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Jason Kahn
"Songline"
(2015)
Editions 004 Double LP

Jason Kahn // voice

Edition of 250
Heavy weight 180 gram vinyl.
Hand-painted covers on thick gray cardboard.

Recorded January 12, 2015 in Zürich, Switzerland.
Mastering, liner notes and LP artwork Jason Kahn.

Many thanks to the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia for their generous support.

This record is dedicated to the memory of Mark Trayle (1955 - 2015)

Download liner notes here.

Side A: Songline 1 (20.46)

Side B: Songline 2 (20.56))

Side C: Songline 3 (20.47)

Side D: Songline 4 (20.50)

Excerpts:











Price including post to Europe: 25.00 euros

Price including post to rest of the world: 30.00 euros

Songline was recorded during one evening in the rooms of a former Swisscom telephone relay station in Zürich. I decided to use the main room, which was entirely empty. Its linoleum floors, bare walls and many windows made for a very resonant space. Double glass windows sealed off the world outside but many sounds still emanated from somewhere deep in the bowels of the building.

My vocal work goes back a few years now, appearing here and there on various recordings. Songline is my first studio recording devoted solely to voice. Each of the four pieces from this session reflect different thematic and technical areas I've been working in. And all pieces are improvised, without any post-recording editing. What the listener hears on this record is what took place in this room.

This was a challenge to myself, to go through these pieces as if I stood before an audience: no stopping, re-starting. To pull through. Which, in retrospect, was much more difficult than I'd anticipated, as when performing live the energy of the audience and the dynamics of the situation tend to propel me through a performance. There is adrenalin and a certain sense of urgency. All of which I didn't have going for me on the evening I recorded these pieces. I was alone in front of the microphones. I hit the record button and that was it.

What I love about singing is the sense of peril. I'm not a trained singer and I guess my technique is pretty primitive by conventional standards. A lot of what I do is about pushing myself towards the brink of failure, of crashing. That kind of onward thrust towards the cliff. Can I do this, will I make it through the performance, do I have the stamina, where is this going to go? All questions which could conceivably run through my mind during a performance, but which never actually make it to my consciousness. Because if they did, I'd seize up. The show would be over.

But these feelings are there when I sing. And each performance somehow feels fresh, like I'm exploring new ground, reaching for the cracks in my vocal chords, pushing the voice to break. And when it does, to go with this, to welcome it. Sometimes I feel in control and sometimes my limitations determine the direction I can take. But mostly I go where my voice will lead me.

When I perform live I feel acutely tuned into the social space of the situation. Which means for me that space between performer and audience. Of course, every performer is aware of this, whatever instrument they play. As with myself, regardless of sitting behind the drums or playing electronics. But with the voice I feel like an exposed nerve. There is nothing to hide behind, no instrument, nothing between me and the listener.

I perform acoustically, so there is not even the option of using the sound system to take refuge in. I'm just there, in front of you. I'm sitting in a chair and singing. And though I sometimes find it a bit terrifying, putting myself through this, I also feel exhilarated by my vulnerability. This is alive, we are sharing this place in time together. Resonating the social space with my voice. Standing waves of energy.

I feel influenced by much of my work as an electronic musician. The notion of noise and distortion and sounds pulled to their breaking point. But more than this, I feel inspired by the social fabric all around me: all the anguish and joy and the crazy lunacy and dumbness that life is. Sometimes I just want to scream or wail or howl. There is a certain catharsis to this but I just don't want to empty my soul out, vomiting all my innermost feelings for the audience to wade through.

As ambiguous as this all might sound, I want to convey emotion and a sense of being here, being present and that we're all in this together beyond the length of my set or even this life here, moving on to higher ground.

These recordings are dedicated to Mark Trayle, who passed away this year. He was a great inspiration for me, both as an artist and friend.


