KEDA – Hwal

Hwal

KEDA is the duo of E’Joung-Ju, a Korean musician based in France, and Mathias Delplanque, a French musician born in Burkina Faso. E’Joung-Ju plays a geomungo, or komungo; literally, “black zither”; a Korean traditional six-stringed wooden instrument; Delplanque plays electronics.

They first performing together in 2010, at the Festival Chantier d’Artistes in Nantes, and make their recorded debut with Hwal – ‘bow’ in Korean – an album comprised of live improvisations, edited extensively by Delplanque, which fuse traditional, ambient and electronic music.

The brooding opening cut, “Dali”, has echoic geomungo detonations like slack-strung contrabass, pulsing long-string thrums and reverb’d contact strikes all blanketed by a cocoon of stridulant glitch, fizzing static and drone harmonics, all set to an ominous mechanical throbbing. The duo never play for effect or get bound up in process, but keep things admirably focused. Here they work one vibe for nine minutes, with Delplanque’s electronics prominent, lamina layered on lamina in expertly calibrated richness of sonic detail.

Although Delplanque’s electronics dominate “Dali”, this is a fully collaborative duo. When the first distinctively asiatic geomungo twang drops, almost one minute into the static and opaque “Encore”, piercing a blanket shimmer of electronics, it sounds a natural fit, double-tracked as it is, played with deliberation in the foreground and with more delicacy and elaboration in the background as electronic flourishes wisp and glimmer.

The title piece, “Hwal”, is a short atmospheric play on tensions at the heart of the album, with E’Joung-Ju bowing, but the geomungo is generally played while seated, its silk strings struck or plucked with a short bamboo stick held between the index and middle fingers of one hand, while the other fingers the strings to produce pitch variations. Its sound is characteristically sprung percussive. It’s hard to tell if the emphatic pulse that drives “Eobu Nolae” derives from the geomungo, but it certainly sounds physical. Among the multiple rhythms that entwine here, some have a yoik-like vocal effect, while splintering and echo in other tracks betrays electronically-sourced looping and/or sampling.

A heavy pulse and thrumming electronics on “La Lune de Corée”—reverb’d echo; geomungo as a lyrical foil to brooding beats—are suggestive of a less bombastic, Eastern-tinged, back-to-basics Massive Attack. But a self-descriptive reprise of the same melody, “La Lune de Corée (Geomungo solo)” ends the album with almost courtly delicacy, the exposed sounds of E’Joung-Ju’s close-mic’d fingering combining with a sediment of dimly discernible electronics to add another layer of interest.

In between these two takes on “La Lune de Corée”, struck gong and chime samples enliven the intro to “Swordfish”, and suggest a more dramatic charge, a new rhythm feel not unlike Tom Waits’ junkyard Gamelan (maybe the track title nods to Swordfishtrombones), and it’s tempting to hear E’Joung-Ju’s geomungo relative to Marc Ribot’s Latin-esque blues twang.

E’Joung-Ju and Mathias Delplanque have pitched their collaboration just right, the sounds of bamboo on taut silk and electronics meshing beautifully. The duos’ mutual restraint points up the richness in their intertextures, both play to their combined strength rather than for effect, and Delplanque’s post-production is fully sensitive to the geomungo’s unique timbre and attack.

Personnel
E’Joung-Ju geomungo; Mathias Delplanque electronics.

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Buy Hwal from Parenthèses Records’ Bandcamp.

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