write about it.


[review by William Hutson, from THE WIRE (Feb 2012)]