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Jason Kahn / Asher
Planes
MIKROTON CD 3 | 2009

Edition of 500.

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1. Planes

Jason Kahn analogue synth, percussion
Asher recording and playback devices

Over three decades Jason Kahn developed his unique sonic language, now exploring the interaction between sound and space using a compact setup of percussion and analog synthesizer. He has performed and recorded albums with Günter Müller, Norbert Möslang, Kim Cascone, Arnold Dreyblatt, Steve Roden, Dieb13, Richard Francis, Ryu Hankil, Jon Mueller and many others. He ran his own Cut label from 1997 to 2008, releasing 25 albums.
Asher is one the most interesting new composers in the United States, combining acoustic and electronic instruments and location recordings. His organic-sounding albums have gained much positive critical acclaim around the world. He released work on such labels like Homophoni, ConV, Leerraum [ ], Winds Measure Recordings, Room40 and his own Sourdine, and worked with such artists like Ubeboet, Jason Kahn and Zimoun.
Planes documents a 2008 concert at the Axiom Gallery in Boston. This was Asher and Jason Kahn’s first chance to meet and to perform together. They had previously collaborated on the compostion Vista, released by the and/OAR label. Kahn also contributed one shorter piece for a CD comppilation released on Asher’s Sourdine label.
Planes integrates timbral vibration, hissing enironmental recordings, sound dust, veils of interference and tonal synthesizer hills into an hypnotizing and highly emotive work.

Reviews

Vital Weekly, Frans de Waard:
The ever busy bee Jason Kahn – how much can he put out? I guess he just records everything he does and sometimes things lie around, but ultimately it sees a release, somehow, somewhere. Here he teams up with Asher, who is likewise busy, mainly in the realm of CDR and MP3 releases. On September 26 2008 they meet up at the Axiom Gallery in Boston and Kahn has his analogue synthesizer and percussion, whilst Asher brings ‘recording and playback devices’ to the table. I assume, but I am not sure, that Asher picks up whatever signal Kahn plays and process that through an array of analogue machinery: cassettes or reel to reel tapes. Or perhaps its about the addition of recorded (field-) sounds? I don’t know. This is a highly ‘warm’ live recording, I guess (again) done with microphones, perhaps overlaid with the line recordings. Contemplative, slow moving, endless on the sustain, but never real drone based, since there is enough variation in the piece.

Just Outside, Brian Olewnick:
Ok, ok, I admit it–I’m a total sucker for these kind of things. Give me some dense, drone-y electronics (here, despite not saying so on the sleeve, I think with added percussion–there’s some of those finger-tapped Tibetan bells in play midway through) and layer in rich, well-chosen field recordings, augmented or not, and you’ve pretty much got me. The result may not be as transcendent an experience as achieved in more “dangerous” collaborations (see: Rowe & Sachiko) but such efforts, when well-conceived, seem to center in on some juicy area that I find as irresistible as a good piece of fudge. Healthier, probably. Kahn’s generally dark hues play off Asher’s often innocent and sunny recordings (children playing); it’s not the most surprising juxtaposition but it works very well. Shimmering and begrimed at the same time, a fine combination.

Scala Tympani, Jean-Claude Gevrey:
Il y a une certaine idée d’enfouissement et de désintégration dans la musique de Jason Kahn (synthétiseur, percussion) comme dans celle d’Asher (enregistrements et lecteurs) ; leur rapprochement apparaît donc dans l’ordre le plus normal des choses. Après Vista, fruit d’une collaboration à distance, Planes documente la toute première rencontre en chair et en os des deux artistes sonores, dans une galerie de Boston en 2008. D’un grand dépouillement comme on pouvait l’attendre, ce disque regorge néanmoins de détails discernables à travers les expirations transparentes et le souffle discret des dispositifs analogiques : field recordings de cour d’école ou percussions brièvement effleurées. Au-delà de ces quelques sonorités révélatrices de leur auteur, les univers se confondent en une matière diffuse, insaisissable et changeante. Une atmosphère qui s’entretient avec incertitude, à la manière d’un tapis de braises caressé par le vent et où, même rougissant par accès, les charbons ne sauraient produire de flamme, voués qu’ils sont à une extinction lente et inéluctable.

