subota, 25. svibnja 2013.

Jessika Kenney & Eyvind Kang - The Face of the Earth (2013)

Čudesno. Cijela ljudska povijest je muzički instrument.

album preview: soundcloud
Tavaf: soundcloud

When I interviewed Eyvind Kang back in 2012, he spoke at length about the presence of duality in his music and how that served as a companion to similar reflections and doubles in the world at large: sound and its echo, people and their shadows, music and its reverberations... That theory was already explored on his previous LP with Jessika Kenney, Aestuarium, but resonates much more clearly throughout The Face of the Earth, from its title to the artwork via the cosmic sounds the duo creates across the two sides of vinyl.
As such, an album that, on the surface, appears to be a collection of obscure songs sung in Persian and/or anchored in the Javanese Gamelan tradition may seem a mere curiosity, but repeated listens reveal a multitude of levels and suggested meanings, bringing to mind the age-old metaphor of peeling an onion. It would be easy to see The Face of the Earth as an attempt to present Eastern musics and their inherent philosophies to a Western audience, and there is an element of that. Kenney has long been a student of Gamelan and Persian song, having studied in Indonesia and under famed singer and ney flute player Hossein Omouni. Her strong vocals display a deep understanding of the nature and history of this music, tracing beyond her and Kang’s arrangements towards the foundations of what they are performing. The liner notes speak of “binary” and “reflections from a mirror” and in Kenney and Kang’s hands, the elegant ghazal and kidung songs on The Face of the Earth become reflections of every facet of song art worldwide. Remember, the pair have in the past collaborated -- together and apart -- with the likes of Stuart Dempster, Sunn 0))) and Wolves in the Throne Room, so this is no narrow exercise in intellectual Eastern references. Whilst the duo’s knowledge of the traditions they explore is a fundamental component of the music, The Face of the Earth makes no such demands of the audience, meaning each track is absorbing and effortlessly affecting without the need for further understanding of what’s at play.
The credit for this has to rest with Jessika Kenney, and her wonderfully expressive singing style, aided and abetted by her partner’s spectral music. Kang’s arrangements are sparse, mainly revolving around looped viola and setar (an Iranian lute) lines that mount and descend along elegant melodic structures. This gives a lot of room for Kenney to twist and turn her vocals around the melodies. The singer’s voice is pristine, equally at ease with Javanese and Persian, and particularly emotionally potent when stretching notes in the high register. I may not understand a word she utters, but songs like “Tavaf” and “Kidung” are beautiful, with each line resonating with some inchoate emotional universality. Some tracks are sparse, notably the deceptively epic “Kidung,” which extends over 11 minutes and sees Kenney embark on snake-like vocalizations over the sparsest of plucked viola accompaniment from Kang. It could easily be a patience-defying approach, but with every ululation, cry or whisper imbued with intangible emotion, Kenney owns each and every second.
“Tavaf” and “Mirror Stage,” meanwhile, engage in more elaborate manipulations via looped or multi-tracked vocals and the inclusion of percussion and electronic colorations. Whilst the music is therefore denser, the spirit of the tracks is identical to that of “Kidung,” once again returning to the idea of duality, as if these tracks are extended reflections of the more stripped-down ones. Rapidly repeated loops build up a certain tension, particularly on “Mirror Stage” and the title track, which is immediately countered by the operatic grace of Kenney’s voice, a restlessness that never allows the listener to settle into a single emotive state. That this occurs without any clear direction from Kang and Kenney is entirely to their credit. The duo does not merely engage in pat faux-Eastern mysticism, but rather subtly allows each listener to find his or her way amongst the sounds. By refusing to overtly explain or detail their compositions’ history and intentions, they ultimately give us more freedom to enjoy them, on a level that transcends the boundaries of culture and geography.
- Joseph Burnett

Sunn O))) guest players and Ideologic Organ mainstays Jessika Kenney and Eyvind Kang return with six new pieces for voice, viola, setar and electronics. Recorded in Istanbul, Seattle and Bologna, The Face Of The Earth is more obviously Eastern in tone to the duo's last IO offering, Aestuarium. Taking its cue from classical Persian and Javanese traditions, and themed around the idea of "drawing the binary from the unary, like reflections from a mirror, and its inverse, the concealed identity", it's a collection of sonic riddles whose meaning can be unlocked, at least to some extent, by the "reading cards" provided in the insert. Despite the arcane mysticism at work, it's music of self-evident and ravishing beauty: from the medievalist balladry of 'Tavaf', to the pensive but restlessly percussive 'Kidung', Kenney's vocal performances are show-stopping throughout, and Kang's strings resonate powerfully around them. Over its short duration, the sparse voice and viola interplay of 'Ordered Pairs II' take on the character of spiritual jazz, while the looping and phasing techniques applied on 'Mirror Stage' come over like a courtly response to Steve Reich's 'It's Gonna Rain', and 'The Face Of The Earth' feels like the logical extension of the more avant-garde moments on Julia Holter's Ekstasis. Tremendous stuff.  - boomkat

Last year, I spoke with composer and instrumentalist Eyvind Kang about Aestuarium, the 2005 record he made with his wife, the mesmerizing singer Jessika KenneyAestuarium is a quiet album, where seemingly dramatic events happen on mute or in miniature; for Kang, that quality stemmed from observing the slow but busy nature of the estuary near which he and Kenney lived. "There's never a dull moment there," he told me. "Tuning into that was the first act; that was purifying for the next steps that we've taken since then."
"Kidung" is the longest and most immersive piece from the pair's follow-up, The Face of the Earth. The 12-minute piece capitalizes on the promise of Aestuarium by creating an enormous, singular environment that, at first glance, might sound listless. But there's constant motion within Kang's pizzicato viola rhythm and Kenney's strings of beautiful intonation. The parts cooperate, surrounding and supporting each other with ceaseless ease, like the waters and banks of an old river. - Grayson Currin

Aestuarium cover art

Aestuarium (2005)

Written by Jessika Kenney & Eyvind Kang (1, 3, 4) & traditional (2, 5)
Speculum Magorum by Giordano Bruno.
Jessika Kenney is a vocalist known for her haunting timbral sense, as well as her profound interpretation of vocal traditions.
Eyvind Kang is a violist for whom the act of music and learning is a spiritual discipline.
Aestuarium is a meditation on a psalm of lamentation and the unary tone in the metaphor of salt and fresh water, inspired by Gaelic psalmery, Tibetan notational gestures, and the microtonality of the tetrachord. Recorded on the shore of Colvos Passage in 2005 by renowned engineer Mell Dettmer.
Stephen O'Malley comments: "Amongst many other amazing pieces Jessika & Eyvind collaborated on SUNN O)))'s "Monoliths & Dimensions" album, Jessika leading the choir on the piece "Big Church" and Eyvind composing the acoustic arrangements for "Big Church" & "Alice". I learned an immense amount about music through these collaborations, specifically the idea of Spectral music through research and discussion/reference points of composers such as Grisey and Murail. Aestuarium is a beautiful piece of minimalist spectral music which has brought great pleasure to my ears over the years."

We knew Ideologic Organ, the new Stephen O'Malley-curated imprint from Editions Mego, was going to throw up some curious releases, and lo, we were right - check out this strange and affecting album, a collaboration between Jessika Kenney and Eyvind Kang - both of whom contributed their acoustic knowhow to Sunn O))'s epic Monoliths & Dimensions LP. It's a selection of unadorned, medievalist ballads - minimalist Spectral music, according to O'Malley - like nothing else we've heard this side of the middle ages, with Kenney's pristine vocals set to the sparsest string accompaniment from Kang imaginable. Kenney is internationally regarded for her haunting timbral register and her interpretations of vocal traditions, while Kang treats music as a spiritual discipline; they describe Aestuarium as "a meditation on a psalm of lamentation and the unary tone in the metaphor of salt and fresh water, inspired by Gaelic psalmery, Tibetan notational gestures, and the microtonality of the tetrachord." Recorded on the shore of Colvos Passage by renowned engineer Mell Dettmer, the album was originally released on CD in 2005 by Endless Records. This is its first airing on vinyl, the definitive edition of a very special, ageless work. - boomkat

When SUNN O))) guitarist and all-round drone/metal/experimental bigwig Stephen O'Malley was handed a curatorial role by Editions Mego to provide the albums for their new Ideologic Organ imprint, it would appear (at least at first glance) that he didn't scout about too far to land his first release, as vocalist Jessika Kenney and violist Eyvind Kang both appeared on SUNN O)))'s monstrous 2009 opusMonoliths & Dimensions, the former directing the choir on 'Big Church', the latter providing string and acoustic arrangements on the same track and on 'Alice'.
But as Ideologic Organ is dedicated to exploring "acoustic" music, in all its varied forms, you'd be wrong to be the expecting saturated guitars, cavernous vocals and doom-laden lyrics that one tends to associate with O'Malley's own musical output. Aestuarium is a work of delicate beauty, as pristine as the surface of a lake at dawn on a summer's morning.
Much of this is down to Kenney's remarkable voice. It glides out of the speakers on opener 'Orcus Pellicano' like a quiet brook sliding down a mountainside. It's clear and immediate, yet steeped in history, seeming to stretch towards the listener from across an ocean of time. Kenney sings in Latin, yet her phraseology seems to come from even further back, echoing traditional music from the pre-Roman Celtic civilisations of Ireland and Britain, steeping Aestuarium in a sense of occult paganism, as if Kenney had, prior to recording, uncovered a grimoire of ancient rites and was using them to channel the spirits of her pre-colonial ancestors. Adapting the musical styles of lost civilisations for the modern times is a particularly treacherous exercise.
It's one thing to cover folk tunes that have been handed down from generation to generation, à la Pentangle or Fairport Convention, but to try and recapture music that has mostly been forgotten, whilst all the while making it palatable for modern sensitivities, is another kettle of fish altogether. Just listen to the bile-inducing fluff of Enya or the Titanic soundtrack for particularly bad examples. On first reading about Aestuarium, I was worried it would sound like a dodgy Dark Ages film soundtrack. Instead, it may just be one of the best modern examples of a minimalist tradition that evidently stretches back into the mists of time, but came to a head from the early-60s-onward with the popularity of Indian masters like Pran Nath and Ravi Shankar, and the emergence of modern composers such as LaMonte Young, Marian Zazeela and Charlemagne Palestine; not so much in the actual style (the pieces on Aestuarium tend to be rather short and airy, as opposed to the lengthy deep drones of Young or Nath), but in the way Kenney and Kang stretch into the past and across borders to create arresting “new” drone and vocal music.
On 'Figura Nox', Kenney brings her interest in Middle Eastern music to the fore, her undulating chanting seeming more indebted to Persian or Maghrebin traditions than the Celtic tones of 'Orcus Pellicano'. This globe-trotting never seems unsettling, though, as the whole of Aestuarium is dominated by the theme of water, from its recording on the banks of Puget Sound to the way it brings in a diversity of influences and phraseologies into one homogenous voice, in the same way cultures crossed oceans to come together in estuarine ports and cities, from Britain to America via Ancient Egypt and The Far East. Aestuarium is ideally suited to being listened to on a vast seashore on a windy day, watching gulls circle over listing cargo ships and choppy waters.
Incredibly, Kenney and Kang (sounds like a detective show duo…) achieve this broad and textured atmosphere with just vocals and viola. Eschewing any predictable call-and-response stereotypes, they combine the voice and strings to become one source, the deeper tones from Kang grounding the soaring vocalisations of Kenney. This is most effective on the spooky, hesitant 'Unnamed Figures', on which the two musicians edge around one another, almost seeming to duel as opposed to duet, both expertly poised, creating a tension that belies their stripped-down set-up. Kenney's voice is mournful and aching, conjuring deep emotions from the sparsest of means. On 'Dies Mei', the loping vocal plays off against a percussive backing line, Kang's virtuosity adding extra dynamism and building on the edginess of the previous track. But by the final piece, (relative) calm is restored. Kang allows himself a rare mini solo which segues into a tremulous vocal by his musical partner. And so the album slides away, like the tide receding from the shore, leaving a sense of having experienced something primal, timeless and haunting. For all that Aestuariumsounds far removed from standard heavy O'Malley fare, it is easy to see what drew him to the album, beyond its obvious beauty. With its impenetrable lyrics, minimal, sparse arrangements and overarching sense of mystery and arcana, it is perfectly keyed in to the same Ur-klang (as Julian Cope would say) that informs the deepest recesses of SUNN O))) and Khanate's music.
But beyond all that, Aestuarium is simply a stirring and beautiful album showcasing two premier musicians advancing into inventive forms of minimalist, but emotionally resonant, music. You can find layer upon layer of meaning in the grooves of this LP, and consider ad infinitum where it fits in the minimalist, or indeed O'Malley, cannons; or you can slap it on, close your eyes, and journey to the wild shorelines Jesskia Kenney and Eyvind Kang conjure up with their intense and beautiful sounds. - Joseph Burnett
Originally released on CD-R in 2005, this vinyl only reissue of vocalist Jessika Kenney and violist Eyvind Kang’s collaboration is one of the inaugural releases on Stephen O’Malley’s new Ideologic Organ label. Both artists have worked with O’Malley in Sunn O))) but to expect anything remotely like O’Malley’s own music would be a mistake. This is quiet, contemplative, and fully acoustic; both artists explore the relationships between each others' craft. They intentionally break down the barriers between voice and viola and between playing music and singing.
Thorughout Aestuarium, Kenney’s voice drifts into Kang’s viola like a river into the sea; the two merge into one and become indistinguishable from each other. In the opening moments of "Orcus Pellicano," my ears are bamboozled by this strange symbiosis of timbre. Together, Kenney’s voice and the viola form a third instrument that retains some of the individual character of both instruments but with another dimension that either on its own is incapable of creating. This idea of mixing two similar timbres to form a new middle ground between the two is reflected in the album’s title, an archaic term for an estuary.
Kenney’s interest in Persian music comes through strong on Aestuarium as she explores scales more in line with traditional Middle Eastern music than with western composition. Kang is more than adept both at following Kenney’s lead and in taking the reins himself; at times it is hard to tell who is following who as they almost become one Janus-like figure. On "Unnamed Figures," their respective performances become so entwined that it is hard to believe that one mind is not controlling both musicians. It sounds like Kenney is trying to make Kang play outside his comfort zone and at the same time Kang is pulling Kenney to a point where her voice is tested to its limits.
While I made clear that this is nothing like Sunn O))), it is easy to see why O’Malley would pick this album for his label. Kenney and Kang chase timbre and tone in the same way O’Malley and Greg Anderson do in Sunn O))). In this way, Aestuarium is more than a collection of songs by the duo, here Kenney and Kang have created deeply spiritual as well as conceptual music that could easily have come from a thousand years ago or from 2005. In any case, I wish I had heard this album when it first came out as I feel I have been missing out on something incredible for too long. -

