Oscillation.Vacillation (CD, Balloon and Needle, 2009, forthcoming)
Recording of improvised music quartet of Joe Foster, Hong Chulki, Takahiro Kawaguchi and Ryu Hankil.
Reviewed by Brian Olewnick
Firstly, excellent CD sleeve design in play here--two L-shaped pockets that overlap one another around the disc. Two tracks, one relatively short (@ 13 minutes) one over 40. Quiet, often fluttery, only rarely edging into territory adjacent to "Driller". It's been interesting to hear the infiltration of rhythm in the form of clocks and other counting-type machines in some portion of new Korean and Japanese improvisation. Here, there's often some kind of beating or ticking element in play though I guess calling them "rhythms" is stretching the point, though the second cut ends with a humorous kind of gentle, three-beat horsey clip-clop. They don't propel things forward; if anything, one has the sense of hovering, like a hummingbird or dragonfly. It's a fine session, though, the quartet managing that tough feat of being fairly busy and active but entirely avoiding a sense of the cluttered or cloying. A nice sense of the space of the room. Fine recording, held my attention every step of the way. Get it.
Reviewed by hatta
This isn’t the rawest of the releases from the consistently fascinating South Korea scene to make it to CD this year, but it is one of the most perfectly balanced, always flirting with chaos. It never settles down too much in the oppressive rythmics that Ryu Hankil’s clockworks can sometimes fall into, nor does it become dominated by the blistering electronics that Hong Chulki cartridgeles turnable can generate. Joe Foster is almost always a moderating element in his collaboration with his sometimes noisier compatriots. His sensitive and always angular contributions can bring it just as intensily but he rarely (and I can’t really think of a recorded example) allows to fall into excess. I’m not as familiar with Takahiro Kawaguchi but here he is credited with “remodeled counters, selfmade objects, tuning fork” which I think adds some of the subtle pure tones (tuning forks), percussive elements (self-made objects) as well as contributing to some of the wild electronics (remodeled counters). This is one of those releases that I’ve gotten late and really haven’t spent enough time but it has immediately captured my attention and I’ve listened to it more over the last couple of weeks then I would have thought (its one of those that compliments airplane roar quite well). This has been a strong year from those involved in the South Korea scene, which I think is unquestionably the most exciting region for this type of music today. They are constantly pushing, on the edge, raw and melding in material from other contemporary musics. Much of it at this point doesn’t work, but that’s experimental music for you: it can, in fact must have the potential to fail. It is the lack of failure as an option that has brought on some of that stagnation that I’ve spoken of before and that I think marks much of the other scenes right now (along with moves toward performance art, nostalgia, fusion with past forms and empty conceptualism). The music on this disc constantly flirts with failure, keeping it tense and and consistently engaging working at times with an extreme low end that disappears on headphones and lesser stereos as well as with almost empty flutterings that some to be mixed with people just moving around. I’m just getting started with this one, but it already has excited more then most of what I’ve heard this year. It has the elements to remain engaging over many listens, which I for one will be testing in the months to come.
Review by Frans de Waard (Vital Weekly)
The quartet release of Koreans Chulki and Hankil along with Takahiro Kawaguchi (from Japan) and Joe Foster (originally from the USA but since 2002 in Korea) is by contrast a more 'regular' album of improvisation. There is no information on the album as to who plays what or when and where it was recorded and judging by my ears this is a duet of electronics (analogue), contact microphones, feedback, turntables and other cracked electronics. Much softer than the 'Driller' release, this one bounces up and down the scale. Sometimes loud, sometimes inaudible soft. There is lots and lots of stuff going on here, making this a highly vibrant record. The absence of real instruments, yet while strictly in improvising field, make this a most exciting record. It could have a bit more information, I'd say.
Reviewed by Richard Pinnell
Tonight’s CD is easy to locate the sleeve for however, given that it is a cleverly designed little envelope made up of two interlinking L-shapes of card that, once you’ve got the knack of it wrap around the disc, with the CD itself almost holding the sleeve in place rather than the usual opposite scenario. The CD is named Oscillation Vacillation and is a newish release on the Korean Balloon and Needle label featuring two recordings by the quartet of Joe Foster, Hong Chulki, Takahiro Kawaguchi and Ryu Hankil. (Usual caveats here, I released a CD involving Hankil late last year and am currently trying to organise him a UK tour in March, but my objectivity isn’t affected etc…)
So this CD includes two recordings both made on the same day in Korea, possibly at a live concert, though this isn’t clear. The first piece is sixteen minutes in length, the second a fraction short of forty. The sleeve details are minimal, with most of the information about who played what listed on the face of the disc itself (slightly annoying!) but for this performance Takahiro Kawaguchi worked with his remodeled counters and self made objects, Hong Chulki used a turtable minus its cartridge, and Ryu Hankil settled for just a speaker and piezo mic vibrations. Joe Foster’s choice of instrumentation is not listed for some reason, but I think I only hear electronics in there. It isn’t at all easy to tell who is making what sound, but throughout the first piece and during much of the second the skittering, clattering half rhythms seem to definitely come from Kawaguchi’s clockworkesque set-up, with Ryu Hankil choosing not to work with his clockworks on this recording, presumable for fear of ticking. whirring overload. If the rattles and churning sounds provide an undercurrent to the first track then the sounds overlaid by the other musicians do not necessarily follow in any pattern, and certainly they are more sparse than perhaps this line-up might promise. There are little bursts of gritty, short-circuiting electronics, the raw scrape of amplified surfaces rubbing against each other and a generally percussive feeling of scattered debris rather than extended sounds or anything leaning towards noisy layers.
The style of the actual recording here gives the music a certain “in the room ” feel that makes me wonder if it is a live concert recording. I’m not sure how many microphones were used to capture the sound, I suspect not that many, and all of the four players are recorded acoustically in the room here, no feeds seem to be taken from any mixer despite most of the group working with electronic methods. The thick, slightly roomtone heavy recording has a certain mystery about it then that goes some way to shrouding which musician makes which sound even further. So what we hear is a solid, thoughtful couple of sets of improvised music using non-traditional instrumentation but with much of the individual character involved in the “playing” removed, or at least inaccessible for those of us that were not there at the recording. The sounds that we hear are most often placed well, working with and occasionally against those around them but pushing and nudging in a slightly unsettling manner. There is in fact a mostly calm, slow feel to the music, but there is a jagged, dirty edge to the sounds we hear that give the music an unsettling feel. Every so often when warmer, sinewave-like tones appear from one musician or another they almost feel like friendly anchors in the music, touches of colour in an otherwise awkward, jagged black and white painting.
Oscillation Vacillation is an engaging piece of work that does repay close, attentive listening. The patterns that form in the music, partly through the rhythmic elements are interesting when set against the unpredictable events happening alongside. there is a real sense of restraint in the music, and a feel of musicians contributing just enough to lay out a difficult, barren landscape that can be negotiated but only through considerable investment in the music on behalf of the listener. The rewards aren’t obvious here, there is no clear beauty to the music and no quick and easy hooks to latch onto, but this is thoughtful, intelligent music that demands thoughtful listeners. Enjoyable stuff indeed.