YYSSN is an exquisite album of guitar improvisations from Minnesota-born, HK-raised and Berlin resident Eric Wong. A free improviser by trade, Wong’s approach of augmenting his playing using digital processes opens up pathways that help him circumnavigate that tricky post-Derek Bailey impasse, that long shadow that falls across many of his axe-wrangling peers. Wong’s processing is relatively simple – some Max patches, including a delay that generates echoes in random pitches and an FM modulator used for vibrato, hooked up to Ableton Live – but the result is inventive. True, Wong does seem to have Bailey’s spindly intervals spliced into his DNA, but the spiralling clusters of notes triggered by his live digital interventions lend YYSSN a unique filigree appeal, the almost-impossible string-born structures skittering out from his instrument like baby spiders swarming from their eggs.
It’s on Yee that the Bailey influence is most identifiable, Wong channelling the particular fractured stillness that made those 1970s Incus recordings simultaneously so thrilling and meditative. Here, though, there’s less space, with Wong’s every glassy run echoed by a chorus of pitch-shifted squeaks and coos. It’s not a duet, exactly, more like a call and response routine between a human and their mainframe. Charmingly un-slick, it gets increasingly frazzled as it goes on, piling on the metallic crashes and hectic tape-like unspools in manic abandon. Ng, meanwhile, is a Yee’s jazzier cousin, more experienced and worldly, its isolated plucked chords rising out of a pool of silence, only occasionally rousing itself with a few languid runs.
Other tracks transmogrify the guitar’s original sound completely. Saam’s continuing warp is a narcoleptic take on the rock god plectrum slash, Wong scraping up and down his strings to create a continuing heave that’s less Bon Jovi, more like steel cables straining to pull a dreadnought into its dry dock. Album opener Yut defamiliarises Wong’s technique to similar effect. At first, the insistent rhythmic pops of fingers hitting the dampened strings bring to mind John Martyn’s retro Echoplex chatter, but the awareness that the looping cycles are getting more ragged highlights the fact that this is a human rather than machine-led activity. There’s a prickly tension to the onward push, the percussive strokes sounding like hundreds of tiny corks exploding from bottles. Sei, meanwhile is totally alien, dominated by chirruping electronics and twinkling synths that seem desperate to excise the last vestiges of messy humanity from its hybrid form. The chirps and caws are positively avian, a murder of android rooks with a single directive: purge the system of the human virus.