Reviews:

After having noted the event's location and date, the first impression assailing the mind as Jason Kahn begins to steer his gently sloping ululations towards a point of raspy disgregation is that of a man employing innermost resources to defeat extreme coldness. At the same time, the vocalizations heard in the opening movement remind us of babies getting acquainted with their own bodily resonance by obeying to "involuntarily Tuvan" implicit rules. For sure you can't question the purity of an infant's intent, or lack thereof; likewise, Kahn's research around the fruits of unadulterated intuition cannot be subjected to the usual kind of analytical criticism.
The few conspicuous elements we can clutch at are the different "technical" approaches inside a silence wrapped by a padded cocoon of remote urban echoes. Each side of this double LP comprises a confrontation with quietness along paths dictated by the voice itself and not by rational thinking, which would have negated the set's cathartic undercurrents. Kahn considered these aspects very carefully before the start; consequently, his emission sounds entirely delivered by comparative stickers and stylistic hypotheses. He uses stark-naked tones in the second part, saliva-drenched hisses and noises in the third; puts the larynx under stress in the fourth -- at times, no irony here, suggesting a grown-up kid throwing a tantrum -- with results that would have been lauded by the late Demetrio Stratos. However, this reviewer is not in the position of telling anyone what is "best" for them to hear. Rather, we experienced a symbiosis of sorts with the performer's essence, still remaining unable to extrapolate the reasons behind a long-distance bond that kept our brain switch stuck in "concentration mode" during the listening act.
When facing an audience, a solitary artist perceives a sense of danger. A gathering of people can absorb energy like nothing else, not to mention that they physically hinder fundamental reverberations. The complete isolation in a forsaken environment enhanced by natural reflectiveness created a parallelism between the necessity of a tough challenge and a deep probing of the self. Kahn appears to have been increasingly strengthened by the ricocheting propagations finding their way back home, within the originator. If you manage to identify with this particular situation, your understanding and appreciation of Songline -- a record that touches on essential issues of our prototypal being -- will be hugely improved.
>Massimo Ricci, Touching Extremes, 12.2015

Throughout his extensive discography and performance history, Jason Kahn has displayed two contradictory tendencies: strip soundmaking to its essentials of material, duration and texture, and strive for poetic, conceptual and socaial resonance. Songline is his first release dedicated to the voice, and on its four sidelong pieces he uncovers a transcendent link which runs between the two.
Kahn recorded the pieces on a single evening in a former telephone relay station in Zurich with no audience present, but he still treated it as it it were a live performance -- no edits, no starting over. He admits this choice deprived him of the social energy he receives in such situations, but what listeners get to access intrigues far more: an individual testing his psychic, mental and emotional limits.
On each improvisation, Kahn obsessively explores a different form of vocalization. "Songline 1: is all rasping and wheezing, like a 20 minute death rattle. "Songline 2" is more open and resonant, as he intones rounded, vowel-like utterance. The duration of the third section features air being expelled through clenched teeth in sibilant and fricative textures. The final piece comes closest to speech and singing, but it is still more of a shamantic chant, a pained, feral supplication to unseen forces.
The textures may differ, but the structure of each is similar. Kahn's basic unit is the individual breath, punctuated by pauses in which the deserted space reveals its presence. He extends each breath, however, to its last gasp and these continual moments of failure become the record's most fascinating parts. As a listener, you feel your experience merging with his. Each long, drawn out line moves from intimate to disembodied, from the familiar to the alien and estranged. Whay you hear is a cycle of disintegration and renewal, both biological and spiritual, made manifest.
> Matthew Wuetrich, The Wire, 11.2015

En janvier dernier, dans un ancien bâtiment de Swisscom, à Zürich, Jason Kahn passa une nuit à chanter. S'il dit ici que sa technique vocale est rudimentaire, il s'agissait pour lui de jouer avec un certain sens (« musical », on l'imagine) du péril : ne pas maîtriser un instrument obligeant de faire, lorsque l'on improvise au moins, avec un peu d'inattendu.
Huit chansons sur le fil, c'est-à-dire peu communes. Car voilà, Kahn vocalise comme d'autres expirent, soigne son inspiration davantage que ses notes (quand il en tient une, c'est pour la diminuer). En guise de couplets, voici des râles terribles ou de longs sanglots, des « o » et des « a » qu'il s'arrache avec force ; dans cet appel porté par l'écho, ce grognement appuyé ou telle interjection capricieuse, de possibles refrains. Sur la longueur de quatre faces, Jason Kahn chante à qui veut l'entendre qu'il est bel et bien là ; et si l'on tend l'oreille, on trouve en Songline une voix, certes, mais aussi une présence manifeste.
>Guillaume Belhomme, Le Son du Grisli, 12.2015

