Balloon & Needle Trio

HONG CHULKI / CHOI JOONYONG – Hum And Rattle

Apart from the nice U2 pun of the title, this record – entirely realized with a CD player and a turntable – brings an unrepentant, if somewhat moderate assault on the listener’s ears, subjected to an alternance of remorseless frequencies and episodes of extra-charged “tranquillity” for over 73 minutes. The protagonists manipulate their sources with expertise, obtaining uncommonly surprising sounds whose scope goes from ultrasonically acute stabs and extremely sharp interlocutions to quasi-silent segments where only through headphones we’re able to identify some sort of subterranean activity, often based on the exploration of audibility ranges that are better suited to dogs, cats and bats than humans (one can always improve, though). There’s a method to this music, which is why I particularly appreciate it: the performers are listening attentively even before releasing substances, which gives the idea of partially predetermined materials, although that’s probably not the case. There are abundant doses of pleasantly musical noise that, for once, implies a cleverly planned structure instead of exclusively introducing pain and tediousness, Chulki and Joonyong the representatives of an open-minded aural diplomacy that tends to leave exasperation aside in favour of an almost total sonic acceptability, disintegrated constituents notwithstanding. This release could be seriously cherished by those who welcome the products of Ferran Fages’ acoustic turntables. A well conceived, stimulating work.

JIN SANGTAE – Extensity Of Hard Disk Drive

Sangtae expresses himself through amplified hard disks, in case you missed it. This passion started fifteen years ago while working part-time at Yong-san electronic market, and he has tried both to increase the knowledge and enhance the techniques for making the machines work according to a musical sense. In certain circumstances the composer manages to achieve something that could be (very vaguely) defined as such, especially in terms of rhythmic pulse; yet the problem that is going to push a lot of people away from this CD, I suspect, is that many of the sounds produced are so unforgiving, so harsh, so intrinsically inharmonious that only a sadist might be willing to repeat the experience more than once. In truth there’s no actual music here, but a series of characterless mechanical events, some of them interesting, others just silly or plain dreary. I’m sorry to report that, in general, the contents of Extensity Of Hard Disk Drive are not remarkable enough to justify their release.

CHOI JOONYONG / HONG CHULKI / SACHIKO M / OTOMO YOSHIHIDE – Sweet Cuts, Distant Curves

Despite the above positive review of Hum And Rattle I’m not the least envious of artists expressing themselves with CD players and turntables these days; how can they find innovative ways of making music without producing the same results from a record to another? Most times a success is not waiting behind the corner, all those skip-click-fizz-and-buzz practices often turning into a litany for the destruction of the residual hopes of listening to a cleverly conceived recording. Luckily, this one (“recorded during Sachiko M and Otomo Yoshihide’s trip to Seoul for concerts organized by RELAY”) doesn’t belong to this category, especially in virtue of its rather interesting combinations of colours. This stuff is only for the well-versed, of course; not sure that the melange of maniacal sputtering, vituperation of harmonic construction, bizarrely hesitant oscillations and unsympathetic hiccups is going to appeal to those who love to hear some old-fashioned consonance in their wine-influenced evening sessions; in the final track, Otomo is even heard torturing an electric guitar. In general, nothing memorably new under the sun, although the sonic concoctions generated by this quartet tickle the nerves quite efficiently. With headphones on, in front of a muted TV set airing Criminal Minds, the session made for an experience halfway through occult encoding and electrophysiological stimulation. Alternatively, you may be willing to listen to Mozart or Vivaldi and get brainwashed for real.

Balloon & Needle

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JASON KAHN – Dotolim

Balloon & Needle

This record is a product of Jason Kahn’s Seoul trip in 2009, made possible by Ryu Hankil’s organization of a number of concerts involving the American. The will of collaborating with “the core group” of Korean improvisers – which he had firstly met three years prior – turned into this recording at Dotolim, a minuscule site also used by hard disk drive manipulator Jin Sangtae as business office. A graphic score was handed to the five performers accompanying the designer’s analogue synth and shortwaves; besides Jin and Ryu (speaker and piezo vibration) – the sextet featured label manager Choi Joonyong (opened CD players), Park Seungjun (amp with spring reverb) and Hong Chulki (turntables).

