One of the season’s most distinctive releases comes from bela, whose deep dive into traditional Korean Nongak music yields a distinctly non-traditional timbre. By digging into the archives of sheet music and YouTube performances, the South Korean artist finds a wealth of source material to adapt, creating the rare instance of a truly hybrid sound. The cover diagrams offer but a hint of the complexity the style embraces; when combined with modern electronics, the blend becomes worlds within worlds.
For the uninitiated, Nongak is characterized by intense tempo changes, which can leave a dancer stranded; so be sure to memorize these tracks before attempting to emulate them in public. While there are short, steady passages (the close of “Variation 1,” the start of “Variation 2”), over time everything changes. In contrast, consider the thrill of watching a performance in which the dancers move like murmurations, instinctively aware of every shift. Be prepared to increase to a velocity as high as 180 BPM, which is where the EP ends: all participants spent, ready to drop. This is a far cry from the rubber ball drop of the opener, which avoids any suggestion of a steady tempo; gravity becomes the determining factor.
The early percussive riff of “Chilchae” suggests a clattering set on Subtext or PAN; one expects that the passage will return as a chorus, but it never does. Nongak is not interested in repetition, but in evolution. Faster and faster the tempo rises, riff forgotten in a frenzy of interlocking currents. The pounding rhythms of the following track suggest a lurking intruder, but the perspective changes as the figure begins to sway and step. When less than a minute remains, the ground shifts once more, suggesting the tale of the red shoes.
If this past spring was the season of modern composition, we suspect that this season will be one of electronic innovation. Best of all are the releases that connect cultures to remind us that we are all passing through the same crisis on the way to the same joy. Guidelines does all this and more in the space of an auspicious 22:22, opening doors we didn’t even know were there. (Richard Allen)