It’s not as if music didn’t exist in South Korea before 2012. Prefab acts from Seoul had been conquering the world, one market at a time, for years; Super Junior, 2NE1 and Girls’ Generation are bigger than you think. But long before K-pop became a lingua franca—and definitely prior to a certain galloping rapper turning everyone’s attention toward his homeland—South Korean performers were reaching out and touching their global colleagues on the rock, jazz and traditional-music circuits.
And just as any thriving culture creates its own subsects, so has South Korean music spawned a native lunatic fringe of free-improvisers and noise musicians to rival any other in the world. This week, two leading lights of Seoul’s experimental underground make their local debut: Choi Joonyong and Hong Chulki, who cofounded the pioneering improv group Astronoise in 1997, and who have jointly operated the influential label Balloon & Needle since 2003.
As to what their work sounds like, ignore PSY and think Paik—meaning Nam June Paik, the seminal Korean multimedia artist and Fluxus figure. Hong, whose arsenal includes turntables with and without cartridges, paid direct homage to Paik on Amplified WC, a crackling, juddering 2009 mini-CD on the Ghost & Son imprint. And Choi, whose Burn Yoido Burn on the same label offers livid, Merzbow-esque power electronics, derives his style from error, malfunction and happenstance. As a duo and with other collaborators, the two approach sound with an inquisitive intensity that makes every recording a fresh experience—a condition that should be even more pronounced live.—Steve Smith
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