Hecker / Okkyung Lee – Statistique Synthétique / Teum (the Silvery Slit)

Posted: 20 December 2020 in Albums
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Christopher Nosnibor

Digital release date: 18th December 2020

Physical release date: March 2021

Released as part of a series of collaborative releases between INA GRM and Editions MEGO, this is something of an unusual package, in that it’s presented as a split LP, but is also sort of two separate LPs. – digitally, they’re being released separately, but the vinyl version is split. Given the length of each contribution – in the 20-25-minute zone that neatly corresponds with one side of a 33rpm vinyl album – it makes sense, and certainly more sense than splitting a continuous piece in two over a 45rpm 12”, or the economics of a pair of one-sided albums.

Hecker – Florian, not Tim – contributes a work of ‘computer-generated sound with resynthesized situated texture recordings’. It’s a rumbling tempest of a composition, the crashing of digital waves against a hard shore of tightly-packed circuitry that rolls and thuds. A sonar pulse is rent by tinnitus-inducing drill-like whirr, and over the course of its twenty-five-minute exploration of toes and textures, Statistique Synthétique becomes quite a challenge – one that you may find yourself drifting from and struggling to maintain focus on at times, while at other wishing you could zone out a bit more instead of having an incessant buzzing and crackling piercing your brain.

I often find that with experimental instrumental works that do place such a strong emphasis on texture and that whole ‘cerebral sonic experience’ for want of a better phrase, that my mind does tend to drift while listening. It’s a challenge as a reviewer to critique something that’s so intentionally removed from the domain of overt musicality, or using a combination of music and words (or even not) to express or article something. Because precisely how does one engage with it – or, to consider another perspective, how is one supposed to engage with it? What does the artist want to convey to the audience, what kind of dialogue are they striving to create? Works like this certainly aren’t preoccupied with emotional responses or striking that kind of resonance that’s so integral to music with even the most vaguely ‘popular’ leaning. It’s not a matter of technical competence, at least in the sense of musicianship: there’s no breathtaking virtuosity on display in the world of electronics – and when I say ‘electronics’, I mean laptop and circuitry, not electropop or whatever. And so this is almost purely cerebral, and I’m forced to reflect on the way certain sounds, pitches, frequencies, and textures make me feel, what they do to me – how much treble and fizz makes me tense, how much s just quite exciting. Here, Hecker pushes all the buttons, literally and metaphorically, and I find myself twisting and turning in varying degrees of discomfort.

The objective, apparently, is to stove got ‘a properly hallucinatory state, that is to say to a meeting point where the object and perception dissolve into each other, in a sort of transcendental field.’ I might not quite be reaching that peak, but it certainly has some kind of effect.

Okkyung Lee gives us howls and yowls and overloading circuitry that bleeps and barrels, and of the two pieces, it’s the sharper, and more abrasive, and is also perhaps less nuanced. That’s no criticism: there’s a dense roar that tears from the speakers and there’s a tangible sense of volume. Everything creaks and groans and stammers, as if the equipment is about to buckle and blow under the weight of so much noise all at once.

This fits in context: Teum is intended as ‘a truly telluric moment’, the expression of ‘where tectonic movements and shear stresses become music’. ‘If the earthquakes were, as we thought in the 18th century, due to underground thunderstorms,’ observe the liner notes, ‘there is no doubt that this piece of music, both celestial and continental, could have been their audible manifestation’.

And there is no question that this is a musical work with a strong sense of physicality. The sound veritably heaves and shudders, a gut-lurching low-end heft you feel as much as you hear.

There’s a lot going on here, and there are – so it seems – some wild brass explosions rioting in the distance at some point amidst the churning sprawl. Again, this isn’t about emotional resonance, but how it touches and effects the listener on other levels.

These two works are distinct and different, both sonically and intent and purpose – and consequently, their effects are different too. But equally, the difference can be attributed to the different forms, and textures, with Hecker’s composition being sharper, more abrasive and, I suppose, more overtly ‘computerised’ than the denser, earthier piece by Lee. But for this, the contrasts are complimentary, and the two sit side by side and back to back nicely, and make for a perfectly-pitched double dose of discomfort.



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