The composer reports that there was the bare minimum space in the room to move and operate the machines. One imagines heat and sweat, everybody hunched over a piece of equipment, the unremitting shuddering of an uncontrollable sonic organism led by six men towards uncharted territories. The music benefits from the alliance of shortwave, drilling percussiveness and organic distortion, which represent its predominant components. The propulsion comes from destroyed automatisms originating an incessant clatter pervaded by a sort of acrid bubbling; establishing who does what becomes a matter of imagination, and is actually pointless. Density, rawness and intelligibility proceed at the same pace: we can choose a path to follow while remaining able to monitor the different directions to which various intuitions spread. Even stasis, in the rare moments of presence, sounds crusty and tense until it gets mangled by evil droning forces, as it happens from the 45th minute on in a memorable, literally dangerous section.

A network of inquisitive minds giving birth to a creature whose deceivingly mechanical coldness hides a passionate effort to interpret Kahn’s intentions at best. Tune in with the head of a participant and let these energizing defluxions chart your mind. You won’t be disappointed.

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PHRONESIS – Alive

Edition

Looks like Phronesis (bassist Jasper Høiby, pianist Ivo Neame and, in this occasion only, drummer Mark Guiliana) are getting rave reviews, prizes and nominations everywhere, and being invited to a whole lot of festivals around the globe. What transpires from Alive is a series of facts. The cats can play for sure, exhibiting instrumental prowess all over the place, occasionally in rather gratuitous fashion (especially in the CD’s second half after they had started quite well with delicate atmospheres reminiscent of ECM-related transparencies slightly veiled by melancholic touches). Neame is the group’s actual beauty, the owner of a crystalline pianism that makes the compositions shine of a grace that goes beyond certain debatable choices. Ultimately, this record lasts too much at 73 minutes, and what was genuinely pleasant for the first 40 or so becomes a tedious regurgitation of clichés at the end. This reporter might resemble a balloon-deflating scorbutic, but the excess of accolades for this trio is unjustified.

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Afe Triplet

Afe Records is a label of contemporary electronica and post-ambient materials run by Andrea Marutti which released a few veritable gems in the past.

TIZIANO MILANI – Im Innersten

Milani is an “acoustic architect” from Vercurago, a small town in the northern area of Italy characterized by the placid waters of Lecco’s Lake, around which wonderful landscapes unfold. I thought I’d mention this because, despite the myriads of occurrences typifying it, his music seems to reflect the calmness of a long walk in the country, perhaps along a river (or, why not, a lake…) barely broken by the minute incidences that insect life, or bird talking, introduce in the overall tranquillity. Yet Im Innersten comprises many elements whose derivation is far from bucolic, their superimposition generated through complex processes that, in the composer’s words, create “a continuous flux where all events coming from a different origin interact, so that each of them contains all the others in itself”. To realize these delightfully unsolved textures, a computer processed pre-amplified omnidirectional sources captured by a microphone in a reverberating room. This is not a typical ten-second-Lexicon-Hall album hiding absence of ideas, though. In this circumstance, we’re satisfied by a sonic heterogeneity based upon familiar presences mildly enhanced by an intelligent use of electronics. It’s a quiet, but not boring series of electroacoustic interactions in which found sounds, electronic radiations and normal instruments generate an ear-rubbing cloth that appears trademarked by names such as Paul Schütze and Ralf Steinbrüchel, even if Milani successfully strives to maintain a trait of individuality. A clever work, dappled that necessary much to prevent wearisomeness from kicking in, elegantly gratifying and – especially in the final track “From Order To Border” – causing interesting reactions in the mechanisms of memory.

