RELAY: Archive 2007-2008 (2CD with booklet, Manual, 2009)
Selected recordings of the concerts in 2007 and 2008 under the title of RELAY, the free improvisation meeting in Seoul.
List of the participating musicians includes Choi Joonyong, Joe Foster, Hong Chulki, Jin Sangtae, Ryu Hankil, Park Seungjun, Kai Fagaschinski, Toshimaru Nakamura, Klaus Filip, dieb13, Iida Katsuaki, Bonnie Jones, Mats Gustafsson, Noid, Taku Sugimoto and Taku Unami.
review by Brian Olewnick
(Various) Relay: Archive 2007-2008 (Manual)
It's been a strong year thus far and here's yet another very fine release, a collection of ten improvisations from various permutations of the musicians involved with the Manual label and invited guests. Ryu Hankil seems to have shown very good judgment in culling these tracks from what I imagine to have been a substantial volume of work; almost every track is at least strong, often very compelling. The sole exception perhaps not very surprisingly, is a trio with Choi Joonying, Jin Sangtae and Mats Gustafsson. The latter is all too often intent on muscling his way through, something he's extremely adept at in other contexts but ill serves him here. It's not terrible, but when compared with, for example, the trio of Choi, Hong Bulki and Kai Fagaschinski, it's fairly clear which reed player has the deeper understanding of this area of music.
Most tracks are in this guest/residents format. Listeners familiar with the fine, fine work of the Manual, Balloon & Needle, etc. crew will have a good idea of the general territory covered here--rough-edged electronics of the open circuit kind, usually on the quiet side but with the odd explosion, etc., but there's more than ample variation to be heard. It's not "new" in that sense, just very accomplished. Other guests include Toshi Nakamura (a deliciously bumptious duo with Park Seungjun), Klaus Filip, dieb 13, Iida Katsuaki, Noid, and both Takus. Joe foster is also present in both a trio and as half of English with Bonnie Jones (an excellent cut).
Writing about it in detail is something of a fool's errand. I'll say that my favorite track may have been the trio of Choi Joonyang, dieb13 and Joe Foster if only for the fact (guess, I suppose) that dieb13 inserts a dose of viscosity into a textural area that tends toward the crackling and prickly; makes for an especially dense and piquant stew. (Though I think Filip does that a bit as well). The last piece brings together ten musicians and--of course since it's a Sugimoto composition
--is by far the quietest in the collection. More external sounds than musicianship here. I'm probably more of a fan of this aspect of Taku than many, but I found it quite successful.
A mandatory pick-up for those at all interested in this neck of the woods.
Reviewed by hatta
“The first RELAY meeting was on 18 March 2005. We had two things in out mind; aesthetically speaking, we wanted a monthly improvisation concert more concentrated on making music (I still call it music) out of non-musical sound/noise, or even interaction with something extra-aural, the visual; regarding our artistic lives, RELAY’s main goal was to build a sustaining network among improvisers and experimental musicians domestic and abroad.” -Hong Chulki, from the liner notes
As I stated in the previous post of all of the various “scenes” in contemporary improv none seem as vital and bursting with creativity as the small group of musicians clustered around Seoul in South Korea. This compilation documenting two years of this scene gives a compelling little glimpse into it for those of us far away. The RELAY series ran for four years and this double set documents the final years of the series when they had the funds from government grants to bring in a diverse array of guests musicians. RELAY seems to have been fully hooked into and facilitated by the internet and the documentation of the series can be found on the Manual site covering all of the events including listing the participants, scans of the flyer’s, pictures of various shows and mp3’s of a bunch of the sets. My kind of series. This set documents the concert series warts and all: Mats Gustafsson not fitting in at all with Choi Joonyong and Jin Sangtae (I’d like to hear the story behind this rather unlikely collaboration), Taku Sugimoto’s self-indulgent composition performed by an all star tentet at Nabi, as well meetings that feel like long established working groups: Toshimaru Nakamura with Park Seungjun, Choi Joonyong/ dieb13/Joe Foster as well as local groupings such as Choi Joonyong/Joe Foster/Hong Chulki/Jin Sangtae/Ryu Hankil. Plus a delicious slice of English adding another piece to their small discography. Really all of the pieces are worth hearing barring the Mats track, though of course some work better then others.