Paris Transatlantic, Dan Warburton:
If you’re a Jason Kahn fan, the past few months have been cause for celebration (though perhaps your bank manager might disagree): in addition to the splendid Vanishing Point on 23five, he’s inaugurated Bill Ashline’s Celadon label with Ryu Hankil (Circles), teamed up with Richard Francis on another new label to watch, Monochrome Vision, and returned to Creative Sources with Olivia Block, Ulrich Krieger and Mark Trayle (Timelines Los Angeles) – not forgetting a pair of fine free downloads, Room to Room at Compost and Height and Stimmen over at Bagatellen (RIP). And there’s this rematch with Asher – their Vista was one of the most enjoyable releases on the and/OAR label last year. If you’re expecting me to come down in favour of one particular album, think again: they’re all good. But if you’re prepared to take the time and accept that there aren’t likely to be any nasty surprises (this is Kahn, not Karkowski), Planes’ assemblage of pale analogue synthesizer drone and drizzle and ever-so-discreet field recordings (birdsong and children’s voices are identifiable, but, as is often the case with Asher’s music, much remains mysterious) is a rewarding listening experience. And a moving one – there’s something melancholy about this music, a late autumn / early winter feel of grey skies, bare branches and dead leaves trodden underfoot. Hard to imagine listening to it sitting by a swimming pool on a hot summer’s day with a long cool drink.

Le Son Du Grisli, Pierre Cecile:
Un public assistait le 26 septembre 2008 à l’Axiom Gallery de Boston à un concert de Jason Kahn et Asher. Le premier jouait du synthétiseur analogique et le second enregistrait en direct et procédait à des feedbacks.

Il se peut que l’un des membres de ce public ait eu les yeux fermés pour mieux chercher à savoir non pas d’où mais de quand provenaient les bruits qu’il entendait : sur un buzz au timbre chaleureux, il repérait des cris provenant d’un jardin d’enfants, le bruit fait par le mouvement des pales d’un hélicoptère, des preuves sonores de l’existence des fantômes, ou encore des cloches et des souffles de différentes sortes.

Tous ces sons gravitant autour de l’esthétique mise en place par Kahn et Asher ; tous ces sons gravitant depuis combien de temps déjà? Et lorsque le même membre du public tombera sur le disque enregistré à l’occasion de cette soirée, un indice lui sera donné, son titre : Planes. Fallait-il y entendre des micros déposés sur les carlingues ? Le monde à l’envers et l’Axiom Gallery en plein ciel?

Touching Extremes, Massimo Ricci:
The overall depth and the level of interior summoning-up typical of Kahn and Asher’s work – recently savoured thanks to their Vista on And/OAR – is confirmed by this CD. The fruit of a September 2008 performance at Boston’s Axiom Gallery, Planes rewards abundantly, highlighting the respective personalities throughout a soundscape where nothing sounds blissful, the sun is persistently obscured but nevertheless life continues one way or another, as demonstrated by the recurring voices of children at play appearing like miniature ghosts amidst menacingly clattering drones and insidious diffusions of breath-hindering substances, generated by Kahn’s analogue synthesizer and (mostly) bowed and scraped percussion. Asher, credited with “recording and playback devices”, is in all probability responsible for the patina of hiss and just perceivable underground noise, fusing his own research – which as always moves around the coordinates of metropolitan unrest – with Kahn’s eliciting of encrusted upper partials in measured crescendos smoothed by soft cymbal touches and elusive percussive strokes.

Certain artists try to constantly surprise – at the risk of repeated slip-ups – to offer something “new” to the listener. This diligent pair belongs to the opposite category: explorers so confident in what they’re doing, eager to exploit the whole extent of the field of action down to the tiniest component, that individuating alien elements in the music becomes an impossible task. And, as every human knows, we feel better when the likelihood of a satisfying outcome is there, a sure thing when these gentlemen are involved.