FHIEVEL – Pipe Smoking On A Balloon

This outing epitomizes the necessity, for many people, of avoiding like plague the fact of having someone else trying to describe their efforts, especially if those who do are translating from an indigenous idiom without understanding that certain subtleties are required in an international language. On the press release of this disc by Luca Bergero/Fhievel there’s a hilarious illustration (also available on Afe’s website if you need a good laugh) penned by a Manuele Cecconello whose error-infested preposterous imagery – derived by the literal transposition of Italian into English, which is the best way to appear as a loon sometimes – certainly doesn’t help an album that makes of its modesty a salient trait. So let’s put an end to artificial grammar complications (how peacock-ish a difficult terminology is, huh? There are lots of traps under the smoke and the mirrors of pointlessness) and concentrate on the music, which in this occasion is not too hard. The record – a reissue of a 50-copy limited edition originally on the Polish imprint Um/Ko – is quite simple indeed, juxtaposing caressing minimal electronica (you know, easy melodic fragments and quivering pulsations that sound “humanly normal”) and spurious noises of the rustle/interference/white noise derivation. This goes on, more or less evenly, for circa 37 minutes exclusive of any sort of surprise, in pleasingly calm fashion. Not a masterpiece for the ages, not at all, but definitely something that’s not harmful to the ears and, in some instances, even agreeable despite the superficial glimmering. It works adequately at medium volume with no disproportionate application, letting the wavering and the throbbing do the work minus intellectual pretences. Still, this is a classic case of “listened-archived-forgotten in a week” CD. Significance lies elsewhere.

JOHN HUDAK – Miss Dove Mr. Dove

Intended by the composer as “background/sound music”, this album was made with software treatments of previously recorded sounds of doves, the birds captured in 2007 in a small town in the Czech Republic, where Hudak and family were visiting their relatives. I’m not really sure about what to say. As much as I have a measure of respect for this artist, because the sincerity (often bordering on naïveté) that he puts in his work is palpable, there’s not a lot to be excited for here. Almost a whole hour of casually deployed micro-peeping, interesting for a while but, with the passage of time, becoming rather tiresome in its semi-anarchic design. The general sonority equals picking electric guitar strings in the overacute register and applying a tiny degree of slide, oscillation and acceleration to the deriving figurations. Undersized bleeps, atonal whistling, thin powders, you get the point. One could shout that this is real minimalism, yet this definition cannot be applied as – per Hudak’s indications – we should not pay accurate attention to what happens. Then again, an entrancing repetition would ideally determine some sort of enhanced awareness. Instead, this stuff is very likely to annoy those who are not well-versed in this kind of experimentation, and maybe even a few who are. This man has definitely given us better things in other occasions.

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GRAHAM HALLIWELL / LEE PATTERSON – Terrain

Confront Collectors Series

Respectively credited with “saxophone feedback and processing” and “field recordings and amplified devices”, both Graham Halliwell and Lee Patterson are unyielding assemblers of sonic tinctures who seem to have chosen a reasonably anonymous profile – as opposed to unnecessary prominence – by letting the sounds do the talking. They’ve been involved in a fair share of consistently enthralling albums in recent times, Terrain being no exception: a profound, deceptively simple proposal whose mystifying tones are the result of numerous layers of crucial elements that, in their unfussiness, reveal a longing for those intangibles that push a scientist way beyond a process of pure analysis. Halliwell and Patterson look for the elusive magic of linearity, subtending a whole world of hidden significances.

In keeping with the above premise the record itself is pretty difficult to evaluate, a work which – as soon as the CD begins to spin and the reviewer’s mental format is worn – gradually shatters convictions, each session forcing a reassessment of the message and, especially, the attempt to find decrypting tools for something that, on the contrary, appears so manifest at first. What could be said in terms of sheer description is that the research is conducted around the extremities of various aural surfaces in a rather fluid geometry: the contrast between pulsing oscillations and straight electronic stripes, the opposition of ultra-bass and over-acute emissions, the absolute homogeneity resulting from the superimposition of just traceable locations and masterfully handled feedback.

In the third of the four movements – which this writer finds impressively proportional to his own vibration/consciousness quotient – the inexplicable radiance born from different planes of quivering reverberation, in turn causing a marvellous alternance of motionlessness and cyclical throb due to the clash of contiguous overtones, quite oddly introduces a hard-to-accept truth. You know that those unidentified resonances are leading to a superior form of awareness; yet the slightest interference – a noise from the outside, someone who tries to talk without realizing about the necessity of silence in that very instant – constitutes a low blow to the determination of maintaining that link to an advanced stage active, the balloon of confidence deflated by the beak of acquiescence to rational poverty, a translucent perfection spoiled by irrelevant personal expressions.

