When South Korean-born, Berlin-based composer Unsuk Chin won the Grawemeyer Award last year, only one of her works had been recorded - a single piece on a compilation released 10 years ago. Which is why the recently released Akrostichon-Wortspiel (Acrostic Wordplay), played by the excellent Ensemble Intercontemporain, is all the more welcome.
As well as the title piece, which Chin composed between 1991 and 1993, the disc contains her 1994-97 Fantaisie Mecanique, and live recordings of both Xi (1997-98) and her 2002 Double Concerto. This retrospective is an essential showcase of an important contemporary Asian composer.
Chin, born in 1961, first studied music under Kang Suk-hi in Seoul before moving to Germany to study composition with Ligeti. Her music is in the tradition of the European avant garde, but she brings to her compositions elements from her native culture that give her works a distinctive colouring.
The source of her inspiration is her dreams ('In all my dreams there's an intense light and amazingly rich colours that I try to recreate into sound sculptures').
The title work for soprano and ensemble, with its deconstructed textual quotations from Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, shows Chin's affinity with the surprising and unexpected - a hallmark of dreams. Witty and playful, this abstract piece avoids the menace of much contemporary music.
This isn't easy listening, but it's the best way of becoming acquainted with this gifted composer's surreal soundscapes.