In 2006, Zürich-based Jason Kahn visited Seoul for the first time while on tour. During his stay, Kahn befriended fixtures of the Seoul improvisation scene. This composition, Dotolim, was penned for these Korean gentlemen, receiving a 2009 performance in the titular art space. By day, Dotolim is Jin Sangtae’s office space; by night, it is the minuscule venue that has since 2008 served as the epicenter of Seoul’s burgeoning avant-garde scene.
Written for Hong Chulki (turntables), Ryu Hankil (speakers and piezo vibration), Choi Joonyong (opened CD players), Jin Sangtae (hard disk drives), Park Seungjun (amp with spring reverb), and Kahn (analog synth, short wave radio), Dotolim exploits the unconventional instruments of the aforementioned players and their idiosyncrasies. Kahn “wanted [Dotolim] to emphasize the density of this group of musicians, both in terms of their sound… and of the space itself, which seemed at times barely able to contain the mounting blocks of sound [the group] generated during the recording session.” Balloon & Needle’s recording actualizes Kahn sentiments into a piece that is claustrophobic, unnerving, and harsh. The mechanical, unorthodox instruments generate tensions seldom espoused by their traditional counterparts. Whether solo or intertwined, deconstructed CD players and speakers do not mingle well nor evoke comfort in even the most experienced of listeners. To confound this unease, at least two players are active at any given time, with many instances of sextet crucial blasts.
But despite this fullness, each scrape, each robotic twitter is discernible. The clarity is so sharp that the listener can follow the score without much effort. While completely detached from conventional theory, Kahn’s score of lines and scribbles is effective precisely because of its abstract economy (those encircled stars totally sound like Jin’s hard disks). After having sat through the album once, the score transcends its primitive elements. Dotolim’s angular squiggles and patchwork of dots take on aural meaning, even while the record is paused. In fact, all of its 70 minutes are enthralling, notably the crescendo commencing at the 40-minute mark. This movement builds for 15 minutes, eventually adding each player into a packed spectrum of inorganic noise, singeing every node of aural sensation, only to end cold into a pianissimo, rhythmic scratch.
And it works wonderfully. Excluding Manual’s 2009 compilation RELAY: 2007-2008, no other release features so many Korean improvisers playing at such a high level. Beyond a showcase of esoteric noises, beyond a statement of Kahn’s composing skills, Dotolim is an excellent document of the happenings in Seoul, capturing the zeitgeist of Seoul improvisation while presenting these musicians as kindred spirits to the adventures in Tokyo and at loop-line.