Eyvind Kang


  • Eyvind Kang : Grass

    The fifth album for the Tzadik label !!!

    Eyvind Kang's newest CD collects quiet new compositions spanning the past five years, which he considers to be among his truly breakthrough works. Music for solo piano, string quintet and more take the unique sonic environments of Morton Feldman to an entirely new place via the metaphors of agricultural poetry, Chinese medicine, sweatlodge, and Ikat weaving. Mesmerizing work from the elusive and ever-stimulating mind of Eyvind Kang!
    Featuring: Adrienne Varner, Steve Moore, Taina Karr, Mary Riles, Janel Leppin, Moriah Neils, Eyvind Kang, and Timba Harris. 
    Released September 25, 2012 by


    Eyvind Kang - Grass - III by Alaraco 

  • Eyvind Kang : The Narrow Garden

    While Athlantis is a choral piece inspired by Renaissance era literature and philosophy, The Narrow Garden is inspired by the natural world. “I composed most of the songs at a pond on Vashon Island,” explains Kang. “I also went down to Yelm and Olympia and music just came into my head. There were birds, plants and flowers. It’s a concept of love, of poetry, like a troubadour or ashugh, courtly love that goes in two directions – one the more ineffable, kind of delightful which is the idea of ‘Pure Nothing’ and the other direction is the implication of a kind of violence.”
    The Narrow Garden was recorded in Barcelona with a group of 30 musicians conducted by Eyvind Kang, featuring the Embut Ensemble, Jessika Kenney, Jenny Scheinman, Stephanie Griffin, Marika Hughes, Shelley Burgon, Taina Karr, Daphna Mor, Trevor Dunn, April Centrone, etc... 
    Released January 31, 2012 by

    Ipecac Recordings

    Eyvind Kang - 'Pure Nothing' - The Narrow Garden by PardigmMagazine 

  • Eyvind Kang : Visible Breath

    Luminescent spectral ensemble music featuring musicians Jessika Kenney, Stewart Dempster, Julian Priester, Cuong Vu, Taina Karr, Timb Harris, Miguel Frasconi, Susan Alcorn & Janel Leppin. 
    Released 10 January 2012 by

    Ideologic Organ

    curated by Stephen O'Malley, distributed by Edition Mego 

Eyvind Kang is not the type to repeat himself. To come to grips with the music of the prolific American composer, arranger, and violinist, you would need to sift through upwards of 50 albums, each with its own secret but palpable internal guidelines. (Lots of them have to do with "NADE," a Sanskrit word with a number of obscure connotations that has a mysterious significance for Kang.) And you would have to range far beyond the composer's own works, through those of Laurie AndersonSunn O)))Mike PattonJohn ZornMarc RibotBill Frisell, and many other hard-to-classify artists. To generalize, Kang refracts strategies from global classical, jazz, folk, and experimental music though his esoteric personal interests, which are always changing. He's a musical polymath who writes in his own voice instead of self-consciously "crossing genres." Boundaries are aren't smashed, but simply ignored, dreamily melting away.
The Narrow Garden features an exotic array of strings, winds, horns, and percussion, performed by an international cast of more than 30 musicians from three different ensembles. Written at home, on an island near Seattle, but partially recorded in Barcelona, the record purports to explore the medieval concept of courtly love. We all know that "explores the concept of" often boils down to "mentions in the liner notes," but you don't have to strain too hard to hear Kang's intricate weaving of soft, romantic consonances and harsh, anxious dissonances as an expression of the quicksilver joys and miseries of formalized desire. Taking in lyric poetry, Western choral music, Middle Eastern and South Asian modes, and "ashugh" singing (a popular folk tradition heavily associated with the Caucasus), The Narrow Garden features some of the most sunny and flowering music that Kang has created, seamlessly joined with a couple of sinister threnodies. If the Middle East-tinged jazz of Wyatt, Atzmon & Stephen's For the Ghosts Within had been aggressively produced by Svarte Greiner, it might have come out like this.
At one extreme, there are ravishing compositions of deceptive simplicity, which accumulate delightful embellishments. These include "Pure Nothing" (a sultry setting of a Guilhem IXpoem translated into English by W.S. Merwin) and "Forest Sama'i", where a serpentine melody seems to hover over Eastern and Western classical modes without alighting on either one; the playful variations unfold until the song abruptly takes flight in a scherzo-like dance animated by trembling whistles. At the other extreme are the title track and "Usnea": dense, metallic braids of screeching strings, ear-spearing flutes, and other distressed timbres. Kang knows how to sculpt and compress clashing harmonies until they take on an inviolable collective form, like a perfect cube of mangled cars fresh from a compactor. But the best thing about the record's tonal variety is how neatly it all blends together, especially on epic closer "Invisus Natalis", where a fleet of guitars, basses, strings, and bassoons taper down to a liquid cacophony, dissolving all of Kang's thought-provoking musicological contrasts into a flawless, golden glow.

Eyvind Kang’s Journey Through The Yelm Sessions

The term “renaissance man” is tailor made for an artist like Eyvind Kang. He’s a prolific composer, multi-instrumentalist, and frequent guest star, lending his unique contemporary-classical style to collaborations with indie rock stalwarts Blonde Redhead and experimental icons Sun City Girls among dozens others. It’s on solo efforts like The Yelm Sessions, released in November on Tzadik, where his vision and talent can truly be appreciated.
“I’ve been working on it for three years,” Kang says of the album. “I didn’t set out to record everything as a whole; it’s more like an album of different ideas and experiences I had over that time that in retrospect had a sequence. There was a reason that it fit together.”
The Yelm Sessions is a flowing, epic production that shows off Kang’s classical training and progressive spirit, marrying orchestral flourishes with delicate chamber music and groaning, screeching jags of sound or subtle electronic augmentation. The album’s layered mélange of influences is the result of a European excursion through Rome and Vienna on which many of the tracks were recorded. Kang attributes the ethereal mood of The Yelm Sessions to the trip. “It’s the feeling of traveling and coming home, and all of the experiences you have in your memory. You return home and years later something triggers the memory—a feeling or the smell of a bakery—and there’s a weird longing that you feel. I wanted to make the music like that—very dreamlike, a musical travelogue.”
Songs like “Enter the Garden” and “Asa Tru” paint gorgeous aural landscapes, but Kang’s journey isn’t limited to the beautiful and the picturesque. “Hawks Prairie” is dark and predatory, like something out of a medieval black forest where the imagination conjures danger in every shadow. The looming dread is broken only by the harsh drag of a bow across violin strings, squealing and screeching, like the song itself is being gutted. It’s a harrowing experience, yet impossible to skip.
Kang draws particular influence on The Yelm Sessions from the baroque melodies of J.S. Bach and the romanticism of Anton Bruckner. One can detect the slightest threads of Philip Glass on the arpeggiated backdrop of the title track. “Mistress Mine” borrows lyrics from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, continuing a dialogue with the Renaissance that Kang began on last summer’s Athlantis (Ipecac), on which he utilized the writings of Giordano Bruno. “Bruno was a martyr; he was burned at the stake,” Kang reveals, referring to Bruno’s support of science and condemnation for heresy. “His writing and subject matter is up my alley, and he has a great sense of humor. I feel like I’m friends with these guys.”
Much like how the works of Bruno and his contemporaries have sparked Kang’s creative energies, he hopes that The Yelm Sessions serves as inspiration to others. “I want to open doorways to neurons,” he says, “not to affect people in a particular way but to help them find their own feelings and emotional response.” To that end, Kang has provided a potent and provocative album that’s just waiting to unlock those doors for those willing to listen. -Michael Patrick Brady

Collaboration Albums › › ›

Mark O'Leary, Eyvind Kang, and Dylan Van Der Schyff -

(Leo Records - 2008)

William Hooker with Eyvind Kang and Bill Horist -
The Seasons Fire

(Important Records - 2007) 

< audio sample > 

Billy Martin & Socket -
January 14 & 15 2005

(Amulet Records - 2005)

Eyvind Kang & Tucker Martine -
Orchestra Dim Bridges

(Conduit Records - 2004) 

< audio sample > 

Napoli 23 -
Eyvind Kang, Hilmar Jensson, Skuli Sverrisson, and Matthias M.D. Hemstock

(Smekkleysa - 2002) 

< audio sample > 

Amir Koushkani with Eyvind Kang -
In The Path Of Love

(Golbarg - 2001)

Eyvind Kang, François Houle, and Dylan van der Schyff -
Pieces of Time

(Spool - 1999)

Michael Bisio & Eyvind Kang -

(Meniscus - 1999)

Dying Ground: Live at the Knitting Factory -
Eyvind Kang, Kato Hideki, and G. Calvin Weston

(Avant - 1999)

Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs -
Music by Bill Frisell, Wayne Horvitz, and Eyvind Kang

(Warner - 1995)

Beyond Fahey

How acoustic guitarists are shedding the shadow of John Fahey, plus interviews with Eyvind Kang, Burmese, and Erik Friedlander.

