Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Barthel Gadau Kopp Röther Weibel - Radio Student [Hymns]/Hong Chulki - Amplified WC [Ghost & Son]

I'm pairing up these two CD-rs because they're both strange live recordings (each clocking in around 20 minutes) recorded in foreign environments. They each come with their own interesting contextualization as well.
Well, actually, the contextualization is pretty vague for Radio Student. The performance was recorded live in 2003 while on tour in Slovenia. Not much other info is given. Are the artists Slovenian? Don't know and the internet isn't giving me much help. I was curious how many people participated in the performance and according to the generally accurate discogs.com, Barthel, Gadau, Kopp, Röther, and Weibel are all separate individuals. So apparently 5 deranged people were at work creating this sonic mayhem (in the bizarre sense rather than the destructive sense.)
The live piece is bookended with an intro and outro spoken in one of the many hundreds of languages I don't speak so they aren't much help to me. Though they definitely heighten the confusion for me which can only aid the already confusing live performance. The intro also has the man with the harmonica's theme from Once Upon a Time in the Westplaying in the background which certainly sets the CD up for success. Luckily, I don't have to fall back on our mutual appreciation for Ennio Morricone to discuss all the good stuff this CD-r has to offer.
Totaling 21 minutes, the live track is the product of deformed brains similar to ones residing in the heads of ID M Theft Able, the Ultra Eczema, Feeding Tube and OSR Tapes labels and a number of other weirdos lounging in Western Massachusetts. There are all sorts of strange sounds at work here, many seem to be percussive at source (hand drums, toy xylophone) with good amounts of samples and electronic/tape manipulation making their mark. It's a very fast-paced piece due to a constant, pulsing distorted loop. The palette of sound makers seems to expand exponentially throughout the performance, making up an immensely tactile cacophony. I'm impressed (or maybe not convinced) there were 5 people at work here because, while it definitely seems improvised, the pacing and dynamics are well-executed which is difficult to pull off when five minds are involved. Particularly when they're brewing audio anarchy such as this.
This thing is challening to write about because there's so much going on, all the time. It can veer between melancholic harmonium swells, distorted recordings of speeches, tape squeals and jangling pocket change seamlessly with finesse and aplomb. It's certainly one of my favorite recent discoveries. Props to Andrew Chadwick (Ironing) and his Hymns label for finding this and issuing it. I don't know here he found it but damn do I want more. Time to start saving for a vacation in Slovenia.
This 3" CD-r by (edit: Korean) artist Hong Chulki (the first release from Ghost & Son, the new label from Katchmare's Nick Hoffman) is called Amplified WC and that's exactly what it is. Chulki describes his methods in detail in the insert, but he rigged up an empty public bathroom with a piezo mic and an exposed audio cable and tin foil in the ventilation duct run into a pair of feedback loops and let the minuscule vibrations of the room do their thing. This is, as Chulki describes it, "improvised noise without the improviser."
It is interesting trying to imagine what I would think of this not knowing how it was produced, judging the sounds as they are. Though, I can't really divorce myself from that knowledge and I feel the mode of production is its strength and weakness. The strength is the recording definitely has atmosphere. I don't mean "atmospheric" but an actual atmosphere. There's a certain aura about the piece. You can actually hear the cold, empty room in the noise which is pretty cool. I will also say that this "improviser-less" noise is surprisingly listenable (considering that it could be potentially very unlistenable) and a natural, if slight, dynamic arc does occur over its duration which is interesting. The weakness I hear is that the piece establishes itself nearly instantaneously and the piece becomes progressively less interesting from there. Chulki's concept of "improvised noise without the improviser" is interesting to consider, because I have seen people perform sets with many aesthetic similarities to "Amplified WC" but I didn't think much of them. Yet, I cut this track some slack because it was performed by a restroom. I don't want to seem overly critical because it was an interesting listen and I commend Chulki's experimentation but I don't feel there's a ton of replay value for me here. Although, I would certainly categorize myself as preferring music by human beings over music by bathrooms so, depending on your own disposition, I may or may not be the best person to listen to on that aspect.
Amplified WC features great, double-sided artwork by Nick Hoffman and Radio Student has the signature Hymns duo-tone look that belies the crazy shit inside.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Mr. Hong is Korean, not Chinese. He lives and works in Seoul.