Okkyung Lee/Christian Marclay

Amalgam
Northern Spy NS 082 CD

A post-graduate seminar in noise as music, Swiss-American turntablist Christian Marclay and Korean-American cellist Okkyung Lee combine for a single extended improvisation which reveals variegated sound layers as if they were peeling an orange. Like trained Aboriginal guides who can intuit weather characteristics from what seem to be common winds, so Lee, who has played with the likes of Evan Parker and Wadada Leo Smith, and Marclay, who has expanded his art installations to improvise alongside sound avatars like Elliott Sharp, partition with contrapuntal invention what elsewhere may appear to be a solid discordant mass.

Only rarely adding musical sounds from LPs to this duet, Marclay instead uses the grinding and squeaks of objects scoured on the turntable’s platter as low-pitched, crackling continuum to underline both participants’ improvisations. Decisively shrill turntable rumbles and clatters also become more audible at those junctures when Lee asserts the distinctive characteristics of her instrument, cutting through the continuous clatter with harsh glissandi or individual bow strokes. After one-third of the program is completed, the remaining sequences become both more rugged and more revealing. Like a scientist peering into a microscope to classify tiny discrepancies among specimens, Lee doubles her strokes and likely the number of fiddle bows to engender a tone which melds speared string bites and a harp-like obbligato. This syncopated spiccato line not only distinguishes her strokes from turntable crackles and gurgles, but also suggests a melody, which is further enhanced by split-second musical snatches sourced from spinning vinyl by Marclay.

Confirming that Amalgam is a Ballet Mécanique not a ballad melody, the contrapuntal connection is quickly pushed aside for a final section whose soundtrack is unique percussion created by uncovered turntable thumps. Sul tasto pressure from Lee then bears down like an electromagnetic storm to challenge the machine-made buzzing and reaching a crescendo of mashed unalloyed dynamics. With individual contributions and the distinctive collective programs correspondingly audible, scratched and slides can be distinguished from the solidified mayhem

Anything but easy listening, with this unique disc Lee and Marclay define the differences between noise and music in an uncommon fashion.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Amalgam

Personnel: Okkyung Lee (cello) and Christian Marclay (turntables)