CASEY ANDERSON / JASON KAHN / NORBERT MÖSLANG / GÜNTER MÜLLER / MARK TRAYLEFive Lines
PHYSICAL | CD
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The meeting of heavyweights of electroacoustic improvisation from Europe and the Pacific United States happened during MKM trio tour in Northern America. This recording, at CalArts in 2010, yielded interesting results: a nervous displacement of noises and rich sonorous timbres.
Casey Anderson, from Los Angeles, works with sound in a number of media from composition and improvisation to installations. On Five Lines he played a combination of digital and analog instruments of his own design (using radio, contact microphones, laptop, graphics tablet, etc.). In addition to making music he is a co-founder and editor of the Experimental Music Yearbook and releases music on his Khalija Records (which he runs with Wyatt Keusch).
Jason Kahn, Günter Müller and Norbert Möslang, all from Switzerland, comprise MKM trio, spontaneously founded in 2006 in Tokyo during their Japanese tour. They immediately achieved very fine results and collaborate since then. Their sound hovers between the at times harsh rhythmic noise of Norbert Möslang’s cracked everyday electronics and the rich sonorities of Günter Müller’s percussion-based samples and electronics. Jason Kahn’s work on analog synthesizer bridges these two worlds, adding high frequency interference and processed piezo microphone and short wave radio input. Günter Müller launched Mikroton with his beautiful and rich Cym_Bowl and featured later on Limmat along with Jason Kahn and Christian Wolfarth, which was also Kahn’s second project following Planes with Asher. Five Lines is Möslang’s second project after Stodgy, a duo with eRikm.
Mark Trayle, also from Los Angeles, is known for his widely structurally shifting sound work and his ability to come to grips with technological extremes and misappropriate the values of sound art for his own provocative and unique ends. He released his radical recordings with Jason Kahn, Toshimaru Nakamura and Christian Kesten to name a few. On Five Lines he occupies himself with the destabilization of the sound world and misuse of guitar.
Five Lines sounds like a title of music based on a linear structure. But it’s the other world of continuous dislocation and permutation of multiplicity of sound units and constant change of sound density. The music will appeal to enthusiasts of noise, experimental electronics and improvised music.
The resurgence of modular synthesizers is both wonderful and terrible. Sure you can finally find new logic banks, dual VCA's, LFO's and oscillators that won't cost you a mint on eBay, but it has also put these wonderful, expressive, peculiar tools into the hands of many uncreative souls who waste the potential — and my time when searching Youtube clips — on solely creating 4/4 ambient techno; it's like owning a helicopter and towing it to work. Further, many folks have terrific skills when it comes to "bending" electronics, but they tweak their Speak & Spell to sing an 8-bit version of "Mary Had a Little Lamb" (true story)?
Fortunately, you will never have this lackluster let-down with Switzerland-based Jason Kahn (analog synthesizer, radio, mixing board), Norbert Möslang (cracked everyday-electronics) and Günter Müller (iPods, electronics). Together as MKM or alone, they have plunged into the bottomless crevices of sonic possibility only possible with unconventional ideas and instruments. Los Angeleans Casey Anderson and Mark Trayle further augment the trio on Five Lines with equally innovative approaches to electronics, "objects" and guitar.
During the forty-minute work, the listener is presented with layers of wide extremes that cross, stunt one another, merge and ignite. For the first several minutes, the group explores myriad frequencies best classified as "electrical static": think white noise from a TV station off the air, a bug zapper, amplifier hum, AM radio fuzz and squeals from something accidentally plugged into the wrong socket. That looks kind of random on paper, but the method of floating and swelling employed by the quintet turns this bag of detritus into thoughtful suspense. On the low end, something drags like fingertips on a coffee table while (presumably) Trayle gently rattles muted strings to produce an eerie harp-like effect. Percussive sine waves blip and sputter like popcorn over a tone that slowly ascends and agitates the rest of the players into an erupting apex. Just past the ten-minute mark, an unaccompanied haunting wash descends the tonal hill. A dull metal bowl cuts through the ruckus of synthetic freak-out bubbles while background explosions become foreground and a faint din of pop song quickly spins past your left ear.
The aesthetic carries on this way through the loose chapter breaks, though the palette continues to morph, over and over (the complexity of strata, counterpoint and overall production is only appreciated with headphones). Near halfway, the focus is silence interspersed with punches of electromagnetic sound smeared with an echoing layer of bleeps and a deep, filtered pulse. Solar flares fall on hisses and bustling whirrs, a glitching melody begins to climax — and this is about the point where adjectives and other words won't do justice to Five Lines. I will just say that this group runs the (amazing, gorgeous, technically brilliant) gamut of what can be done with sounds that are usually avoided / edited out of most music.
Sometimes it seems that there is tons of archive material waiting to be released. On the quintet CD by Casey Anderson (computer, objects, radio), Jason Kahn (analog synthesizer, radio, mixing board), Norbert Möslang (cracked everyday-electronics), Günter Müller (ipod, electronics) and Mark Trayle (computer, guitar) we find a recording from September 5, 2010 from Los Angeles. I never heard of Anderson and Trayle (I think), but whatever it is they do, it fits nicely along with the three Swiss masters of improvisation. Surprisingly (well, or not), this album sounds very electronic; lots of shortwave like sounds, piercing electronic sounds, scratching, oscillations and even something that one could say is some kind of rhythm – odd as it may seem, and very un-dancelike as it is. These forty minutes are quite intense and dynamic. There is always something happening somewhere and the listener never gets a moment of rest, which in this work is actually something very nice. It goes on and on, and it bursts with energy. Best crackle crackled improvisation I heard in a while!
A 2010 performance from Los Angeles, I find it hard not to compare with various releases on For4Ears earlier in the decade, many of them involving Müller and Moslang, most of which gradually became all but indistinguishable from one another. A certain level had been reached and the musicians seemed willing to dwell there, entirely capably but with little sense of exploration or danger. The burbling electronics and implicit pulses provided a ready-made bed in which to frolic but one had the impression of routineness, of being able to pull off a given show one arm tied behind the back. This didn’t mean the music was “bad” just, for me, less than exciting. Listeners who enjoyed those many mid-oughts releases by that cadre will doubtless like this one as well. I find it a bit nondescript, though. (Another fine cover by Kahn, though!)
På skivan Five Lines hör vi slutligen fem tungviktare inom den elektroniska musiken, dessa herrar har sedan länge funnit sig själva och sina egna vägar. Det handlar om Jason Kahn, Norbert Möslang, Günter Müller, Mark Trayle och Casey Anderson. Här har vi en uppsättning elektroniska ljudgeneratorer såsom datorer, radios, analog synt, gitarr, objekt, elektronik med mera. Det handlar om ett otåligt sökande efter något. Musiken är föränderlig och det låter nästan som att den är uppbyggd av olika delar som sammanfogas. Detta fragmenterade sätt att skapa musik kan vara svårt att ro i hamn, att få det sammanhängande trots att det på ett sätt inte hänger ihop. Här lyckas kvintetten dock bra och det finns en spännande helhet där varje del får mig att undra vad som komma skall. Det sprakar och knastrar ordentligt men det gör så på ett bestämt, självsäkert men dynamiskt sätt. Det är stundtals riktigt mäktig musik. Five Lines kan definitivt tilltala de som är intresserade av någon av de medverkande musikerna, men även de som är nyfikna på elektronisk musik och vill höra något av hög klass.