By Marc Masters and Grayson Currin 

Beyond Fahey
II. Eyvind Kang: A Greater Awareness
Photo by Jerry Morrison
Aestuarium is a 2005 collaboration between composer and multi-instrumentalist Eyvind Kang and his wife, the stunning vocalist Jessika KenneySunn O))) member Stephen O'Malley recently re-released Aestuarium on Ideologic Organ in collaboration with Editions Mego. Kenney, Kang, and O'Malley are familiar collaborators, as Kenney led the choir and Kang composed many of the orchestral parts for Sunn O)))'s most recent work, Monoliths & Dimensions.
But this isn't doom metal. Aestuarium moves with tiny swells and builds through delicate melodies, Kenney's operatic fantasies wrapping like tendrils around Kang's restrained violin work. Recorded at the couple's home along a Puget Sound estuary, it's an environmental statement that's more pleasant than polemical.
We caught Kang in his hotel room in Calgary where he was teaching after wrapping up a series of festivals and collaborations across Europe. He and Kenny were soon due to head into the Canadian mountains to observe and relax. "Life has been pretty hectic for at least six months," he says, sighing. "We're going to take a little time."
"Dies Mei":
 Eyvind Kang: Dies Mei
Pitchfork: You're in Calgary now, where they're ripping oil from the sand to the north. You were just in Iceland during the volcano. And Aestuarium is a record that touches on your relation to nature. What's your feeling about the state of our environment and your role as an artist?
Eyvind Kang: It's a big deal, man. This morning, I woke up and was walking on a mountain, and I thought, "What's the worst thing that humans could do to the planet? Make it uninhabitable for humans and kill wildlife." I suddenly didn't feel so bad. It's terrible, but 100,000 years is how long it takes radioactive waste to decay. It is outside of what we know as human history, but geologically, it's not too significant. There's a lot of time before the sun burns out. In our life times, though, we have to do what we can. We have to stop abusing nature like this. It's unfuckingbelievable.
"Jessika and I want to explore musical ideas that also have a practical relevance in terms of ecological work."
But, at the same time, getting into environmentalism can be too depressing and hysterical. Musicians always want to sacrifice our creativity to get involved in environmental issues or political activism of some sort-- to reduce it to something more populist in terms of sing-alongs or guitar songs with a message. That goes against the depths of what we're actually able to do creatively. Jessika and I want to explore musical ideas that also have a practical relevance in terms of ecological workWhat happens in our consciousness and minds and bodies is also happening on earth. The more we pollute the earth, for example, the sicker we are.
Pitchfork: How might the musical exploration of those issues sound?
EK: Aestuarium is a good example of that. The estuary was our home; we recorded that at home. It's really all about the water. We weren't really starting from the point of view of, "Look at this water. It's so polluted. We should do something about it." That didn't come into the conversation at all, even though it's true of the Puget Sound, which is horribly polluted. What we were looking at was the flow of the fresh water from an island, which was our home, into the salt water. That area where it's combined is where we actually live. Living in a place like that, you see that there are more than ducks and other species of aquatic life that are attracted to the estuary. It's a certain type of people, certain kind of spirits. There's a lot of action. There's never a dull moment there. Tuning into that was the first act; that was purifying for the next steps that we've taken since then. Water is the most purifying element. It's always involved in baptisms, healings, that kind of work.
"I love the appropriateness of making a dogmatic statement. I support that, but that is a different level of the individual consciousness than was the source of our music."
Pitchfork: You talked about not reducing your creativity to singer-songwriter fare to support a cause. Is that because you see that as too dogmatic or because your thoughts on such topics are too personal?
EK: I would say neither. Our individual consciousness is actually part of a larger system. There are many levels of consciousness, and the creativity used in composing the music comes from another level that is not purely personal. We composed stuff together; we had an idea of how the melodies would form themselves. In a way, composing on the melodic level is an expression of a melodic truth, almost like a geometric truth. If it has clarity, other people will recognize it. There's no way of isolating it in a gallery on a white wall and saying, "This is a work of art. This is a mathematical proof."
In terms of dogma, we're not really interested in that. There's a time and place for that; I love the appropriateness of making a dogmatic statement, but we weren't even thinking about those things four years ago. The subject matter was clean water itself.
Pitchfork: You and Jessika have worked on so many important projects together, from Sunn O)))'s Monoliths & Dimensions to Aestuarium. When did you realize the chemistry and special bond you two had?
EK: From the beginning. When we first met, we had so much to talk about. There was so much research that we were both doing. It's been a constant process. Aestuarium was a big signpost along the way in defining that path. A lot has happened since then. Both of us were involved in traveling whenever we could by any means to do musical research. She spent so much time in Java; I was in India. That took an incredible amount of effort, and not a lot of people I knew of had done that. It was also at considerable personal risk, too. Never underestimate that: When you make a trip like that, do you know if or when you're ever going to return?
But that's life, and we did return. We got married, and we started going into the deeper work, the inner work. It opened a lot of doors and removed a lot of obstacles that we didn't even know were there. It's a process, and it keeps evolving in ways that are surprising to me. There's a lot of magic involved, but I can't put too fine of a point on it. It's what we both want to be doing.
We haven't done a lot of performing with just the two of us because it's such inner work. But I think it's cool because O'Malley and some other people picked up what we were up to. But now, we really want to flip the script and go out and do more performances dedicated to the world on an ecological, cosmological level. We put in a lot of time for our inner work, now we want to do outer work. We've discovered a lot of processes, and we've built up quite a repertoire. We see ways of going forward.
"There is no guiding principle, because the work that is created in collaborations should be created from its own principles."
Pitchfork: Are there any specific works you two have in mind for the near future?
EK: One collaborative process that I can mention is working on the level of linguistics.Aestuarium is a good example of that, too, because working with the Latin language is pretty powerful for both of us. Working with a language that is not spoken vernacularly is intense. There are other works of poetry and text where we get pretty deep into bringing out the essence of the syllables and letters and how they work. You can't just push around text and recite it or cut it up. I don't like to treat words and sounds like objects. You have to penetrate deeply into their meaning. We're working with other people on that level. Linguistic work is group work. Even if you're a genius and you invent your own language, it doesn't become a language until there are people using it.
Pitchfork: What aspect of those sorts of texts do you like most?
EK: The most appealing part is the feeling of learning something true-- the pleasure of a truth. For me, that's mostly found in philosophical literature at the moment. The subject matter doesn't change that much in philosophy, so when you're reading something from 2,000 years ago in ancient Greece, it works. I love the pleasure of finding the same truth in two different places. It has a lot to do with a soul.
"Unnamed Figures":
 Eyvind Kang: Unnamed Figures
Pitchfork: You collaborate so often and with so many people: Is there a single guiding principle or framework that you take into each of those?
EK: There is no guiding principle, because the work that is created in collaborations should be created from its own principles. Who approaches collaboration with agenda in terms of content? The agenda is only in terms of process, which is generosity, listening, careful thinking.
Pitchfork: So you let listening guide you through each work more than any idea?
EK: Yes, learning how to listen to others and how to listen to your own thoughts is the ultimate process. Artaud said that the worst pain is to feel your thoughts slipping away from you. I think I know what he's talking about. Listening is active. It's like vision. It's like the idea of the eye projecting light, which I've heard is what children and infants say when they're asked to explain vision-- that the eye projects light, rather than just receives it.
I think listening is similar because you project from your ears onto something. There's a big interaction in between the ear and the mind, a gap. Maybe that's where the creative work-- especially in collaboration-- comes forth. With composing or creating art, you're always projecting outward. You tend to visualize it as modeled on the individual thought-- me, my identity, I am, I am thinking. It's Cartesian. You project your personality and your idea to some form of writing or recording. With collaboration, it's more of a group experience.
Here's an example: When you're listening to music, you listen to it with a friend one day and it sounds one way. You listen to it with another friend the next day, and it sounds a little different. Sometimes the greatest pleasure of listening is not the music that you're listening to; it's the person that you're listening to it with. That is collaborative listening. When you sit with people and you can hear what they're hearing, that's quite interesting.
"All these emotions are coming from one thing-- sound. It's not coming from your experiences in life, your childhood. It's related to those things, but it's being triggered by the sound."
Pitchfork: In an interview witThe Wire, you said that you preferred not to think about music in terms of dark and light. What's the problem with using that archetype for you, and what model do you prefer in dealing with emotion in music, if any?
EK: The problem is, it's too superficial. It doesn't deal with the content. It's like saying a major chord is happy and a minor chord is sad. It's kind of pathetic, to be reduced to terms like that when you're dealing with something like music. The other problem with dark and light is that it's mostly about our other baggage, our associations. Maybe somebody used this piece of music in a film that had a plot about murders, so this music is used in a very scary way. I like to think about a story I heard about Feldman asking Stockhausen, "Yeah, you compose a lot of scary music, but do you compose any music that scares you yourself? If that was true, then you could speak to this being scary." In a way, all recorded music is reduced to the same level, no matter what it is. You find it in the store, you put it on and, "Oh, that's not cool. That's gangsta rap. That's white supremacist punk." But in a way, the content is removed from the intention of the people that made it. That's the commercial level of music.
But putting all that aside, I think the question of actually relating emotion to music is totally interesting. I believe that it is really important on some level, but it's also important not to impose your own emotions on some music that has its own emotions. That theory in Indian music, they call rasa-- actually, it's all over the pulse of Buddhist framework. It means emotions, and it's pretty complicated. There are a lot of emotions, and that's one of the projects I'm working on during the act of playing improvisation. If you see old footage of Glenn Gould, for example, watch how much he feels. That's on the level of yoga, when you feel this tremendous surge of energy, like when you say your blood boils or your heart beats faster. All these emotions are coming from one thing-- sound. It's not coming from your experiences in life, your childhood. It's related to those things, but it's being triggered by the sound. It's physical, like acupuncture, a release of energy from inside. That's different from dark and light. There is some music that's truly dark, in that it's dark in terms of hopeless. But then again, the act of hope is just making the work of art.
Pitchfork: So creation in and of itself is hope, no matter how "dark" or "light" something sounds?
EK: Yeah, that is the hope, absolutely. --Grayson Currin

 “Seems like the memory forms a shell around the event, or the person … then the process of remembering becomes just the memory. The next time, it’s the memory of the memory and so on; in order to know, to live, you have to forget, you can’t remember everything all the time.”  
-Eyvind Kang

Introduction & Interview Theo Constantinou

Instead of introducing this interview, I will attempt to answer the questions Eyvind asked of me during our interview.
Who are you? 
Eyvind, my name is Theo Constantinou; a 26 year old seeker of knowledge living in Philadelphia.
Are you a writer, or what do you do?
I am not a writer, and have no formal training in writing whatsoever. I publish Paradigm Magazine in the hope to inspire people all over the world through the interviews, editorials, photographs and artwork that are published on our site.
How do you find a great teacher?
I was not sure how I met Nicolas Constantinidis, so I just called my mother to have her tell me the story. She said I had not been cooperating, and was quite defiant with my other piano teacher, so she took it upon herself in finding someone that would motivate me. She had heard about this blind man who was well known in the area and asked him if he would work with me. He told her that he had to meet me first, before he would work with me: I was 12 years old. We met at his home, talked at great length, and the rest is history.
What kind of interview is this?
Eyvind, I don’t even want to think of this as an interview; more of a conversation that pushes the scope of what people are willing to talk about and, an introspection into the individual that we are talking to. Like our magazine, these deep philosophical conversations will hopefully inspire the reader to take action in their lives to create positive change, and think about new perspectives and realities.
Doesn’t everyone think about death and nothingness?
Unfortunately, not enough people think of death and nothingness. It is their personal fear of their own shadow, and inevitable demise, that they hide from instead of facing it truthfully and embracing their fate, while constantly pushing themselves in this life as far as they can with the limited amount of time that they have. 
I read that, “Kepler considered the Harmonices Mundi (1619) his greatest work. The text relates his findings about the concept of congruence with respect to diverse categories of the physical domain: regularities in three-dimensional geometry, the relationships among different species of magnitude, the principles of consonance in music, and the organization of the Solar System.” What did Kepler’s work teach you, and how do you use his theory in creating your own music?

