Sunik Kim’s Raid on the White Tiger Regiment arrives three years after 2019’s Zero Chime on First Terrace Records. Raid has strong political undertones and is named after one of the eight core revolutionary operas produced during the Cultural Revolution. This particular opera focuses on the joint struggle of Chinese and Korean communists during the Korean War, during which there were devastating US attacks on the northern part of the peninsula. Raid is an insanely wild ride made with software Sunik custom-built in Max MSP and SuperCollider using free orchestral soundfonts at hyper-speed tempos. Despite the presumed chaos of this album, there is a strong and present voice that permeates the barrage of noises, almost as if the teeming and swirling sounds coalesce to create a slowly shifting mass that is somehow soothing. There is a constant regeneration of textures and sensations here: simultaneously shedding and accumulating, receding and emerging. A multidirectional presence, both solidly grounded but also unpredictable in its motion. Side B presents a unique live document of Sunik’s performances of the Raid material: a lengthy 30 minute piece created from multiple field recordings of the performances at Cafe OTO in London and Counterflows in Glasgow. “Raid Live” stands as an interesting counter to the meticulously crafted studio-created material. Its weight is held by roomtone, pockmarked with the audience’s yelling and mingling; a cathartic experience felt by many.
This is possibly the second album named after one of the eight core revolutionary operas produced during the Cultural Revolution; to my knowledge, the first is Brian Eno’s Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy. Raid on the White Tiger Regiment, the opera, focuses on the joint struggle of Chinese and Korean communists during the Korean War—a truly “forgotten war” in much of the world, in which the US dropped 635,000 tons of explosives and 32,557 tons of napalm on the northern part of the peninsula, killing 20 percent of the population, and massacred tens of thousands of Korean communists and suspected sympathizers from Nogeun-ri to Daejeon.
Raid, the album, pulls its titles from the opera’s program and thereby positions the music as a soundtrack: an inherently limited and dependent form that requires a broader historical and political context—a connection with the world—to reach its fullest state of development. In substituting my wordless, “abstract” music for that of the original opera, I hope to establish a living nexus of contradictions between: (1) the original opera, as direct an example of “political art” as there can be; (2) the extended historical and political processes that birthed it; (3) our current conjuncture; (4) the immediate listening experience. In this clashing and intertwining of timelines, histories, and sense-perceptions, I hope to facilitate a visceral act of comparison, a tracking of excess and deficiency: what aligns, what collides, what falls horribly or comically flat, what brings tears of joy or sadness? And why?
The music is constructed with custom software I built with Max/MSP and SuperCollider that controls banks of free orchestral soundfonts at chaotic tempos. I hope the overt “cheapness” of the materials, and their constantly coalescing, collapsing, disintegrating, reassembling movement, establishes a dramatic—operatic!—tension internal to the logic of the music itself: one that, above all, argues that possibilities—aesthetic, yes, but also historical and political—have nowhere near been exhausted, and that the present order will one day be rightfully relegated to “the museum of antiquities, next to the spinning wheel and the bronze ax.”
Sunik Kim, 2022