Ian Cho: The Waking Woods

“If a forest could sing, what would it sound like?” Posing the question to himself, Ian Cho's album-length answer draws upon a multitude of life forms. Anything but haunted and dark, the forest he conjures is a sunlit, mythical phantasmagoria (one piece is even titled “Magic Summer”) and, when a song does evoke a night-time scene (“The Waking Woods”), the mood is one of glorious awakening. Though Cho's instrumental palette is relatively small—guitar, piano, electronics—what he does with it is, frankly, remarkable. In the jubilant “The Flying Fish,” he exploits the glissandi potential of radio signals, in “Piano Lost In The River,” transforms electronic noise into something closely resembling pond activity (water beetles skittering across its surface, pebbles splashing, bubbles bursting), and uses guitar ripples and echo to suggest the sliced air sounds of a dragon in flight (“Dragon”). The gurgling clicks in “Hearts” can be enjoyed as micro-sound playfulness, or as the sound a human heart makes when the rush of blood forces its chamber lids to open and close. The Waking Woods' soundscapes—evocations perhaps the better term—are both uncompromisingly experimental and wholly accessible. Plus, Cho's approach to electronic sound is commendably non-gratuitous, with each element designed to refine his conceptual realization, and the album is enhanced by a three-dimensional production style that boosts the spatial character of the material.

August 2006