Kevin Parks, Joe Foster – Ipsi sibi somnia fingunt
The exciting electro-acoustic improvised music scene in South Korea, with its roots as much in noise music as traditional improv influences has stood out as one of the most compelling regional developments in the music for a while now. However despite the recent slew of releases from labels like Manual or Balloon and Needle there hasn’t really been any one single release that has shone about above all others as the one disc to recommend to interested ears. Now there definitely is, albeit the work of two ex-pat Americans now living in Seoul.
Ipsi sibi somnia fingunt is an emotional tour de force. Across its four tracks it covers a lot of ground, from the brooding tremors of the opening Centralia, Pennsylvania, through the up close intensity of Torso, the almost wistful landscapes of Derinkuyu, to the final cathartic release of Takers Profs. Throughout the album there is a bristling vibrancy present, something hard to describe that leaves the hairs standing up on the back of your neck. There is a freshness portrayed, not just in the musician’s willingness to utilise a wide variety of sounds, many of which seem unfamiliar to this area of music, but also in the way they are used. The individual contributions of the musicians seem to challenge each other’s choices as much as compliment them, with right-angled changes of direction and jolting shifts in dynamics common throughout.
Who plays what on this release isn’t always clear to me though. Foster is certainly responsible for the sounds that clearly come from a trumpet, Parks likewise a guitar, but there is much room in between. The usual crackle and hum of broken electronics mixes with odd synth-like sounds and tightly miked percussive rattles of some kind. It matters not which musician makes which sound or how they do this however. The music itself seems to render these questions irrelevant, engaging the listener on its own terms.
There is an angry, agitated undercurrent to this music. The closing track Takers Profs seems to roar with a release of the angst that had been just about bottled up in the earlier pieces. The opening track layers persistent lines of urgent, demanding sound over each other, swelling up to the point of bursting yet never quite allowing the pressure to be released.
The second track, Torso takes a step back, as the intensity of the opener gives way to a more spacious exploration. This piece highlights how well recorded and mastered the album is. As electronics bubble and exhale behind, percussive chatter and snippets of noteless trumpet leap into the foreground, giving the music an incredible presence, as if planting the listener right between the two. Over Torso’s captivating seventeen minutes the more unfamiliar sounds come to the attention. Yelps of phased electronics and doorbell like chimes and buzzes mix it with the more familiar hum of guitar feedback and the closely miked percussive clatter. The pacing of the track is perfect, slower than the piece preceding it yet never resting on its laurels, and on occasion dropping away into unexpected cavernous silences.
Parks’ guitar grabs the attention right from the start of the third track Derinkuyu. Forlorn wails of feedback slide through, dissipating slowly to create a distant, mournful atmosphere not present anywhere else on the disc. Subtle, restrained electronic chatter is then woven into the folds, presumably by Foster, sometimes allowed to grow in intensity before being cut short, allowing Parks’ next note to rise out of the silence.
As the twenty-eight minute piece moves on the feedback cries are sometimes replaced by chiming strikes to the guitar strings, Foster’s electronics become more varied and the silences less frequent, but the calm, steady pace remains. The listener is pulled along, lured into the jaws of the closing piece that begins with a similar level of restraint but soon collapses into a seething cauldron of bubbling squawks, blasts and scribbles. Even here though the music remains unpredictable and yet completely under control, the high volumes merely accentuating sudden drops into near silence and eerie sounds left hanging in the space.
The album ends with twenty seconds of loud electronic abrasion before coming to an abrupt halt that suddenly leaves the listener with a heightened awareness of the sounds left in the room. Ipsi sibi somnia fingunt is a great record, as vibrant and alive as anything I’ve heard in many months. If you’ve not heard anything from the recent Korean improv scene, start here.
– Richard Pinnell, Bagatellen
Americans Kevin Parks and Joe Foster
recorded Ipsi Sibi Somnia Fingunt (selfreleased;
64:51) ★★★★ in Seoul, South
Korea, where the former lives and the latter
often visits, but its contents sound more like
they’re from outer space. An ever-shifting
array of drones, echo-laden blurts of electronic
noise, close-miked metallic clanking
and atmospheric trumpet lines (played by
Foster) largely extended and warped by
electronic treatments. In fact, everything
sounds rigorously processed to generate a
wonderfully unpredictable flow of music.
– Peter Margasak, Downbeat
Kevin Parks and Joe Foster: ipsi sibi somnia fingunt
Kevin Parks and Joe Foster
ipsi sibi somnia fingunt
It’s not that often that a CD (much less a self-released one) gets reviewed in Downbeat, in Wire, and over here at S21. And I bet it’s even less often that a cogent case can be made for its presence in all three publications. Kevin Parks and Joe Foster’s ipsi sibi somnia fingunt (henceforth ipsi), though, is just the CD to complete that trifecta.
ipsi is the result of a few weeks of improvising by Parks and Foster in Seoul. Across the disc, they use sounds sources ranging from a temple bell to open circuits to guitar and trumpet – all supplemented by a full battery of effects pedals. If you read that and immediately think “mess,” you couldn’t be more wrong. While the timbral palette may be what’s catching the ears of so many reviewers, it’s the musicality that’s keeping them (and me) listening. For those of you who need an argument that improvisation and composition are two sides of the same coin, ipsi offers a great one. (And, both relevantly and in the name of full disclosure, Parks and I are both students in the UVA Composition program).
Parks and Foster make it clear quickly that they know how to keep things focused. The first track, “Centralia, Pennsylvania,” achieves a slow burn befitting the title. Most music to which I’d attach the phrase “slow burn,” uses pent-up energy as a threat; an explosion always feels imminent. Foster and Parks, instead, create an uneasy, despairing flame. This is a fire that’s achieved an equilibrium. An explosion isn’t likely, but neither is a burnout. The end of the track manages to come as a surprise even after 10:30.
“Torso” finds the duo utilizing contact miking and lengthy reverb times to place listeners into an unreal space with no middle ground. The two extremes battle for the listener’s attention throughout, and their respective victories and defeats impart a nice structural arc. This piece provides perhaps the most electronic sounding music of the album, though a fair share of the glitchy sounds at the beginning are coming off much older technology: the aforementioned temple bell.
At over 27:00, “Derinkuyu” comes in as the lengthiest track of the album, but it also manages to be one of the most subtle. Here the sound sources are less varied; guitar is most prominent for a majority of the duration. Parks uses an E-bow, a slide, and a delay pedal to coax microtonal moments from the instrument. Simultaneously, different shades of noise periodically interject and occasionally take over a section of the piece. Many times throughout “Derinkuyu” Parks and Foster allow the music to gently swell, but they inevitably pull back just before the listener senses a climax; their restraint here is truly virtuosic.
Conversely, Parks and Foster let it rip with the album closer, “Takers Profs.” The first couple minutes hint at what’s to come with sounds (mostly from open circuits) darting in and out. At most points, there’s a drone holding thing together, but even it refuses to stay pinned down for too long. At about 3:00 in, just when it seems things are simmering down, they suddenly boil over. The intensity and the volume peak and dip from here on out, but it’s definitely more about the mountains than the valleys. Probably as a result, “Takers Profs” doesn’t quite have the structural coherence of the other tracks, but it’s nice to hear the duo let loose, especially since they rein it all relatively quickly.
With the multiple varieties of chops simultaneously on display, ipsi has a lot to offer listeners (and reviewers). Give it a good listen and you’ll probably come away thinking in new ways about improv, electronic music, and composition – even if you do regularly read Downbeat, Wire, and S21.
– Lanier Sammons, Sequenza21