The Watchful Ear, Richard Pinnell:
It has suddenly turned very cold here, absolutely freezing as I walked home tonight, I wouldn’t be surprised to wake tomorrow and find a scattering of snow on the floor. I have to be up early, so I am going to try and write about the album I’ve been listening to today in less words than usual. Let’s see if I can manage it.

The CD in question is the second duo disc by the pairing of Asher and Jason Kahn, a release on the Mikroton label named Planes. The first disc, which came out a couple of years back on the and/OAR label, named Vista was a favourite of mine from a year or two back. Kahn, who I have written about a few times lately plays analogue synth and percussion, while Asher works with “recording and playback devices” though in the main his role seems to be to work field recordings into the music, which seems to have been performed live in 2008. The fact that this music was recorded in one take in front of an audience actually makes me think very differently about this release. My first listens to the disc, before reading the liner notes were quite pleasing, enjoyable experiences, but I didn’t feel that it had had quite the effect that the dark, cloudy mists of Vista had on me. That this music is a live recording though, rather than carefully constructed on a computer is impressive. The music is made up of a series of swelling drones, probably formed mostly by Kahn, which are then blended with much subtlety into Asher’s field recordings, some of them recognisable, such as the sound of children playing at shouting that comes and goes right through the recording, or other more subtle buzzes and fizzes, some of them maybe the sound of the playback equipment itself actually working.

Maybe it is the cold weather today making me think this, but Kahn and Asher’s music always seems to have a feeling of extreme weather systems to it. When I first heard Vista it was like walking into a thick freezing fog, the music being dense, cold and difficult to cut through to take in all of the detail. Planes seems to be full of storms, whether it be the wind-like whistles and wails that drift through the albums heavier parts, or the thunder-like rolling metal percussion that rises up out of the mix here and there. Although droning in nature, Planes actually constantly shifts and changes, actually drifting from one extreme to another with great frequency. In places the instrumental sounds die away completely, leaving just the happy screams of the children for brief moments, but elsewhere the music becomes very thick and heavy indeed, reaching quite high volumes as layers of synth and feedback come together with quite a bit of force.

On the surface there isn’t much new to be heard here. Recordings of children at play are of course a bit of a cliché these days, and swelling drones are nothing new, but they are done very well here, and as this kind of music is rarely produced in a live, mostly improvised setting the skill involved in the classy playing here stands out a mile. At any one moment there can be quite a lot going on, all stacked up vertically, but with each layer shifting and changing, and there are no obvious mistakes, or sections that sound like the musicians are just going through the motions. Perhaps as a finished, polished work I still prefer Vista, but as an example of how this kind of music can be brought truly alive in the moment Planes is a fine example.

Hmm, just over 600 words, not bad.

Auf Abwegen, Zipo:
Wo wären Jason Kahns bohrenden Analogsynthpiepser besser aufgehoben, als auf einem Label, welches sich Mikroton nennt? Genau. Im Livemitschnitt aus Bosten mit dem US-Musiker Asher, ebenfalls aus der Knisterfraktion, entsteht ein flächiges und durchaus spannungsreiches Geräuschmuster welches eine ganz eigene Atmosphäre zu erzeugen vermag. Die ganz große Spannung knistert hier nicht, aber der Liveeindruck zeugt von offeenen Ohren und flinken Händen. Das ist doch schon mal was!

The Wire, Nick Cain:
Kahn follows Vanishing Point, his finest solo album to date, with a contrasting pair of releases. Planes, with Asher Thal-Nir, is aptly titled — layers of dense sound move laterally in gently angled lines, tilt towards each other, commingle then drift apart. Kahn’s familiar sustained rattlings and vibrating drones are to the fore. The ever retiring Asher underpins them with granular hiss. Field recordings of children waft in and out of earshot as volume levels ebb and flow.