Welcome to Organ Grinder, an experimental music newsletter edited by Jinhyung Kim. Every other Monday, you’ll hear what our writers have to say about a new release—usually something falling under umbrella of experimental or avant-garde music. Our fourth issue features reviews of 카운터! (Counter!), the new EP by Seoul-based DJ and producer Arexibo, released October 2 on CHINABOT.
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Our writers’ thoughts on a new release. This section will be the core of each issue.
Arexibo, 카운터! (Counter!) (CHINABOT, 2020)
From Bandcamp: “A mixed-media artist based in Seoul, Arexibo explores the relationship between image and actuality through camera images and sound. She is a quarter of the female DJ crew ‘BAZOOKAPO Seoul’, who organise music events in Seoul. As a musician, Arexibo concentrates on the ‘floor’ as a fluidic space, full of politics. She has been featured in Mixmag Korea and OBEY Korea. 카운터! (Counter!) is her first solo release as a producer.”
Purchase 카운터! (Counter!) on Bandcamp.
Zachariah Cook: The English title—Counter!—is a vague notion of the energy these tracks contain. That exclamation mark really throws me for a loop. It may lead one to expect Arexibo’s brand of IDM to deliver a clean jolt, though from the outset, little about this EP is forthcoming. Right away, the listener collides with a disjointed sequence of musical phrases that flows like a Life of Pablo outtake, followed by a banger (“Gemini”) so raucous as to evoke the image of clubgoers being jostled by invisible fists. If you can fight your way onto her wavelength, it’s a fun time. Some of the cuts here, such as the lengthy ambient piece stylized by a pair of swimming turtle emojis, may be intended as exercises in the “counter”-force alluded to by the title, but they lack the tension and immediacy that make a track like “Gemini” so enjoyable. “3” is the most arresting display of Arexibo’s powers. More than anything else here, it paints the picture of an honest to god standstill—not just between ambient and industrial textures, but between a listener who wants to let loose and a DJ who first requires their patience. That she includes a vocal sample (herself?) only heightens the sense that there is a living, breathing soul behind these dueling impulses.
Jack Ahrens: I’ve come to realize over the last few years that a big part of growing up involves developing an appreciation of the otherwise mundane. All the fleeting excitement that kept me going as a kid lost its thrill once a new novelty came along, over and over again until a more mature me finally caught onto the pattern. Transient pleasures can never really lead to fulfillment. Not the most novel observation admittedly, but even after my own “jaded junior” phase I can’t really say much to the contrary. It’s at this point that one either discovers real transcendent beauty or joins the walking graveyard of pathetic twenty-something year-old nihilists. But as my own perception matures, I’ve found the former path the increasingly obvious choice, and Arexibo’s Counter! surely agrees. Minimalist to its core, the project sees Arexibo weave together timbres from a limited synth palette to create a series of rich atmospheres, seizing upon dead electronics and infusing them with life. Texture is brought to the forefront, each track embracing repetition in order to spotlight its own subtle details. Counter! is a testament to the wonders of simply giving things a closer look. From the melancholic crunch of “sketch for un” to the hopeful arpeggios of “fin,” Arexibo sweeps expertly through an array of moods in a project that is truly more than the sum of its parts.
Jinhyung Kim: I hear 카운터! as études in auditory illusion by means of iteration. The first cut proper, “Gemini,” is a motion study; the upward scale that recurs throughout evokes the eight-bit visuals of some old arcade game, an optical percept of lights flashing on and off that we construe as kinesis. “3,” the most mesmerizing track here, imitates concentric expansion: a steady kick provides the ground pulse, gently disturbing the waters, before concurrent triplets of light synth notes send patterned ripples into that subaquatic world, beaming through it like sonar. On “𓆉)))) 𓆉))),” glitchy ambience and static yield microrhythmic forms—sequences that, though not easily notated, the listener can feel and synchronize in their body. Every little detail on 카운터! is immaculately crafted and arranged, and each study fulfills its logical end to a T. But what’s missing for me is breath. I don’t mean breathing room: when club rhythms are unforgiving, they’re unforgiving toward the human, and the human response is to push back, to fight until breathless. That urgency is missing more often than not across this EP’s six tracks—I know where this ends. While the textures are varied, the polish is uniform; the dynamism is constrastive, yet weirdly linear. It feels like Arexibo is afraid to leave any gaps in the music’s surface, but those gaps are where we make our home. As exercises in form, 카운터! can be quite gratifying; as a musical space, it’s not conducive enough to habitation for me to stay for long.
Chloe Liebenthal: How, Arexibo asks throughout Counter!, are we to make sense of the abstract and fundamentally unknowable world around us? The intro’s chiming synth tones and warm ambiences introduce the EP’s ponderous themes, drawing on immediate sonic associations with memories of an idyllic childhood (the press release doesn’t namedrop the iconic nostalgia-purveyors Boards of Canada for nothing). Yet almost as soon as these elements are introduced, they begin to distort and stutter out of consciousness. Arexibo’s music posits that the comfort of a child’s mindset, in which all the world can be understood if one only asks the right questions (why, for example, is the sky blue?), becomes alien in adulthood no matter how much we wish to return to its simplicity—so what mindset should we adopt instead?
The standout track here is “3,” a cavernous minimal soundscape juxtaposed against a bravely chirping synth, whose repetitive rising three-note melodies—evocative of the mechanical voice of a modern appliance—remind me of a plucky little robot with a flashlight strapped to its chassis, exploring a dark and unknown environment. The central melody’s echolocation against the abstract soundscape never resolves the song into something completely straightforward, but its investigations into the nature of its environment draw warm, friendly new tones and even a percussive beat out of the unknown soundscapes. Although these elements had been hinted at since the beginning of the track, it takes the brave little synthesizer to draw them out of the shadows. It’s a phenomenological perspective—that the world can best understood by the stimuli we wring out of it through our investigations—which Arexibo’s use of space (both positive and negative) and claustrophobia throughout “3” expertly express.
Another highlight is “𓆉)))) 𓆉))),” a song titled not with words but pictograms. Just as ancient Egyptians turned the world into something concrete and steady by representing it with hieroglyphics, humankind has returned to a visual language of symbolic representations in the form of emojis. As an adult yearns for the simplicity of childhood, our societies will always, in some way, be drawn towards to earlier times and more literal ways of relating to our world. The song itself—a fluid environment composed of ambient electronics over which glitchy melodies in obscure tuning systems float—points at this gap between the way we understand/describe the world and how it really is. I hear the song from the turtles’ perspectives as they drift through the ocean, understanding it not through the Western twelve-tone scale but their own mindset.
There’s no clear answer, at the end, as Arexibo respects her listeners enough to leave her questions for them to ponder. But throughout Counter!, her wordless exploration of these topics is enough to guide us towards our own critical examination of how we make sense of our world and how we expect it to accommodate.
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