On first listen, Okkyung Lee’s Ghil sounds about as solo as it gets. It’s just her and a cello, improvising without overdubs or effects. The production is raw and immediate, putting you so close to her instrument you can practically see the divots in its strings. And the music is so impulsive and untamed that at times it feels like you’re hearing her nervous system.
I’m not going to deny that it can be fun getting caught up in the details of an album’s production, particularly when Ghil has such a first-class selection of features to flaunt: a reputable Korean cellist; Stephen O’Malley’s Editions Mego imprint; a second-hand portable tape recorder; a hydroelectric power plant; and an Oslo back alley. It was inevitable that I’d leap at this record with a fistful of intrigue and exuberant fascination for the avant-garde; there was never any question. The only trouble is that, in spite of all the seductive trimmings, the majority of tracks on Okkyung Lee’s latest album doesn’t quite hold up to the ideas that permeate around the edges.
Revenge is the best revenge in Skylar Grey’s songs. Ms. Grey can be long-suffering, and she might even savor some of the torment, the better to examine it and house it in a dignified melody. She also writes about offering support, pulling herself together and moving on after a breakup. But when ….
When I first listened to Ghil, I had to keep reminding myself that I was hearing a flipping cello, such is the manner in which Korean improviser and composer Okkyung Lee distorts, disturbs and even deconstructs her instrument, to the point of rendering it unrecognisable. And the results are simply amazing, Ghil effectively standing as the premier noise album of 2013. The liner notes for Ghil leap out at you as you start being barraged by Lee's improvisational assault: the album was recorded in Norway by noise legend Lasse Marhaug on a portable tape machine in four different locations, three of which were outside the studio (an abandoned power plant, the back streets of Oslo and a cabin in a forest).