Hello, and thanks for bringing up these interesting questions. Who are you? Are you a writer, or what do you do? Myself, I’m a musician who reads many books, but that is not the best way to learn something. To be honest, I’ve never used Kepler or any other theory in music; I don’t even study physics very much. Like many musicians, I looked for models that helped to comprehend musical experiences, and was always attracted to the old image of Music of the Spheres, but stopped short of celestial mechanics. When it comes to Solar systems, the Harmonia Mundi describes a tuning theory in terms of geometry, which also relates to poetic in the sense of microcosm to macrocosm. Actually, the outer space and the inside of an atom could be the same as far as I’m concerned. It’s nothing without the poetical side, which Pythagoras was already bored of, but seems to remain at the forefront of our musical procedures…even if only through the invocation of the Muses within the proper name. It’s just that the whole sphere of sciences tend to give us more context for the poetic side.

You were quoted in an interview stating that, “In alchemy, one of the main steps is to descend into the chaos, called ‘nigredo,’ and then to let a kind of order manifest itself from that chaos. So I followed that idea, not the idea of an authority person imposing the order from above; in other words, a kind of anarchy.” Can you speak to me more about this idea of chaos and anarchy in your approach to music?

Sure, but I guess the paradox is that it should never become an “arche,” or principle. What is interesting also, from a viola standpoint, the bow, or “arco” -that is what makes everything sound; whereas, the action of the left hand is more or less silent, unless activated by the arco, arche or principle. Our arco is related to the mare’s tail, or the Earth. Ultimately, the Earth is what grounds all these experiences and makes them grow. To cultivate that through land, through social interactions, brings up questions of a political hue. Sometimes they used to burn ashes, and make that fertilize the soil – like black Earth in the Amazon jungle. When trying to learn music, we grow, study, but also need to let go, to forget – this is very important. 

There are portions of Plato’s Timaeus that I find quite interesting and my understanding of them is something that I am still trying to grasp … I would love to hear your interpretation of these excerpts, either as they stand alone or as a whole, and how they relate to your life and your creative process?

Some things always are, without ever becoming (27d6).
Some things become, without ever being (27d6–28a1).
If and only if a thing always is, then it is grasped by understanding, involving a rational account (28a1–2).
If and only if a thing becomes, then it is grasped by opinion, involving unreasoning sense perception (28a2–3).[17]
The universe is a thing that has become (28b7; from 5a–c, and 4).
Anything that becomes is caused to become by something (28a4–6, c2–3).
The universe has been caused to become by something (from 5 and 6).

Amazing question, but the format here is too brief to really answer. What kind of interview is this? These excerpts that you’ve lined up show how the typical dialectic that gets made between Being and Becoming can lead to a concept of causality that is so linear, one can go on from there to sort of prove the existence of first cause, prime mover, or what have you…which may seem quaint but was developed in an interesting way by the Scholastics, analytics, etc. It brings up many paradoxes – axiomatic reasoning by itself has to be supported by principles too, so it easily becomes circular. You have to name something: first, second, third, fourth, fifth, etc. What we normally call music, is usually just the presentation of music, so we get into the same problems in our ontology. I don’t want to join any category of perceptual music, but at the same time, I don’t really believe in a particular perennial sound. If you have a sound, you have another sound, you have an octave, you have a 5th, a 3rd, and so on: the whole harmonic series; so you get all the natural numbers right off the bat. From there, you can get your incommensurates, to the chagrin of Timaeus and company, and on to the transfinite and beyond. At the same time I wonder, if Being and Becoming could both be part of the same, like stillness and rest in the Chinese “I” or “change” – as in “change is unchangeable” – wouldn’t that make things a lot clearer? So, infinitely more interesting to me than the Pythagorean Timaeus, is the Parmenedes.

I read that you won’t disclose the meaning of ‘NADE,’ Can you tell me more about the principles or driving forces of NADE without disclosing its direct meaning? 

It’s not that I didn’t want to disclose it, but just that it didn’t mean anything. Nowadays, I’m interested in sound itself, to be honest. How do you approach it? The Guidonian hand, the letter names…the various points and stems in music writing are constructions which seem to represent notes; to a bird they could sound like melodies, to an insect maybe they sound like a whole genre, to a rock or sand, it sounds like nothing at all. So all these sounds are nothing in a way, but they could become anything, like in a sudden dream.

Nearly a decade ago, I studied classical piano from a blind man, and that experience and lessons still impact me to this day … Can you talk more about the influence and impact of your studies with the great violinist, Dr. N. Rajam?

Certainly. How do you find a great teacher? You can’t just “sign up.” And then, it’s not a walk in the park; you know from your piano experience, every musician knows, and when it comes to violinists, we know. Michael White: great violinist; he basically prepped me for the larger encounter with the bowed string, oriented me to his principles concerning the nature of music to be healing, to be spiritual, that kind of thing. There was no technical discussion or any pedantry, just the positive intention, the creative theosophy, which you find in jazz, especially of Michael’s generation, vis, the Coltranes, Sun Ra, Pharoah, Fourth Way, etc. Dr. N. Rajam is one of the other great teachers I met and worked with. The question at hand was “raga” – but as with any teacher, there were some secrets which could be learned by transmission only. I worked with her for only four short months, long years ago, so its nothing, really; nothing about Indian classical music, I don’t claim that. But for me, she’s always there, every time I play the instrument. Also, there is a current from her teacher, Pandit Omkarnath Thakur, which affects me in my studies. I really can’t describe the devotion I feel towards them.

I recently revisited the film The Seventh Seal by Ingmar Bergman, and found this dialogue quite fascinating … Why do you think that most people don’t seek knowledge, and neither think of death or nothingness?

Antonius Block: I want knowledge! Not faith, not assumptions, but knowledge. I want God to stretch out His hand, uncover His face and speak to me.
Death: But He remains silent.
Antonius Block: I call out to Him in the darkness. But it’s as if no one was there.
Death: Perhaps there isn’t anyone.
Antonius Block: Then life is a preposterous horror. No man can live faced with Death, knowing everything’s nothingness.
Death: Most people think neither of death nor nothingness.
Antonius Block: But one day you stand at the edge of life and face darkness.
Death: That day.
Antonius Block: I understand what you mean. 

Doesn’t everyone think about death and nothingness? I guess thinking about it is natural, but talking about it is not too easy.

One of my favorite poets, Constantine Cavafy has a poem called ‘Long Ago’ … You described ‘Narrow Garden’ as, “a concept of love, of poetry, like a troubadour or ashugh, courtly love that goes in two directions.” The poem is below; I am curious to hear your thoughts on memory specifically about people who you have loved in your life and are now gone, are they just faded memories to you now?

‘Long Ago’ by Constantine Cavafy
I’d like to speak of this memory, But it’s so faded now – as though nothing’s left – Because it was so long ago, in my adolescent years.
A skin as though of jasmine  . . . That August evening – was it August? – I can still just recall the eyes: blue, I think they were . . . Ah yes, blue: a sapphire blue.
Seems like the memory forms a shell around the event, or the person … then the process of remembering becomes just the memory. The next time, it’s the memory of the memory and so on; in order to know, to live, you have to forget, you can’t remember everything all the time. The function of time consciousness doesn’t really condition the experience of love, or of a person’s soul. Thanks again, and take it easy! -

Eyvind Kang: Continuity, Innovation, Liberation


Photo of Eyvind Kang by Bryce Davesne
By Schraepfer Harvey

We meet multi-instrumentalist, arranger and composer Eyvind Kang through his many recordings, contributions and collaborations – John Zorn, Mike Patton, Laurie Anderson, Skuli Sverrison, Secret Chiefs, Sun City Girls, Sun O))) – and a consistent touring roster with Bill Frisell over the last decade has given him the opportunity to explore his composing life. Since an early career endorsement from Zorn and label Tzadik – Kang has four releases there spanning 1996 to 2007 – the artist has continued a path of learning and exploration that’s evident on his recordings.
He makes those explorations with an ever-expanding list of collaborators: Shahzad Ismaily, Hans Teuber, Christian Asplund, Tucker Martine, Tari Nelson-Zagar, Timothy Young. On his most recent Ipecac Recordings release, The Narrow Garden, Kang directs thirty ensemble members in different configurations, exhibiting what’s quintessentially Kang, a mix of diverse instruments and timeless musical palettes from cultures around the globe.
I caught up with Kang by phone in December and ran into him at the Royal Room opening weekend, where he performed with Scrape. We covered a couple of his jazz influences – Ornette Coleman and early violinist Stuff Smith: “There’s a person that plays with guts.” We also talked about Kang’s time with Michael White, the former Bay Area violinist with a handful of Kang-recommended releases on Impulse! from the early 70s and a 1997 release with Bill Frisell, Motion Pictures. We also talked about his continuing explorations into music around the world and of his recent Artist Trust Arts Innovator Award, a $25,000 gift to two generative artists each year.
Here’s a statement from Artist Trust Executive Director Fidelma McGinn: “Thanks to The Dale and Leslie Chihuly Foundation’s support, Artist Trust’s Arts Innovator Award is open to Washington State artists of all disciplines who are originating new work, experimenting with new ideas and pushing the boundaries in their respective fields. The selection panelists felt that Eyvind stood out this year among an impressive group of high-caliber entries. They felt his unique approach to his musical composition deserved to be rewarded. He has had a great impact on the jazz scene on both a local and national level, and will undoubtedly have a bigger impact in years to come.”
Whatever you make of Kang’s impact on the jazz scene, the Artist Trust award is money and sanction from a local authority that has lent recent spunk to current Kang projects, like a recent collaboration with cellist Janel Leppin and pedal steel player Susan Alcorn and instrumentalist and vocalist Jessika Kenney, also Kang’s wife. “I was totally surprised,” he says. “It gave a lot of positive energy to things I couldn’t decide if I wanted to commit to … I was really lucky to get that.”
Kang’s innovation is his authentic and personal search, with a variety of musicians, often absent of commercial success or large-scale administrative support. In his career, he hasn’t waited for signs of approval. “I’m in a time warp, I think. I’m still doing the same thing,” he says. It’s that search that is the inspiration for generations to come.
He describes to me some of his teaching goals from his 2011 faculty experience at the Banff Centre: “I was trying to concentrate on creative approaches to technique.” He explains that creativity is pre-lingual and advises students not to get trapped. “It’s the minutia of what angle your finger is going on the string,” for example.
In a performance setting, the key is internally freeing yourself to a point where that awareness is so internalized that reactions of all kinds become accessible to you at an instant, as opposed to conventional or clichéd responses or responses that are simply built into your training or the way you practice or your body’s memory. It’s a discovery he’s made from travels and musical experiences around the world and with teachers Dr. N Rajam, in Mumbai, India, and Ustad Hossein ‘Omoumi, formerly of Seattle via Iran, now in California.
Since, minutia is paramount for Kang, and perhaps an unsurprising quest for a string player. Styles for violin are so diverse, yet the canon so limited for us here – jazz, bluegrass, Western classical, Irish. But, Kang says, “I have to deal with all the different cultures and traditions. Once you know, you can’t ignore it … that’s what bounces back to me as a composer.”
Coloring his compositions and releases over the last decade are diverse musical references. Kang points out, “I don’t think there’s different music; there’s different systems.” The West often turns to even temperament. “Viola and violin have freedom to play a lot of tunings, but we have to play with the piano,” Kang says, leaving a lot of unresolved technical issues.
Getting through those issues has become somewhat of a career study for the artist. Currently, he’s diving deeper into Persian systems with his wife Jessika Kenney. The couple lives on Vashon Island, and both have had fruitful musical enrichment from studies with mutual friend Ustad Hossein ‘Omoumi, Kenney as a long-time student.
Some of that influence, at least regarding music traditions older (yet relevant) than Western tradition, can be heard on The Narrow Garden. Opening track “Forest Sama’i,” for example, exhibits clear reference to forms of Ottoman Turkish song, and tracks “Nobis Natalis” and “Invisus Natalis” also have a sound pre-dating Western systems.
Kang’s penchant for the sounds of early music moves its way into much of his work. It’s the effect of Kang’s hours and dedication into his recorded works. “The bulk of my energy is going into the internal composing life, seeing what works and what’s complete shit,” Kang says.
He’s at home in the studio, glad to have the chance to listen and listen and create in that space, where technology allows a repetition in a controlled environment: “Recording then playback, it makes music possible for me ¬– to hear it.” He speaks of recording as a process of creating illusion. It’s also the place where Kang has found a chance to liberate himself and produce a prolific and particular oeuvre exploring his quest.
It’s also a place most comfortable for Kang because of his sensitivity to the nuance of his instrument and of his awareness of the possibilities of sound, were they not wrestling with dominant systems. For the strings, Kang says, “One has to deal with a lot of trauma from trying to recover one’s soul from the repetition,” from the canon, from the technique, from the assumptions one makes about music or relationships of sounds. And Kang’s explicit about it: “It’s time for more radical approaches to arts, to get past the internalized oppression.”
Because of systematic treatments and codification of music throughout the centuries, Kang sees that “you can’t even think of what you’re trying to think.” It’s a bit rhetorical, but it’s an important legacy of the ongoing journey in the musician’s life and exploration. The limits of a player’s language are the limits of their world. Kang wants us to hear all that’s available to us, on fretless and four-stringed instruments and even in worlds beyond music.
As an arts innovator, he’s a quiet revolutionary. Kang brings ancient and multi-cultural textures to the fore in his music and documents it. Through that exploration, he’s given permission to himself, and allowed listeners and musicians to give themselves permission to never stop exploring – sounds, relationships, cultures. When you listen, this becomes evident. Maybe it’s amazing that in the centuries of music making, this kind of permission is still an innovation; it is an innovation because it must continually be renewed. Congratulations to Kang and Artist Trust on a great award.
Earshot Jazz is a Seattle based nonprofit music, arts and service organization formed in 1984 to support jazz and increase awareness in the community.  Earshot Jazz publishes a monthly newsletter, presents creative music and educational programs, assists jazz artists, increases listenership, complements existing services and programs, and networks with the national and international jazz community.

