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Tuesday, March 21, 2023


By Keith Prosk

Leo Chang released four recordings, all duos, in 2022, three of which feature the homemade instrumental system, VOCALNORI, composed of suspended Korean gongs and cymbals, voice, and electronics to convey vocal vibrations through the gongs and cymbals. A manifestation of grappling with personal identity, the voice is literally filtered through symbols of cultural context while simultaneously subverting tradition to best fit the self by using them in uncustomary ways. These three recordings all also pair VOCALNORI with piri, the Korean double reed, the texture and attack of which could recall Steve Lacy’s ducks at their most raucous or the ecstatic energies of Kim Seok-chul’s hojok, probably building from a foundation of Chang’s amPiri system, featured in the fourth 2022 recording, Some Time , with Adrianne Munden Dixon on violin and electronics. Each seems to accentuate certain aspects of VOCALNORI and considered together demonstrate a generous adaptability of the instrumentalist and instrument to diverse scenarios.

with Jason Nazary - Failure to Display (SUPERPANG, 2022)

With percussion, whose many-limbed polyrhythms of kick drum booms, shimmering crash, and marching roll fills at times appears to channel the exotic or rather extraplanetary swagger of an Arkestra drumline, the VOCALNORI seems to assume a more percussive character. Chittering, skittering metallic scat. Apoplectic arrhythmias that can resound, reflect, and interfere for brilliant walls of klang. The voice may remain recognizable in subaqueous groans or seem texturally quite close to the kit and be completely baffled by the metal. The resonant material of which lends the space a harmonic glow though this music is mostly, particularly rhythmic. Playing piri requires the air that would power the gongs but bleep bloop rhythms tend to appear where the gongs are not.

with Chris Williams - Unnameable Element (Dinzu Artefacts, 2022)

 With trumpet, whose resonant metal material matches the grain of the gongs and whose mutes similarly filter and color the breath, the VOCALNORI assumes a more brassy character. Softer, slower attacks that allow gong soundings space to breath begin to lend a melodicism to the system not dissimilar to the trumpet. Bright domes’ dynamics tethered to breathing cadences. Textures can blur and I’m unsure if something that sounds like low brass, bowed cymbals, or oms is one or the other. Sometimes the system appears activated, just turned on, humming like electric current, sparsely sounding a cistern reverb for an ambient substrate upon which a soulful, smoky trumpet solo can occur.

with Lucie Vítková - Religion (Tripticks Tapes, 2022) 

With accordion, synth, hichiriki, harmonica, voice, and objects, VOCALNORI seems to find a system foil. Timescales stretch, long tones (im)perceptibly breach and sink into an activated ambience, oms and moans extend into meditative and trance states, the buzz of vibrating metal and its heralding harmonic oscillations rise to consciousness in these quieter soundscapes, cut by squalls from winds only rarely. The discrete attack of the rhythm system becomes something as enchanting and unrecognizable as the voice through gongs through sustain. Though elongated tone seems to flatten dynamics and movement the invitation to discern difference on a smaller scale actually amplifies its dimensionality. And in relation to the title, the gongs return to a kind of ritual - or at least the cairns for it - while remaining unstruck as they would in the original, returning to the simultaneous embrace and resistance of cultural identity at the heart of the system.