Jin Sangtae - Extensity of Hard Disk Drive (Ballon & Needle, 2008)
"Abstract" can be a laughably inexact word at times, huh? Even its base definition explicitly references a lack of specificity, and certainly the word connotes cloudiness and ambiguity to not just lay folk. Yet often many disciplines abstract from concrete examples in order to obtain a more robust clarity. Jazz is no exception — the free jazz scene is rampant with more abstract exactness than a Philip Guston painting. The argument within jazz goes that in ordered to achieve heightened expressiveness, abstraction, in this case improvisation, is necessary.
However, with improvisation, there is disagreement, uncertainty as to how one achieves ultimate expression. Is the spirituality of 60’s fire music, while indeed free but still rooted in formative motifs, enough? I’m not sure, and for the remainder of this review, I will ignore this possibility. Or what of Derek Bailey’s non-idiomatic ideology? Bailey argued for the detachment from all antecedent in order for instantaneous, artful expression. I enjoy compelling Bailey via Heisenberg. In this setting, our two variables are one’s control over emoting and “in the moment-ness” of expression. Thus, the uncertainty principle suggests that as one refines the time intervals between which one wants to capture feeling, some control must be foregone. Hence, to generate a truly instantaneous thought, only total spontaneity suffices.
But if we accept Bailey’s teachings, then how far must we go? As I understand it, the goal of Onkyo is to not only strip oneself of idiom, but also the instrument of any priors. The Seoul electroacoustic scene, as far as I’ve heard, appears to avoid making this final abandonment. They engross themselves within their instruments, embracing any and all idioms contained therein (which in many cases is entirely non-musical). However, in execution, to an outsider who only has a recorded document, the Japanese and the South Korean improvisers sound extremely similar.
In the instance of this post, Jin Sangtae elicits all sound through a hard drive; he uses contact mics to soundtrack the clicks of the hard disk, the spinning of its internal fans. Like in the general case, on Sangtae’s Extensity of Hard Disk Drive the sound could easily be mistaken for Onkyo, yet the image of a hard drive pervades any listen. But this doesn’t limit Jin; through fully exploring the possibilities of his non-instrument, Jin Sangtae achieves a sublime level of abstract expression. Art beyond kitsch (neither too specific, nor obtusely vague), Extensity of Hard Disk Drive is a document of one man’s unique, mature feelings.