Read a transcript of Joseph Stannard's conversation with composer, tubist and violinist Eyvind Kang, part of a series of exclusive interviews with collaborators and members of Sunn O))
How did you first get involved with Sunn O)))?
“Probably through [Sunn O))) engineers] Randall Dunn and Mell Dettmer, the studio that they work in, they're also good friends of mine. And we did something before with Jesse Sykes, “The Sinking Bell” on the Boris and Sunn O))) collaboration, Altar. Stephen and I had some mutual friends, but I didn't really get to know Sunn O))) until this piece came about. I went to the studio when they were recording basic tracks for Aghartha, it was kind of coincidental timing. I just happened to be there and they invited me in. I was sitting there when Attila recorded the vocals, to which we later added our own sounds. I also got to see how they work in the studio, Stephen and Greg. They were leading the process, but in their own way, y'know? They don't really tell you anything, what to do, everyone is doing their own work, but it's going through them, in a way, through their ears.”
So they're filters, in a manner of speaking?
“Yeah. I noticed that happening with Attila, definitely. He was in one world, doing his own writing, his own thing, and then they just went in there and they did it. No comment, no censorship. And later, we did that, me and Jessika and the other musicians. We kind of got involved in the piece and did our own work without much critical intervention from Stephen or Greg. They were just like, 'Do whatever you want!'”
How did you find your way into these dense, riff-orientated compositions?
“Well, let's see. What they do is just with two guitars, or guitar and bass. It is dense, but there's a lot in it that's unfolding over time, the different frequencies of the feedback coming out. Those create envelopes which are more or less dense – sometimes it's very static, sometimes it's very active. And so I started listening to those closely on the basic tracks and trying to think of a way to create an acoustic sound that could sort of emerge from those tones that emerge... so, in a way, the arrangement that I did emerges from a psychoacoustic phenomenon that emerges from them. It's three times removed, but it's just gone into the realm of acoustics, completely. Another thing is that I remember I had some interesting conversations with Stephen. He was talking about waveforms, dissonance and consonance and different types of complexity in waveforms. Knowing that he thought like that kind of grounded me into thinking about waves and vibrations rather than harmony and music theory in the traditional sense, y'know?”
Stephen characterised the process more as pure arrangement than orchestration.
“Yeah, right, right. Definitely, we wanted to avoid the feeling that there was the band accompanied by an orchestra or whatever. We talked about that. I think it would be better if you didn't realise there were other instruments going on, because when you listen to Sunn O))) in the first place, it's not like you're thinking of the instruments that they're playing. They recorded basic tracks and we overdubbed, but I guess you could say we kind of deconstructed what they had done in the first place. So it's a mirror image, in a way, created with acoustic instruments. And with the choir it's interesting because there is a mirror; I based a lot of the choir parts off of Dylan Carlson's guitar melody that he made up. I created a mirror image to that.”
“I haven't talked to him yet. Yeah, I'm really curious. By all accounts he was real enthusiastic about it.”
Presumably you've had some time with the album, to digest it?
Are you able to appreciate it objectively after having been so involved in its creation?
“I can totally listen to it from a different perspective. It's been a long time. The last thing we did was “Big Church” and that was about six months ago, maybe more. “Alice” was the first thing, and “Aghartha”... that was over a year ago. Me and Jessika were driving from LA, coming back from visiting her sister, and we listened to it on the stereo of the rental car, which was great. It was probably about a month ago, and that was the first time I really got the timing of it, the slow pacing. Yeah, we were thrilled.”
Obviously there's an element of darkness to Sunn O))). Given that you're coming from a very different, distinctly non-metal background, is this something you can appreciate about the music?
“In general, when I'm listening to something, I don't think of it as dark or light. Same thing with Monoliths & Dimensions. But then I don't listen for that, I don't have that going on in my mind. But there's definitely a transition there. I mean, the end of “Alice” is extremely uplifting, and I thought that was a new thing for them. But I dunno... maybe not, because when I listened to the basics, it sounded like that.”
Is there scope for future collaboration between yourself, Greg and Stephen?
“We've talked about doing some live collaborations in the future, but I don't know how that's going to work. I guess Stephen seems to be able to make things possible, he's just that kind of a person, I mean, just conceptually. That's how it was with this recording. At first I couldn't really conceive it, I was just trying to figure out what he was hearing. But yeah, hopefully we'll do more. I don't see why not. There's so many people involved... it's not a community but it's a mentality of like-minded people that worked on this from their own angles. I'm thinking of the engineers, the guys in Vienna, they had a lot to do with the choir parts, that was like their crew, and Stephen had some connections over there, Attila's in Budapest, y'know, then over here in Seattle they're working with a lot of different people, so I think it's like they put people into vibration.”
“Yeah. We're like vibrating stones, in a way. Have you ever seen that movie,Meetings With Remarkable Men? It's a movie about Gurdjeff's life, and in the very first scene there are some musicians meeting for a competition to vibrate the stones in the mountains, somewhere in Afghanistan or whatever. They're all playing beautiful music then finally one guy starts singing some overtones and tunes up to the vibrations, the resonance of all these mountains. That's what they did to us. [laughs] Y'know?
Is there anything specific you have taken away from your experience with Sunn O)))?
“There definitely is. I'm not sure if I can really grasp it. I have a feeling that anything can fit with anything else, if you look at it from the right way. And the way that you make a piece of music or create something into the reality is one particular perspective. You put together things from many different perpectives, so it's a question of finding the right perspective to look at it from and then anything can really fit with anything else. That's one thing. And another is just the whole idea of envelopes and dynamics of sound. It's a little more of a technical point, but it really stretched how I thought of a crescendo or a de-crescendo, or a dynamic level. It was a real in-depth study of that for all of us. It was very difficult for the musicians, too. It was a real challenge, even for Stuart Dempster and Julian Priester. All the musicians that are on there are incredible, I mean real virtuosos, you know, and this music really, really challenged all of them, and all of us too, to go further into the concept of envelopes and dynamics over an extended period of time. So I have that to thank them for... I'll never be the same.” -

Earshot Jazz Interview 2002

Eyvind Kang: Every Thing Is Part of the Whole

In the past six years, Eyvind Kang has traveled to the far reaches of this planet: places like India, Italy, Iceland, and Oklahoma. Every place he goes to, he forms new musical relationships. Earlier this month he went to Utah and Idaho, where he played with local musicians that he had previously connected with. A look at Kang’s discography reveals a constellation of collaborations with quite dissimilar artists. But his way of playing is very open and seems to reflect a connection with his environment and history, rather than any separate identity. Kang was born in Corvallis, Oregon, but lived in several different cities, mostly in Canada, through his childhood. He attended high school in Edmonton, Alberta, and spent two years at the University of Alberta in Edmonton as a philosophy major before relocating to Seattle, where he has lived or, more accurately, where he has based his life for the past 10 years. When he arrived in Seattle, Kang reconnected with the violin, an instrument he had started early, but had set aside for his philosophical pursuits. He came to Seattle to study music at Cornish College of the Arts. “It was sort of my alibi for moving here, really,” he says. “I had just heard about it. I wasn’t really interested in studying music in school. But Cornish is very open and is quite different. What was really cool was just going to school with Tim Young and Mike Stone and other talented players. I just got into playing a lot, like all day. That was how we learned, just by playing all the time.” We sat on the floor of his Seattle loft among piles of books about arcane knowledge, and recordings of music, to discuss his music: past, present, and future. He showed me a CD he was listening to. It was Australian aboriginal dream music. “Their idea,” he explained, “is that ancestral musicians come to you in your dreams and teach you the music. You wake up and you’ve been given this music.” It’s an idea that connects directly to Kang’s own attitudes about the creative process.

Earshot: When did you study at Cornish and how was your experience there? Who did you study with?

EK: I heard about Cornish College from Denney Goodhew and Bill Frisell while I was over in Edmonton, and ended up going there from 92–94, and it was a really good experience, a good place to study especially for an unorthodox fellow such as myself. What happened was, I started playing and practising a lot, after having more or less quit for a couple of years. My biggest influences from that time were Michael White, Jim Knapp, Dave Peck, Julian Priester, Hadley, Janice Giteck and Jared Powell. I didn’t have a violin teacher at Cornish until I met Michael White. He had moved up from the Bay Area and knew Hadley Caliman. I met him and it worked out that I could study with him. He is really, in addition to his music, a very inspiring person to be around and just to know, just to hear his stories. That’s how a started to figure out what jazz is about, beyond just the records.

Earshot: Did He encourage you to learn to play tunes and take a standard jazz approach?

EK: Yes. I learned tunes that he chose. Mostly Charlie Parker stuff. It was different ways of teaching that. I would play these Parker tunes really, really slow and do it in every key. I still have tapes of some of those lessons, and it doesn’t sound like Charlie Parker.

Earshot: How did you initially come to the violin? The tuba?

EK: I studied violin in “Suzuki” method classes in Regina, Saskatchewan, when I was a child of six. I got out of that pretty quick. Tuba I learned in school band at Winnipeg, Manitoba; I came late for school and all the other instruments were taken up.

Earshot: Was your initial musical interest European classical since you played violin?

