The Sound of Hard Drives: Jin Sangtae

It's ironic that Jin Sangtae learned computer repair working at a mammoth South Korean tech market, since he eventually applied those skills to creatively destroying electronics. One of Seoul's most important audio artists, Jin Sangtae creates glitched noise improvisations by manipulating exposed computer hard drive parts.

Jin produces his initial signal in Clanger Theremin, a digital theremin available as freeware designed for use on PDA devices. Controlling pitch, volume and modular effects with a stylus, Jin leads the signal through several exposed computer hard drives, each fed to a separate track on a mixer, a process that methodically undermines his instrument.

Jin's impressive level of control over hardware errors does generally overshadow the theremin signal. A repeated series of staccatos resembling vinyl skips can be gradually protracted into a striated drone and then diminished into a paper-thin hiss. High-pitched sounds are emphasized; although harsh noise artists Otomo Yoshihide and Merzbow are certainly influences on Jin, his squealing feedback evokes scientific, mechanical imagery rather than a nihilistic anti-aesthetic. Although Park's improvisations are structureless, his decisions of which ideas to develop at length and which to briefly interject reward deep listening.

Photo of Jin Sangtae's Exposed Disk Drives

Professionally, Jin Sangtae runs an audiovisual supplies distribution company, but Jin's office doubles as a small experimental performance space called Dotolim. Along with a few other venues in Seoul like Park Chang Soo's Houseconcert and Lee Han Joo's Yogiga gallery, Jin Sangtae's Dotolim concert has made him central to Seoul's experimental scene. While Houseconcert emphazises acoustic free jazz and Yogiga is a freeform sprawl, the circle of musicians surrounding Dotolim concerts is an erudite group of tech-savvy electroacoustic noise artists. The Balloon and Needle label, run by noise musicians Choi Joonyong and Hong Chulki, has published work from this scene's best along with many expatriates living in Seoul and Japanese noise musicians. Balloon and Needle recently published Jin Sangtae's most representative official release, "Extensity of Hard Disk Drive."

Many of Jin Sangtae's fellow improvisers also use glitched technology heavily. In some of his work, Choi Joonyong bends CD players and utilizes the laser mechanism of CD players to manipulate playback. Ryu Hankil, on the other hand, has developed extended strategies in outdated and abandoned non-instruments like clock motors, telephones and typewriters. Generally, the work coming from this scene is strict electroacoustic improvisation, with crisp textures, no fear of shrill high notes, and a compositional reliance on the innate qualities of mechanical objects. Much from Balloon and Needle and other Korean avant garde releases are available through Afterhours.

Nat Roe is a DJ with WFMU and the editor of WFMU's blog. He has contributed in the past to The Wire, Signal To Noise and the Free Music Archive. Nat also cooperatively manages Silent Barn, a DIY venue in Ridgewood, Queens.