2009 perhaps might have led to a slight over-documentation of aspects of the vital Seoul scene, all of the releases featuring Ryu Hankil rather spring to mind. Most of these have been good, but oversaturation can breed discontentment. This set came out in February 2009 and was like a breath of fresh air, something different from what we’d been hearing so far and infectious in its riot of energy and commitment to exploration. Being a compilation it would require a track by track writeup to really go into the music contained, so this will have to suffice. I’ve kept up pretty well with the Seoul scene (though not exhaustively) and based on the recorded material (definitely not to be confused with being there) this is a fine overview, but even more importantly it contains some great music. Their idea of fostering a network of musicians appeals to me greatly as I think it does to all who live in an out of the way corner with only a small number of fellow travelers. This music is truly international and all of the vital regions have embraced that. Tokyo, London, Berlin and now Seoul, this aspect has kept things pushing ahead all the time. I look forward to hearing the further developments from Seoul and where ever else the music breeds.
Reviewed by Richard Pinnell
Congratualtions, you’ve clicked on the official home of Newlondonwhat? an all new musical genre!
Yawn. I listened to some Korean music today.
Actually not just Korean, but certainly music recorded in the years 2007 and 2008 in South Korea as part of the Relay series of concerts and released now on the Manual label as the Relay: Archive two-disc set. These discs capture the best of the last couple of years worth of concert recordings from the series that was organised by the small group of improvisers we have become familiar with working in Korea. Its been a busy day and this evening when I should have been listening to music and writing here I was once again tied up in IHM discussions so I have only managed to listen properly to one of the two discs. I’ll try and get to the other one tomorrow.
Generally speaking there is some fine music on this first disc, capturing the spirit of a time and place that was (probably still is) a real hotbed of creative music. The first of the five tracks here is by the quintet of Choi Joonyong, Joe Foster, Hong Chulki, Jin Sangtae and Ryu Hankil recorded just over a year ago. Trying to tell apart the five musicians here is a virtually impossible and somewhat pointless task. All play electronics of one kind or another, ranging between ticking clockwork sounds and rough scratchy noises. Not being able to tell the musicians apart easily makes it hard to assess the degree of communication taking place, but this is not that important as the end result is great, an edgy on/off, stop/start affair balancing a reasonable amount of silence with blocky, simply defined little structures formed by two or three of the musicians at a time. There is little layering of sounds and no room to hide but the music works very well.
Next up is the trio of Choi Joonyong, Hong Chulki and the German clarinetist Kai Fagaschinski recorded just eleven months ago. The addition of Fagaschinski’s reeds to the electronics duo is an interesting and risky mix that I’m not certain always succeeds. In places as Kai floats long dreamy notes over the stuttering rubble of his Korean collaborators the music has a simplicity to it that is pleasing to the ear but probably doesn’t stretch any of the musicians at all. When Choi and Hong cut loose a little the clarinet seems lost, unable to compete at the same volume or within the same aural palette. Often collisions of different instrumentation like this work very well, but here the differences between the two sets of sounds and the way they are used might be a little too far.
There follows a twelve minute noisy wrestling match of a track by Toshimaru Nakamura and Park Seungjun. Like two fighters just hurled into a ring together the two sets of wild electronic sounds wrench each other about at quite a pace. Compared to much of Toshi’s other music this is physical, muscular stuff that has a playfulness to it that works just about long enough to see the track out.
The fourth track is my favourite though, featuring the trio of Taku Unami, Klaus Filip and Jin Sangtae. To begin with there is a nice sense of balance to this grouping, the mechanical objects ticking and clattering by Unami mix with the jerky electronics of Sangtae and the smooth laptop tones of Filip to great effect. The music is beautifully constructed, like a piece of fifties architecture, not that many dramatic flourishes but where they exist they are perfectly placed to compliment the rest of the work. This sense of designerly (not designer) construction comes from a combination of great timing and a restrained set of sounds used put together. Lovely music that I would have been happy to have heard a lot more of.
The final piece is by the trio of Choi Joonyong, dieb13 and Joe Foster. This one is a little harder to put your finger on. The recording itself is a little more distant and echoey, and the sounds used are a little less predictable, with records spun at wild speeds on dieb13’s turntables sat alongside broad swoops of descending electronic tone (I suspect from Foster) and in a couple of places even suddenly spoken words. Odd rhythmic pulses come and go and digital squiggles are left almost randomly here and there. There is less of a fluidity to this piece, its hard to know where the music is going before it shifts direction. This is a curious piece that begs several listens and yet still doesn’t fully reveal much about itself.
The Korean scene has been as vibrant and creative as any over the past few years and this first of the two discs underlines this. There is a spark of energy to all of these pieces that can be found in most of the work on the Maunal or Balloon and Needle labels. It will be interesting to see where they go next. I’m personally off to bed, but I’ll play the other disc tomorrow.