EK: No, but the pedagogy of learning violin was entirely hijacked by that kind of music, and I got trapped into it like so many kids. But I learned to love it, and still do, It’s just a shame that music is used as a kind of cultural propaganda, held up by institu- tions and foundations, just to say over and over that “white is right.”

Earshot: When did you begin to deal with spontaneous music making?

EK: A truly great pianist in Edmonton named Bill Emes, who passed away a couple years ago, introduced me to free improvisa- tion and it blew my mind. I started to hear all this free jazz which I hadn’t really heard before. I loved it and it made me start to play violin again. It was really hard to, after having studied classical music for such a long time, kind of break out of that thinking. It took me awhile.

Earshot: Are there particular inspira- tions or belief systems that you draw inspiration from in your creative process?

EK: Mitakuye Oyasin (Lakota Sioux language) means “all my relations” or “we are all related” meaning Everything is related, from people down to little molecules. What we call “music” is a link between material and immaterial dimen- sions, and goes both ways as communica- tion. In Sanskrit, this is called “ahata” (struck sound) and “anahata” (unstruck sound). Michael White proved to me that music is the “healing force of the universe.” Michael White also mentioned to me that everyone has a song, and it gives a purpose in a person’s life to hear that and learn that song. In com- position, songs come to me and I bring them out. I believe these are messages from a different dimension, and I hope they will help bring healing vibrations into this world.

Earshot: When did you first venture out to the east coast?

EK: Well, I finished at Cornish in 1994. But I had already been to New York to visit. I met (John) Zorn and played in Cobra and got on this tour they were doing. I was still at Cornish when I did that. I met a lot of musicians who I’m still good friends with, like Anthony Coleman. So many people I met then; it’s a big ensemble. That is also how I met Trevor Dunn and Trey Spruance Eyvind Kang: Every Thing Is Part of the Whole BY STEVE CLINE “It’s hard to explain but it was really “surprising what ended up happening. “You start hearing all these sounds “that are like voices or something.” from San Francisco and I joined Secret Chiefs 3, a band I played in for quite a while. I got involved in different projects. I started working on my first Tzadik record about that time, although I had started that before I knew any of those people. Also around that time I met Wayne and Bill, who were here. I played on Bill’s soundtrack to this Gary Larson cartoon, Tales From the Far Side. Then Bill made the quartet record. This all kind of happened around the same time.

Earshot: Your first two Tzadik recordings are 7 NADEs and Theater of Mineral NADEs. Explain NADE.

EK: I can’t really explain what it is. A lot of people have asked me to. I wrote a piece about it in a book called Arcana: Musicians on Music. But then I went on tour with Secret Chiefs 3 and we were in Atlanta, Georgia, and these two guys came up to me, out of the blue, and they just broke it down; they explained the whole thing. They had read the article and heard the CDs and were really into it. It actually blew my mind. I was like “whatever it is, you got it. You know what it is.” And I kind of felt like it was a hand-off, like as soon as they told me that I was like “oh, great, I don’t need to keep doing that anymore.”

Earshot: Did your third Tzadik recording, The Story of Iceland, come about from your recent travels to Iceland?

EK: No. I used to live in Iceland when I was young. My mother is Icelandic and it was my first language. I’ve always been fascinated by that place. I don’t know why I called the record that. I just thought of it and the record was always going to be called The Story of Iceland.

Earshot: Is there a project that you are working on now?

EK: Mostly recordings. I have just finished two CDs which will be out this summer, one is called Virginal Co-ordinates which was recorded in Bologna, Italy in 2000 at the Angelica festival, with singer Mike Patton, and Michael White and Tim Young, and a 22 person orchestra, and live processing and sound movements by Evan Schiller and Tucker Martine. Another is called Live Low to the Earth, in the Iron Age which I recorded with the Neti-neti band, over at Aleph studio with Randall Dunn. A third thing is called Petrified Wood, which is an ongoing project with strings. But over at Aleph Studio I’m mixing a live performance recording from Roulette last year in New York which involves Charlie Burnham and Jenny Scheinman on violins, me on viola, Jane Scarpiantoni and Okk Yung Lee on cellos, and Trevor Dunn, Shahzad Ismaily and Kato Hideki and Skulli Sverrisson on basses. It gets pretty heavy. I’m playing with a great virtuoso of Persian tar, named Amir Koushkani, from Vancouver. We made a duet CD called In the Path of Love and performed at the Freer Gallery in Washington, DC. Playing with Amir is another kind of trance. Amir is a great friend. our music is totally positive and spiritual in intention. I’m also working on mixing a CD that I recorded with Skulli Sverrisson in Iceland last year, with two other Icelandic musicians, Hilmar Jenson and Mathias Hemstock who are incredible. The music scene over in Reykjavik is extraordinary.

Earshot: How was the Virginal Co-ordinates performance in Italy organized?

EK: I was invited there by the Angelica festival in 1998. For some reason that didn’t work out. But they contacted me again in 2000. What had happened was that Bologna was sort of a cultural center in Europe and they had an extra grant from the European Union. (Musicians) had put together an ensemble called Playground that was comprised mostly of Italian musicians, a few Germans, and one French guy. They formed their own ensemble and commissioned a composition from me. It was their thing but then they collaborated with Angelica Festival to do this thing. With the extraordinary support they could bring us
out there. We all stayed over there for a couple of weeks; I stayed for six weeks. Then there were two performances and we recorded for three or four days between the performances. It came out cool. It will probably be out this summer, but it will be released by Angelica’s label in Italy.

Earshot: What is the concept behind Petrified Wood?

EK: It’s something I worked on later after some of the ideas I had worked on with the graphic scores I used in Italy. I just wanted to use string players because they can control intonation in a way that I understand. One of the things I was really fascinated with was how you can tune intervals with each other and hear other tones. I was trying to set up things where we could have tuned intervals based on a relationship with a pitch that one other person is playing. It’s hard to explain but it was really surprising what ended up happening. You start hearing all these sounds that are like voices or something. The music is very ambient, it’s basically drones.

Earshot: The Varmint performance was great. And I was really pleased that you were part of that. Nobody knew you would be. How did you end up in Varmint? Was it last minute or just kept secret?

EK: Secret, because nobody was sure if I would show up, after having disappeared and gone over to Utah for some time.

Earshot: With Graham Haynes’ appearances, and with Sawka and PK producing a new thing that you and Frisell are getting with, do you see the activity here as a new direction in the music? Or is it something that has been happening elsewhere? What do you think it is and what its importance might be?

EK: People can dance to it. This has been going on for some time, here and in other towns. Graham was doing a night called “Electric Church” in New York, that I played on once. He had some connections with the Asian drum and bass scenes in London. And our friend Shahzad Ismaily played bass with drummer Jojo Meyer on a weekly party called “Shine” in New York. Graham had the idea to make a band with a very loud stage volume and drum and bass beats, called “Broken Sound Barrier,” with me and Shahzad. In Seattle, I started seeing Siamese on Wednesdays at the Rainbow last fall, and I was really into it. I met Kevin Sawka, he’s a nut, and Dave Z, the keyboard player, is really advanced in music. He knows Carnatic (South Indian) music to some extent, and they link it to the drum and bass thing, also with some connection to hip-hop. It’s extremely advanced. So we linked up, Graham made a bunch of trips to Seattle and is talking about moving here, driving across the country and calling from South Dakota, and telling me about different experiences he had in the midwest. Graham is a visionary, a searcher, a strange kind of catalyst. Kevin calls this kind of music “dance jazz.” It’s more than “live drum and bass,” and there’s a lot of people doing this for a long time, like Reggie Watts for example. To me, the main point is music to empower people to experience their own creativity, and it is really revolutionary, especially in New York where it is illegal to dance (no joke!). The whole concept is explained in “The Mass Psychology of Fascism” by Wilhelm Reich. So it is great that seriously great musicians of the level of Bill and Wayne (Horvitz) are into it; this is going to be a very positive experience for all of us.

Earshot: How does your time get spent between NYC and Seattle? What brings you to either city and what takes you back to the other?

EK: Destiny. Amazing thing, about this continent, there’s a lot of “Ley Lines” and big mysteries everywhere. But, cities such as Seattle and New York are naturally abusive, parasitical places, if only because of the process of importing food to eat from other places. It is so perverse, to be a musician travelling from city to city. But, it is a kind of blessing, too. Just pray, pray for the world in these cruel times.
from: Earshot Jazz, May 2002

"Virginal Co Ordinates" Interview

Interview by Efrén del Valle
(December 2004)

