Flow: traditional Korean stringed instrument and electronics in a live performance

KEDA, Flow, Parenthèses Records, PREC 18 CD (2022)

From nearly opposite sides of the world come two musicians to form the eclectic experimental electronics duo KEDA: Korean-born E’Joung-Ju, now resident in France, plays the geomungo, a six-stringed wooden zither; and French musician Mathias Delplanque, born in Ouagadougou (Bourkina Faso), oversees electronics. The duo draw inspiration from music genres as diverse as ambient, blues, dub, African styles and noise. With a keen interest in adapting a traditional Korean instrument like the geomungo to different music genres and purposes, KEDA were invited by Swiss contemporary dance company Compagnie Linga to compose a score and perform it live while Compagnie Linga members dance.

The result is “Flow”, a very eerie and mysterious ambient work that imitates the ambient backgrounds of the natural world. The actual recording from Parenthèses Records is short but while it lasts, it can be very mesmerising with its hints of a vast universe hidden deep within its sounds and dark spaces. The first track is frustratingly short – a piece so intriguing with its sighs and strange vibrations could go on and on and never become boring! – and it passes quickly into the second track which is much sturdier with its slashes of deep wavering drone from the geomungo. The droning background to the geomungo and the sinister rattlesnake vibrations has a sonorous doomy quality. Initially slow and coasting along with those deep tones, the track suddenly picks up speed in its second half and for a brief while becomes an urgent, scrapey industrial foundry tossing out metal strips.

Track 3 gives us a demonstration of the geomungo as a solo instrument being plucked in such a way as to evoke a lonesome blues elegy for someone who’s died way too young. E’Joung-Ju’s timing and way in which she plucks the strings, allowing the space between sounds to become a significant instrument in its own right, makes for an intense emotional experience. The fourth and final track combines geomungo and electronics into something resembling a soundtrack to a bizarre film in which traditional Korean martial arts meets an invasion of aliens armed with all manner of war technologies beyond the understanding and capabilities of humans and which seem to be like magic holograms. The rhythm and beats can be a bit stodgy and earthbound but some of the background ambient effects are very frothy and compensate for the slightly cartoony nature of the music.

Each of the four tracks is very different from the others, so much so that the album comes across as  a compilation of pieces from utterly different musical worlds rather than as a score to a live dance performance. The middle tracks are very good, demonstrating the KEDA duo’s versatility as collaborators and solo musicians. All the tracks could have been at least a couple of minutes longer for listeners to savour and to become more fully immersed in the worlds conjured up by the music.

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