I’ve been writing at length a propos of the inevitability of approaching certain materials in appropriate contexts, recoiling in front of reports that mention approaches to this kind of release via iPod or Walkman while on a train or in a subway station, places where only a much thicker action can actually be heard (but not accurately analyzed), often jeopardizing our precious hearing given the inevitable requirement of substantial headphone volume. It took five listens of Terrain in a realistically quiet room – and I was not even completely satisfied with the level of stillness – before having a stab at jotting down words that, as frequently occurring when dealing with these genres, are probably near-useless. This causes a serious inside fracture. On the one hand I’m intensely keen on this type of art, looking at these records as a weapon against the stagnation of perception; on the other, we must wonder how many people are in fact properly listening to them, at least partially respecting the creators’ original diagram. This music acts on the psyche in extremely subtle, subliminal fashion, and it’s highly unlikely that more than a handful of individuals will be able to understand its almost disconcerting emotional density, a lesson in compositional soberness and acoustic sensitivity that instead risks to linger in semi-obscurity or – worse still – to be confused among the hordes of minor creative entities hiding behind a droning/environmental mask. Let’s not permit it.

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Epiphany With Noise And A Little Saccharine

The sixth day of January is a particularly felt holiday in certain regions of this sinking country, many children receiving presents on this date rather than December 25; furthermore, this is the closure of the Christmas holidays (hooray!). Depressing memories, which this writer tends to escape like plague. Thus, what’s healthier of a triptych of records – noise as the preponderant factor – to celebrate the end of this miserable period?

The first one, quite sincerely, didn’t persuade me. Released by No Type, Les Arbres by Nicolas Bernier – a composer based in Montreal who studied acousmatics with Robert Normandeau and Jean Piché, equally well versed in music for dance and cinema – is a satisfying item from a graphic point of view, the pieces inspired by interesting images by visual artist Urban 9, included in the CD package under the guise of six classy cards. The record is an “elegant jumble” of regular instruments – also comprising vibraphone, piano, cello and accordion – and not better contextualized mangled-and-garbled sources. The whole, although pleasing at times, results as a little too soundtrack-ish to these ears. In particular, the melodies and the thematic materials designed by Bernier are often excessively simplistic, the stridency between this easiness and the boisterous components of the electroacoustic “triturations” (as per the composer’s definition) relatively evident throughout. After a couple of listens I already knew that nothing more could be expected; that’s usually the indication of an archiviatio praecox.

The accompanying card by my friend Matjaž Galicic (a young man from Slovenia who generates hard-to-believe rumbles with rubber balloons) contains these words: “Hope you’re doing fine and enjoying the summer”. A-hem. This tells plenty in relation to what happens on this desk with 100 incoming releases or so every month. I know that the guy is serious, therefore please accept both the excuses for the delay and an advice: grab these low-budget, high-interest outings on Galicic’s [&] label. The first is a 3-inch containing what follows: 1) A typical eruption of angry, ear-piercing, raucous vomit by Mattin, a real sandblasting of the auricular membranes; 2) A magnetic-yet-sour monolithic track by Gen 26 (Galicic himself, source unclear; don’t think they’re balloons but you never know. The piece is okay, though); 3) Two segments by Turkish Batur Sonmez, recalling industrial atmospheres from the late 80s with a modicum of trance aroma. The second disc is a 54-minute CDR. Mattin is again there, teamed with Torturing Nurse, in a pair of magnificently obdurate cataclysmic negation of reality, chock full of distorted voices (from TV?) and ball-roasting fusillades of terrifying blasts. Amper-O-Mat uses a grater, of all things, for three “tribal atmospheric instant compositions” (sic) that in truth sound a bit “Z’EV during a depression stint” but, overall, are acceptable. The best comes at the beginning, this time: the longest selection, Aaron Hull’s “Crumble” (a live recording, for good measure) is a splendid labyrinth for losing yourselves in cerebral fog. Balanced, refined and slightly threatening at once, this is a mesmerizing example of electronic minimalism with the right dose of interference, just about enough not to destroy the killer charm of the essential design. Great stuff, and I’m going to ask Aaron for additional material. We’re at that kind of level.

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