Perfect Sound Forever: Mike Patton's Ipecac recently reissued 2003'sVirginal Co Ordinates. I truly think it's your most elaborate work to date.
Eyvind KangVirginal is quite different from my other recorded works, in the sense that it was mostly done as a live recording with all the musicians from the playground ensemble. I don't know if the compositions are any better or worse than my other ones, but I noticed that there's a different feeling with everybody harmonizing with each other live, as opposed to being recorded using overdubs. Also, the place where Virginal was recorded and performed was a huge abandoned old theater with a very unique sound-quality – it was an old building in the center of Bologna – so I think the musicians really played to the resonance of the building itself, which was a very beautiful resonance.
PSF: How did the project come up? It was a commission, wasn't it?
EK: Yes, this piece was initiated as a kind of double commission from Angelica [for the Festival Internazionale di Musica] and the Playground ensemble. A guy named Massimo Simonini contacted me and brought up the idea. I thought it was a cool idea, but I didn't know what to expect over there. I wanted to work with some other people who I knew well, so I suggested bringing Michael White, Patton, Tim Young, Evan Schiller and Tucker Martine into the scene. It turned into a nice combination of people, and some friendships were born over there.
PSF: What were the inspirations for Virginal? There's a certain spiritual quality to it.
EK: Working with Michael White gave a lot of focus to that spiritual side. He was my teacher at one time, and he taught that music is essentially a healing force, so in this work I honored that teaching. That's another reason for the uplifting feeling: there was some musical concept of prayers involved. Most of the composing was freestyle, but the main musical preoccupations I was into at that time were the concept of harmonic purities, manifestation of other tones from combinations of notes, basically scientific concepts about sound that are often neglected in the art of playing acoustic instruments. I found a lot of this was explained in certain texts about alchemy and astronomy etc, which there is a tradition for those things in Bologna, like Johannes Kepler and his bookHarmonia Mundi.
At the University of Bologna at the time, there was an exhibition of alchemical art in the chemistry building, which was very nice to go to. They had photographs of certain architectures in towns like Prague, Bologna, Santiago de Compostela, which are known as "the devil's triangle" due to their former patronage for these arts. So by working with the acoustics of such an old building at the center of Bologna, trying to create difference and summation tones within the building's own resonances, I felt like I got to do some work within the alchemical tradition, to some extent. For better or worse, the live performances were sort of magical, and definitely had results in our lives. It's possible that the compositions were mediocre, or they didn't have much substance in and of themselves. However, I think they were a vehicle for this other stuff, the feeling that you noticed, an uplifting feeling which comes through.
Also, I was into a kind of social experiment, where we worked together as an ensemble without an authority figure, without a conductor, or any kind of controlling attitude. Compositionally, there was a lot of latitude for the players to make decisions regarding the form of the pieces. This was quite a challenge because there was also a language barrier there, and the Italian language is quite long and expressive, and it takes a lot of time to talk about things.
So there was a lot of chaos, talking and playing at the same time, explaining and questioning my concepts. And also there were a couple German guys, excellent musicians both, but in need of authority perhaps due to their own cultural experiences, and in the end they flipped out and walked (they came back after some time).
In alchemy, one of the main steps is to descend into the chaos, called "nigredo," and then to let a kind of order manifest itself from that chaos. So I followed that idea, not the idea of an authority person imposing the order from above; in other words, a kind of anarchy.
The next day after performing this music, there was a huge street riot, a "manifestation," in Bologna, protesting a meeting of the far-right political party, i.e. the Nazis, and it seemed to me related in some way with our musical work, not only in the physical proximity and temporal sequence, but also conceptually.
At the riot I met some people who had been in the audience of our concert the night previous, and I just asked them, why not just let the Nazis meet, why do you have to come with baseball bats to try to stop them? Why not let them expose themselves, see if their ideas are shit, or if they have some good ideas in some way. Those people responded that my thinking was too American for them, that they were sort of honor bound to try to shut these people down. But when I mentioned that I was from Seattle, they were happy because we had a riot there not long ago and stopped an important meeting of the World Trade Organization for a day or two. And they were comparing their riot to ours at that moment and sort of taking some inspiration from it; it was very beautiful.
PSF: Why did it take so long for the project to be released?
EK: Many reasons, including working on many other pieces at the same time, but also poverty and a fundamental lack of support, and changes in my personal life, such as relationships and death of close friends. After some time, I finally finished the work. It still took Angelica a while to release it, so this is a work with a long incubation period.
PSF: I can hear echoes from the so-called minimalists from the '60s (Reich, Riley, early Glass) – have they been influential to you? The Story of Icelandalso made me think of them, at least in the sense of developing a piece using the minimum amount of elements and, of course, the repeating patterns.
EK: My music has more in common with Icelandic music groups like Múm than the American so-called minimalists. Perhaps I'm not into movements in general, but I think it is a bit wrong to name a kind of repetitious music "minimalism" when there are so many far more minimal musics. Like virtually all dance music in the world in fact, from all eras. I would be more interested in doing folk music, people music, something that people can feel and relate to, and live and think within. I know that there's plenty to talk about on this subject, but that's the short answer. To me right now, I had to hold out long notes and repeat patterns in my composing, just to be able to see and work with it in detail in the sense of the harmonic proportions. The repetition is just a side effect, really. If I could be a kind of music master like Z.M. Dagar it might be a different story, but now I am also learning sound, and exploring sound, and I am opening it to other listeners for them to join. We have lost so much in music, so much compared to what they know in Indian music theory, or in an ancient text like Plato's Timaeus, or even in a composer like Hildegard. Those are some of the roots. In my opinion we have to look into these matters.
PSF: I hadn't thought about Virginal as related to alchemy, but the concept did come to mind when listening to Theater of Mineral NADEs, mainly because of the obvious connections to Middle Ages folk music.
EK: All 3 of the albums you mentioned are related with Al-Kemia (Arabic for chemistry); the cover art for example on theater of mineral is from a Dutch alchemical painting in the Amsterdam museum; The Story of Iceland has a woodblock from "prophecies of Paracelsus," and Virginal has some emblems from an engraving in a book called Viridarium Chymicum. I saw it in a book called the "alchemical mandalas" by Adam McLean, who is a great scholar. It seems to me that the science of matter, and the science of sound vibrations are quite related, perhaps they are different dimensions. That comes across a great dualistic divide between matter and energy, or body and mind, or whatever you want to call it, but I just like the alchemical symbols and art; maybe if they represented it in paintings, why not do the same in a piece of music?
PSF: While I thought Virginal Co Ordinates and The Story of Iceland were inspired by the Middle Ages classical tradition, it seems that Theater was more oriented to folklore, that is, the music "of the people."
EK: Yes, Theater of Mineral NADEs is mostly dance music. It sounds like popular music in some way, but Iceland and even 7 NADEs is also for people – all of my music is for them. The Middle Ages classical tradition, there really isn't one tradition. There's the sort of journey of certain music theories and philosophy, along with astronomy and math that came from India and Persia and central Asia and Egypt and Greece, through the Arab world and to Spain and Italy during Andalusian times and the Renaissance, with so many texts being translated into Latin for the first time. So many musical instruments like lute and violin were made and designed codified for the first time, and a theory of tuning adapted from the Pythagorean circle of fifths, tempered for the apparent purpose of harmonic modulations (which was an impossible task).
There are different composers like Hildegard, like Leonin and Perotin, and so on, but mostly the composers were sort of anonymous, so what kind of tradition is that? If there was a general movement, I wouldn't think of it as tradition. You know how weeds move in the water? They all sway together with a wave, and I think that's like how music gets created by people. There is always the music of the people; they create their own music, and pass it to different generations. Where did it come from according to history? It's an impossible question. Since there are more melodies than people to sing them, the people can never know the history of their own music, so I think that an individual's intuition is basically enough for this kind of music. But it takes a lot of devotion and sacrifice, like a Sardinian guy who is trying to learn the "launedas" hiding out at a party, in a closet, to hear the secret music.
PSF: There are lots of musical references on Theater, from reggae to bossa nova to Indian music. Was it intended as a musical journey across the world, or at least, across a wide range of your musical interests?
EK: The actual compositions are mostly improvised. Actually, at that time I was beginning to travel a lot, through Europe and to India and North Africa, and I used to get a lot of tapes and CDs, and sort them together in compilation tapes mostly for gifts to my friends. Then I tried to make the album flow like the tapes, from one mood to another.
PSF: What was the inspiration for The Story of Iceland?
EK: I made the composition in India, while standing in about a foot of water in the Indian Ocean, just looking at the moon. It is a simple pattern of modulations on a mantra-like melody from a bhajan by Saint Mirabai. I feel the warmth of India at night when I think about this. I don't know why it becameThe Story of Iceland; I guess it was "Hour of Fair Karma," due to its circular form – "Sweetness of Candy" is just like a flower which blooms and quickly fades – but "Hour of Fair Karma," being that there are short, percussive sounds similar to a clock..."10:10" is a surrealist poem, a sort of idiotic refrain I could not give up. "Ayanamsha" is a measure of the difference in the positions of the stars according to Indian and Western astrology.
PSF: You mentioned chaos in relation to Virginal, and it made me think about your improvisational side. Is it still an important part of your work as a musician? Is it comparable in any ways to composition or do you criss-cross both aspects in your approach?
EK: Yes, the whole thing has improvisation. When I went looking for a teacher, whether it was Michael White or Dr. N Rajam in Bombay, I was looking for a way that I could trust, to find more structures to follow within an improvisation. In a way, free improvisation is my roots. Conversely, all music is improvised, it is just a concept. Like a church organ player who is playing some Bach to fit in a mass, the music has different meanings sort of, depending on what gets said before and after in the ceremony. Even if the notes are written down, the resonance of meanings are still associated by the musician and listener in an improvisational way.
PSF: Your violin playing always makes me think of Indian music. Perhaps it goes back to your learning days, I don't know. Was it part of your musical education? Did you have a classical education?
EK: Well, I went to India to study with a great violinist Dr. N. Rajam, who is an impossibly perfect violinist. Her style is called Gayaki Ang. Although I barely touched the surface of this, I wanted to keep the emotion (called "rasa") of her style, which is mostly a longing feeling. Musical learning, I'm still trying to learn, it doesn’t end. I used to study with Michael White, and he has a lot of experience in music and in life to say the least. He was telling me "I'm here to learn!" Kala Ramnath, Bill Frisell, Amir Koushkani, the musicians who I really respect, are all trying to learn.
PSF: "Live Low to the Earth in the Iron Age" is performed theoretically by Eyvind Kang and the Neti-Neti Band, but you haven't revealed who the Neti-Neti Band are. Does this have anything to do with the "Neti-Neti" concept related to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali? Is the Neti-Neti Band would be Eyvind Kang alone, but an Eyvind Kang who has parted with all the elements that were "part of him" but were not his actual "he", including ego, wishes, ambitions...just Eyvind Kang at its purest?
EK: I don't know too much about the Neti-Neti method of meditation as described by Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj; I just like it, and I named my band that because it is "not this and not that." However, listening back to "Iron Age" I found that it sounds like something, rather than nothing. I keep working on the negative side, to sound like not this and not that; it's just me playing, it's not even a band. Like Virginal Co Ordinates, and now two collaborative pieces I am working on, they've been recorded without a concept or any particular plan in mind, including any musical ideas. That's why I consider it "not this and not that," but ideas came forward anyway, like in a meditation, to just let them be there, and let them go by. Those were the musical blessings, I guess, the kind of musical entities that just exist and go through music, but I feel that I would like to go to the negative side, to make really, nothing.
As far as the thing about repetitions, I think it has to do with a function of how time behaves; it doesn't actually matter, does it, how many repetitions there are in a piece? Or if there are any – the moments go by depending on what you consider a moment. George Berkeley said something good about this, in terms of fetishizing the repetitive. Sound frequency is conditioned on repetition of air pressure; maybe all experience, like waking up, eating, etc. is minimalist (or maximalist, depending on your point of view). The past couple years, I'm working more on moments that are not really repetitive at all, but more minimal. Then again, I like the feeling that you get, that you're sort of ascending; it's probably a real kind of brain wave like theta.
PSF: Do you feel equally comfortable playing written/partly-written material and 100% improvised music? I assume each one has its own joys.
EK: Total improvisation is more painful to me, that is why I didn't like it at all. But nowadays, I feel like trying it again; a big commitment. This is kind of the opposite of Neti-Neti music, to pronounce, through actions, I am creating music Now.
PSF: I'm focusing on your Tzadik and Avant albums and Virginal Co Ordinatesfor practical reasons: your other works are hard-to-find.
EK: I know. Conlon Nancarrow, I was thinking of the availability of his works, and how underappreciated they are, about how it's left to high art society people to preserve his pieces, when actually the works are also based in popular music. But then it seems he had other things on his mind: he came to Spain to fight against Franco with the Lincoln Brigade, and thereafter he basically had to leave the USA and live in Mexico, because he was considered a communist or something. Anyways, it seems he was a great person, a spirit, who did things that he believed in.
PSF: When you look at the "music business," how can you believe in it?
EK: These days pop music is the typical sound environment of a city, besides the noise of cars etc. So to create music with that kind of sound is quite natural, I would think, for a composer. But there is a distinction to be made, between the intent and the function of different pieces. Basically, if it profits, it's pop, if it relies on subsidies from various government institutions and private foundations in order to exist, it is art. The content of the work is irrelevant.
I believe that the way music is marketed to the people of various countries is rooted in a racist (or at least race-based) concept of cultures (even the word "genre" has an implication of the genetic). Mostly, record stores just divide up the CDs by race, or at least by the nation-state of the musicians. They don't think of other ways, like the elevation or humidity, like mountain peoples' section, desert peoples' section, etc, though that might make sense, musically. In America, where the patent for recording was first issued, the original divide between recordings and "race records" i.e. black music is still very obvious. There's a good book by Amiri Baraka called Blues People which starts with the tradition of Vaudeville theater. White actors painted their faces black and acted like (parodies of) black people, but were soon replaced after the "emancipation" of the black "slaves" by black actors who imitated the white actors, who had been imitating black people as they saw them. According to Baraka, that was the birth of the black music tradition called blues, and in a way "blues" is the start of American popular music in a commercial sense.
So it emerges as a sort of spiral twisting in on itself, between the polarities of the signifier and signified, the representation and the represented. There are many other cultures to be represented; the whole music business these days is like Vaudeville upon Vaudeville. Instead of just colonizing other cultures, they represent them back to themselves in a Vaudeville form. This subject is just too extensive and subversive to go into you'd need to analyze the whole capitalist philosophy and that's out of my league at the moment.
PSF: The U.S. reality is obviously different from here in Europe, but less and less over time. We started borrowing from American culture decades ago and the whole thing is becoming annoying: McDonalds, Hard Rock Café, megastores, groups singing in English,'s ridiculous.
EK: There's some different things there. Globalization, corporation-ism, colonialism, economic terrorism, concepts that exist in spite of nations, but they have a mask on it as being American. I go to McDonalds in New York City – any McDonalds, it's incredible. I think in there one is likely to find people, culture. It's deep. But in prisons across the country; it's famous, there's real cultures there. Whole cultural movements have come from American prisons. Think about a band like Las Grecas, who I really love, or the whole concept of "rock gitano" (there's a Spanish band I'm thinking of but I forgot their name right now...they have an LP with their name stamped in a brick of hash!) that is also "borrowed" from American culture. On a larger picture, there's the side of flamenco repertoire called "cantos de ida y vuelta" which are like tangos and rhumbas and beats that came back from the occupied colonies with a different feeling. I just read this book by Jean Baudrillard that is quite helpful about these matters, it is called Simulations and Simulacra. I recommend it!
PSF: The people here have grown quite skeptical about what's happening in the world due to the American administration's foreign (and domestic) policy.
EK: I consider what is happening as a part of the colonial mentality of Europe (or as Lou Harrison would say, "Northwest Asia") taken to another level. Americans celebrate Christopher Columbus day every year: when the great navigator was governor of Hispaniola (now Haiti) he was responsible for the deaths of 8 million Taino people. American schoolchildren learn about him as a sort of saint. Since the newly-formed revolutionary government of USA made about 800 treaties with those indigenous nations that were already here on this continent, and broke every single one of those, why should other nations in the world be surprised that they broke recent treaties like Kyoto, etc.? Isn't it obvious that the USA has always been cynical?
PSF: How does that affect an artist like you, you know 9/11, etc?
EK: September 11th happened when I was in Brooklyn hanging out with some friends. That day, I got a great education into drum 'n' bass, jungle, breakbeats, and so-called "intelligent dance music" which I think is a retarded name for music. Anyway, a great DJ named Soulslinger came by and really broke down what each DJ was doing and what constituted what sound like "jump-up" or "tech-step" or even just "electronic music." During that time we kept going up to the roof to watch the buildings falling down and people looking like bhutto dancers covered in white powder walking around. I went outside, talked to a lot of people including some secretaries from the WTC who walked all the way to Brooklyn; they said their feet hurt from the high heel shoes. A lot of people were crying, but I never cried any tears until the next day.
Jessika Kenney 

