When I had briefly made a mention of Okkyung Lee on twitter in reference to what I had heard on Ghil (Ideologic Organ), Lee herself replied back by saying that my assumptions on the sounds she created were not made with the equipment I had stated. In truth, I didn’t say the equipment/partial gear list as a small factoid of what she did or didn’t use, but that the sounds she made sounded like it was created with certain things. It was then I admitted to her that the album had become one of my favorites of the year and it wasn’t just to toot any horns or anything, it was fact. At least to me, it is.
Lee and her music has come across to me many times over the years, be it in articles/blog entries I’ve read or on albums released by Tzadik and Ecstatic Peace. It was either through music she released, or her contributions to other recordings (such as Billy Martin’s great Starlings album on Tzadik), but regardless of where I found her name popping up, one never comes fully prepared for what’s to come, but that’s a good thing. That’s when I decided to put on Ghil.
I love the sound of the cello, but I really like it when a musician plays in unconventional ways, to the point where the cello ends up something like anything but the cello. One might enter Ghil and assume it will be one thing but at the end, it either becomes something very hideous or something remarkable and beautiful. Upon hearing these pieces, I thought of a few things. There was a lo-fi feel in these recordings and as a fan and admirer or analog recording, I wondered if this was recorded to tape. It could’ve been a reel going at 30ips or maybe 15ips. There was tape hiss but it could be anything from studio/room ambience to the music itself being caught at a low volume so one has to use peak levels during mixing and mastering and raise things so her cello work can be heard consistently with the rest of the songs. During the first part of the album, her playing begins unconventional, which isn’t new but hearing these recordings were a new/refreshing experience. All of a sudden, the cello begins to turn itself inside out. Is she plucking/pulling/stretching/scraping the strings? Then there weer moments where it sounded like a blues guitarist, but wasn’t sure if she was using a bow, a bottle or something else. In some of my own early taping experiences, I loved getting the microphone build for the reel-to-reel recorder I had and scraped it across guitar strings, so that it would become a dirty pick-up. I had wondered for a brief moment if she had done the same thing.
There are other pieces on here that absolutely do not sound like a cello at all, more like an avant-garde guitarist humping the amps and to my ears, it sounded as if the microphones to her cello were hooked up to effects pedals. It sounded awesome, even if I didn’t quite understand what I was hearing or how the sounds were being made, but then again, the sounds were leading me to think about so many things. Was Lee on the ground playing these sounds? Did she remain on a chair just moving her hands all over the place? It’s an incredibly wild listen, and I loved it because this is what I enjoy listening. Then for me to tweet about it and have her say that it wasn’t created by effects pedals popped the bubble I had made and set the music here closer to Earth. One can make the wildest sounds with nothing but an old cassette recorder and a microphone, and it just so happens that it caught a cello creating the most un-cello sounding things. I have found Ghil to be a pleasure because I found beauty in chaos at times, and there’s nothing like a lot of noise to force me to realize it’s a lot more original than a good amount of music I listen to on a regular basis. I reaffirm: this is one of the best albums of 2013.