Here’s another interesting venture from Mathias Delplanque, the French sound artist who is highly prolific if nothing else, finding time to run the Bruit Clair label while also acting as composer, producer, installation artist, and music critic. The KEDA project shows him joining forces with E’Joung-Ju, a Korean musician who plays the geomungo – in fact she’s reckoned to be one of the few masters of this ancient instrument, second only perhaps to Jin Hi Kim. The geomungo has a history to be reckoned with, traceable back to the fourth century. It’s pretty much from the zither family, it lies on the floor and you have to squat down to play it, manipulating the “anjoks” or moveable bridges up and down the long strings as you play.
To her credit, E’Joung-Ju has done much to bring the sound of the geomungo to a wider range of listeners, freely engaging in collaborations which touch on jazz or electro-acoustic music, a plan which implies a broadening out from Korean into Western audiences. The record Hwal (PARENTHÈSES RECORDS PREC06) clearly falls into the electro-acoustic category; the press notes stress the history and deep culture of the ethnic instrument, but also want us to experience it as a meeting of ancient and modern, as its venerable sounds rub up against the modern digital treatments of Delplanque.
A remarkably varied album, Hwal experiments with drones, dark ambient sounds, beats, poppy melodies, even some semi-dub effects, and offers the listener many new and unfamiliar experiences, inserting the sound of the Korean instrument within assorted semi-popular frameworks. On the whole this works very well; I think the album is rescued mostly by the resonant and energised playing of E’Joung-Ju, who on occasion can cause your bones to rattle with her impressive plucks and twangs, and there’s something impassive about her stern delivery that appeals to me. What troubles me is the over-cooked production of Delplanque; as noted before with Drachen, he can’t resist tinkering in the control booth, and although the recordings on Hwal were all done live, he spent over a year labouring behind the mixing desk to complete his post-processing actions. One year…that feels too long.
The surface sound is certainly impressive, but I sense Delplanque’s interventions get in the way a little too often, his digital glibness and facility in the studio smoothing off rough edges. From 18th January 2016.