Jessika Kenney: Singing from the Heart

For Issue #84 of SUFI, singer Jessika Kenney shared with us her journey from singing jazz in her teens, through her musical explorations in Indonesia, to her discovery and love affair with Persian music and culture.
“What’s the difference between the myna bird making the sound of a camera flash and an actual camera making that sound? It’s a very strange relationship, and I think it leads into some of the same territory as Persian Sufi poetry. It says something about our notions of reality and non-existence. The more exactly you mirror something, the more separate existence fades away; you begin to set yourself aside.”
Since experiencing Persian Avaz for the first time, listening to the great Ostad Mohammad Reza Shajarian’s CD Bidad, Jessika Kenney has become an accomplished singer of this Persian style of singing, and one of the few non-Iranians to do so. She has approached her study of the Persian language and Sufi culture – crucial to the understanding of many classical poems that make up the majority of the lyrical repertoire of Avaz – with as much enthusiasm as her singing practice.
She shared her insights into the process of learning and understanding Avaz, and adapting her knowledge of the techniques and modal scales of classical Persian Radif into her compositional work. To read the full interview subscribe to SUFI, and to hear her in action listen below – a recording with her teacher Ostad Hossein Omoumi, Madjid Khaladj, Amir Koushkani, and Naser Musa. - -

"Voices of Spring" - Hossein Omoumi Ensemble

The Stonehouse Songs, vocal music of Jarrad Powell


Read a transcript of Joseph Stannard's conversation with vocalist Jessika Kenney, part of a series of exclusive interviews with collaborators and members of Sunn O))
How did you first come into contact with Sunn O)))?
“That was through Randall, the engineer. He was the person I connected to Asva [California-based drone outfit featuring ex-Sunn O))) collaborator G. Stuart Dahlquist] through as well, although there are lots of varied connections and mutual friends that we have, probably due to just being around Seattle. As for this latest thing... yeah, I don't know.”
“Well, I don't think I could just blame it on that, because we have a lot of similar interests as well, but yeah... I don't know. I don't know how to explain that connection. It seems like it's something definitely beyond the particular place or the particular concept of the music. Maybe there's something of a philosophical affinity that we have.”
Where would you locate that philosophical crossover?
“It's hard to say because it's kind of more defined by what it isn't than what it is. The lack of the limitations of a genre, or a subculture, a or type of music. But I don't know... I don't know exactly.”
You've worked not only with Sunn O))) and Asva, but also with US Black Metal outfit Wolves In The Throne Room. Would you say that you had a special affinity for this kind of densely textured, heavy music?
“Well, I'm not really interested in the heaviness of it, that's not really how I think of it, but I'm very interested in the full spectrum experience of sound, and a lot of my experience has been with tuned metal and percussion, so I'm really interested in non-linear relationships of tonalities and harmonic relationships. So I feel like what Sunn O))) is doing is very inspiring and beautiful in those kind of non-linear, harmonic relationships. I don't think of it as specifically Sunn O))), but just the experience of a loud, distorted guitar [laughs]. I mean, I can remember many shows I've gone to, where I'd be in the audience just singing along with the feedback, especially the upper partials. Sometimes I would just do that and create different kinds of beating patterns. That's what I was really having a good time with in Asva as well. It's more of a physical experience of sound.”
Sunn O))) could be considered part of a tradition which includes composers such as LaMonte Young, Tony Conrad and Terry Riley. Stephen however seems to be trying to connect to something even more fundamental than that, the roots of that tradition.
“Well, I think we're all trying to search for something with sound as the force, and not necessarily social configurations, or even cultural concepts. Just trying to go to sound as something that's alive and has its own will and way that it wants to go, and way that it wants to be known. I think that would be a point that we're very kindred on.”
Stephen definitely seems to view the sound as an entity in itself, above and beyond the individual egos involved.
“Yeah, and more undefinable.”
Have you ever performed live with Sunn O)))?
“No, and I don't think that's something that we're planning.”
“I'm not really sure. Yeah, I think that would be an interesting experience, but most of what I'm really interested in doing right now is very acoustically based. I don't know, it's never come up.”
Can you tell me a little about the choir that performs on “Big Church”?
“They were friends of some friends of ours in Vienna, and they have sung together in groups, but they came as individual people. They're very good, trained singers, and very sophisticated in their thinking. You could just picture, they'd already been singing Schoenberg and whatever, they were beginning with that. So it didn't really surprise them. I think when the guitars first came in, it was a bit humourous for them, but they quickly immersed themselves in it and had incredible focus. It was really an interesting session, because it was down in the basement of this huge building, this very old building, which used to be a hangar for building airplanes. I think it was probably at least 200 or 300 years old, and just kind of damp and dank, and had a very intense vibe. You'd go down two or three flights of stairs and you're in this kind of brick room, and having these six singers plus me and Attila, just wailing and wailing for hours... really, it was like a very beautiful ritual. And I thought it was very interesting too, to hear singers from Vienna singing in Hungarian. There's something profound about it, the different layers of history, going back a few centuries, and the connections between Austria and Hungary, the Austro-Hungarian Empire. For them to be chanting something in Hungarian, it had an interesting ring. The way they pronounced the word, how they thought about it. I was just really amazed by them.”
I'm interested in your own interpretation of the 44-letter word repeated throughout that track, megszentségteleníthetetlenségeskedéseitekért. Attila told me that when he first came up with the concept for the lyric, he had to sit down with Stephen and explain it at length before they achieved a level of clarity.
“I think there was always a lot of disagreement, even after Attila described the grammar of the word, how each part breaks down and relates as one concept. We all disagreed to what that word might actually be applied to and what it would mean. I was looking at the liner notes on the CD and how the word was translated, thinking back.... the original definition that I was excited by was that this word represents the result of acting as if it is impossible to deconsecrate something. And that meaning – and this is my own take – that nothing can be deconsecrated. That, even though people have these concepts of good and evil, pure and impure, these extremely dualistic concepts, that actually it is impossible, or it would be a profound result, to show that it is impossible, to deconsecrate anything. The sacred is something that is undamageable. But I know that Attila had an idea, and I agreed with his concept, that it was more kind of a legalistic term. That it was almost like an accusation. It's the result of this, your punishment, or what came back to you because you refused to admit that something could be deconsecrated, that your self could be unholy, for example. He was saying it was like a criminal state, for example, like a member of the clergy, or someone who was considered to be holy, and because of their social status, refuses to admit that they could actually deconsecrate themselves. Attila's agenda was more to rail against that. Like, 'You say that you're holy but you've made yourself unholy, and the result of you acting as if you could not be made unholy is this song, which is my indictment of you.' But I find that less exciting. I'm more excited by the impossibility of deconsecrating something.”
It's very consistent with the Sunn O))) way of being, the element of myth and mystery, that the new album should harbour a conundrum of this kind.
“Yes, and it's childlike, as Attila said. The word is almost like a joke, it's something that they teach to children in school, to show how the Hungarian language works. You can add on so many parts to a word and it can get ridiculously long, and here's the example. That's very playful. I like that you said that, that it's like a riddle.”
It's very pleasing and unexpected to find a piece of music which contains a kind of linguistic puzzle.
“Oh, yes. A focus for discussion. We've been so involved in that lately, because I've been learning the Persian language and doing a lot of translating classical poetry, just spending hours and hours sitting with my teacher discussing all the possible meanings for a line of poetry, having to go through not only English to Persian, Persian to English, but back to 800 years ago and poem, which is great because it has hundreds, possibly infinite ways of being interpreted. It's so personal and it can help people so much to find their own meaning in it. But how you find that can be very rigorous and very intense. This great teacher moved to Seattle, and I started studying with him, although I was already performing a lot as a singer, I started off in a whole new place as a baby of Persian music, and have just been working with him since that time, for about five years. It's more qualities of music or qualities of sound that drew me to it rather than anything that could represent the music culturally. I feel in a way very innocent to that, but I feel very involved in the musical understanding, the poetic understanding.”
Does this tie in with your contribution to Sunn O)))? Do you approach this music with a similar understanding?
“I think I might only tie it in as far as finding that place where you can feel free of certain concepts and limitations, and you can naturally connect to sound and the physical experience of sound. I feel that in both cases, with Sunn O))) or with Persian music. It's mystical, actually. It's a mystical experience, which is beyond intellectual comprehension. It's also very mundane, it's something that can happen through just not knowing something, just ignorance! Not to make it into something too grand and lofty, but I do think it has the ability to elevate your spirit, to approach something with that kind of attitude, with Sunn O))), or with Persian music, or any kind of creative work.”
Sunn O)))'s music seems to be halfway between organism and structure. Do you think of music as a living thing, or as an environment? Are we talking biology or architecture?
“Well that's just a beautiful question. In the realm of sound, what's the difference between a body and something that's not alive, that's just a structure? It seems very possible that music could be the place where those two things unite.”

» Wolves in the Throne Room - Celestial Lineage (Southern Lord - 2011) 
» Mamiffer- Mare Decendrii (Ideologic Organ 2011)(Sige Records/Conspiracy/Daymare - 2011) 
» Lou Harrison - Scenes from Cavafy: Music for Gamelan (New World Records - 2010) w/ Gamelan Pacifica 
» Sun City Girls - Funeral Mariachi (Abduction - 2010) 
» Gamelan Madu Sari - Hive (Songlines - 2010)
» Sunn O))) - Monoliths & Dimensions (Southern Lord - 2009)
» Wolves in the Throne Room - The Two Hunters (Southern Lord - 2007) 
 » Asva - Futurists Against The Ocean (Mimicry Records, 2005) 
» Asva - The Third Plague/A Trap For Judges (Enteruption Electric Heavyland - 2005) 12" 
» Black Cat Orchestra - Long Shadows At Noon Yoyo (YoYo Recordings - 2003)   
» Black Cat Orchestra - Mysteries Explained (Irene - 2001) 

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