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Jun Ray Song Chang – or how I learned to stop fearing and love the passage of time

Andrei Cucu

-At-

-the end-

-the end you realize-

-At the end-

-realize that time-

-At the end you-

-time is-

-At the end you realize that time is-

Jun Ray Song Chang, Asa Chang & Junray’s first release outside of Japan, feels like the legitimate and very honorable offspring of Steve Reich and the other minimalists of the ’60s, carrying on their highly conceptualized idea of making music. It manages to distinctly separate rhythm from harmony and melody, reassign each of them to their counterpart interpreter and then mix them back into a time warping experience that’s hard to comprehend at first. But while Glass, Reich and co. always had a sort of grave intellectual overtone, Asa Chang & Junray manage to also provide a sense of fun in addition to their overwhelming and somehow still heartwarming experiments.

The album’s opener Hana embodies this as a perfect representation of all the different approaches to elasticize time that happen in the following 40 minutes. It begins slowly, with a pretty standard string phrase seeming completely harmless, maybe even cheesy, but then it starts talking to you. The magical Junreitronics box (Asa Chang & Junray’s homemade sound system suiting their experimental, mind bending needs) starts throwing fragmented dialogue between a man and a woman, accenting only syllables and bits of words giving the very liquid string piece a peculiar shuffle. But when the tabla kicks in, you realize what is actually happening. In the process of aborting typical roles of accompaniment, leading melody and rhythm section, the spoken word is stripped of its natural flowing progression, only leaving it to its basic rhythmic impulses while any basic rhythm the string piece could have is dissolved into the tabla and its power of speeding it up or slowing it down and at the same time firing the twisted, irregular metronome of the spoken samples. The tabla ties short phrases together, weaving the flowing strings into the fragmented speech patterns making up something that could be music, it could be actual speech, or it could be both. Hana works at the very basic interaction between time’s different modes of progression. It controls its stepwise onward motion, while also directing its linear, fluid evolution. What is only 6 minutes feels like 5 days passing once and then again, backwards.

Nigatsu on the other hand deals only with stasis. The two interacting voices keep stumbling over each other, always falling back to square one. They drunkenly stagger through some sort of folk song and the circling guitar riff is cut up into rhythmic bursts never going anywhere. Still on the slower, but not completely still side, Kutsu #2 turns into languid nighttime, pleasingly, comfortably elapsing dark hours, turning your satisfied smile into progressively slowed down minutes. Kokoni Sachiari is another attempt at circular motion avoiding immobility, while still not going anywhere. After the impossible to stop machinery of JippunKokoni… comes to a clunking halt, and stays there spinning around itself.

While not as surprising as the ones trying to stop any sort of progression, the songs that accelerate are just as intoxicating. Goo-Gung-Gung relentlessly accelerates, moving so fast that you get the impression that it ends up going full circle and touching its own material start. Jippun likewise turns time into endless acceleration, but this time it feels less like a frenzy and more like a steady machinery getting into gear and thumping forward faster and faster until it reaches top speed and starts floating. The strict minimalism of Asa Chang & Junray’s music may seem surprising when trying to imagine such immense effects it has on such an elemental level, yet that is exactly why they only need the few parts they use. When working on their songs at such a deep level, they only need the tabla as a guide, the short electronic bleeps and the repetitive samples to shape whatever you know, think or feel about linear progression, constant development or any other unilateral perspective on time.

And if you’re not into that sort of pretentious jabberwocky about time travel, U-zhaan’s tabla can take you on a completely different trip. The whole album also materializes into a sort of bestiary, tickling your imagination into wondrously gazing at the animals lurking in their songs. The graceful swan like figure of Hana swivels silently on an artificial lake and is turned into a croaking, mechanical imitation on Kobana. This partly broken frog puppet creature crawls around the swan longingly following its grace. These are then followed by the drunken Siamese elephant twins tripping over each other’s trunks on Nigatsu and by the 500 bpm heart race of the wind-up field mouse on Goo-Gung-Gung. Jippun moves like a huge pack of squeaking meerkats who are connected in pairs and have to always jump over each other in order to move forward and the whole pack gains great momentum like a machine-driven mongoose colossus. Kokoni Sachiari shows you the disgusting, yet ecstatic dance of a slimy long armed gorilla and finally, Kutsu leads you out of this deeply weird zoo like a tiny bird tweeting goodbye as you get back into your own reality.

At the end you realize not only that time is a mere puddle you can choose not to step into, but also that somewhere in some deeply hidden corners of your mind you have made some new friends.

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Andrei CucuJun Ray Song Chang – or how I learned to stop fearing and love the passage of time

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