Jason Kahn är en mångsysslare. Ibland spelar han slagverk och ibland elektronik eller analog synt, men på nya skivan Songline hörs han på solosång. Arbetet med rösten påbörjade Kahn för några år sedan och hans uttryck är rått uttrycksfullt och naket utan finputsad teknik och konstigheter. Songline är hans första verk med enbart röst och de fina personliga liner-notesen beskriver hur utmanande och skrämmande detta val av ljudskapande är.
Skivan är inspelad i en gammal övergiven relästation och akustiken är väldigt fin: man känner rummet utan att det överrumplar en. Varje spår presenterar en viss teknik eller ett visst tema och Kahn är helt ensam, utlämnad till oss lyssnare. Han pressar fram rösten, det skorrar och skaver, fräser och väser men så ibland skiner en klar ton igenom och då inser man vilken vacker röst han har. Och det är just när de rena tonerna kommer som det blir riktigt intressant. Kahn lyckas i de långa tonerna utvinna en så stor mängd övertoner att det blir en polyfon hyllningssång till den mänskliga anatomin.
Över 80 minuter solosång är ganska mastigt. Kahn lyckas dock skapa variation som visserligen är liten men samtidigt tillräckligt stor för att musiken ska röra sig framåt. Man lyssnar med spänning och man känner hela tiden en energi som fängslar. Songline är utmanande och svårsmält men väldigt berikande.
> Joacim Nyberg, Sound of Music, 10.2015

Songline is a vocal-only record, released on Kahn's own Editions label. Laid down in an old telecoms relay station in Switzerland, it is Kahn's first release featuring studio voice recordings, and it complements his recent For Voice, on Mark Wastell's Confront label, which was the first live recording of his voice work. The four long pieces here -- corresponding to the four sides of the double album -- each create their own distinct sonic universe, with Kahn focusing on a single area of vocal technique in each, their idiosyncrasies accentuated by the cavernous resonance of the old Swiss Telecom building.
The A side is all heaves and gasps, with Kahn essaying long, protracted wheezes like some ancient Beckett anti-hero, alone in the void as he creeps inexorably towards death. Although wordless, the sounds have some resemblance to stretched vowels, Kahn's 'aahhs' and 'urrrghs' extended out so they become like drones, albeit drones that ebb and flow, the sounds at the start of each cycle degrading into strangled yelps as Kahn squeezes every last sonic molecule from the carbon dioxide expelled from his lungs. The other side isn't dissimilar, although here the sounds are less guttural, even resembling sine tones at times (the first five minutes particularly) and at others a solitary plainsong.
It's hypnotic and compelling, to be sure. But, for me, it's the second record where the magic happens. At first, on Side C, I suspect that Kahn has smuggled one of his shortwave radios into the recording session, as he floods the space with a fuzzy, static-like sound. In reality, he's making fricative, abrasive sounds, not unlike blowing a raspberry, in fact, but here lacking any kind of comedic or absurdist connotations, even when he deploys the high squeal more normally associated with a balloon releasing air through its pinched and moistened spout. No, these are more abstract sounds, almost animal more than human. Imagine a version of The Hobbit where Smaug the dragon is replaced with a vast Donald Duck-type creature. These are the sounds it would make when asleep under the Misty Mountain.
The serenity of the other three sides is shattered by Kahn's wracked ululations on Songline's final stretch. Here are cries of pain, primordial angst almost, the calmness-cum-resignation of earlier (particularly side A) turned into a boiling fury, a pre- or post-linguistic kicking against those pricks that the universe ranges against us. For nigh-on 20 minutes Kahn snarls and mewls, twisting his tongue and larynx into all sorts of blistered, warty shapes, souls writhing in pain and damnation in some forgotten circle of Hell, the terrifying voices echoing emptily in the vast space of an uncaring universe.
> Paul Margree, We Need No Swords, 11.2015

I imagine Kahn curled up at the bottom of a well. Leg broken from a long fall, bone jutting out the skin. He emits a series of strained whines; suppressed agony seeping out of his mouth like air from a punctured tyre. Each long groan is more insular and helpless than the last. Initially, they sound like genuine probes for assistance from the outside world, fired by the energy of optimism and promise. As each long vowel collapses into an extended, reverberant decay, Kahn starts to turn dejectedly inward -- cuddling his own echo, reacting to his phantom reflection, his tone swooping gradually downward like a sink unplugged.
All four of these pieces are given 20 minutes to unfold. Each is essentially the continuous repetition of a single vocal gesture. On side three, a raspberry of spittle and flappy tongue seems to deflate his entire face bit by bit. I wonder if Kahn's perception of his own voice mutates over time. Does his attention intensify upon individual details, just as it does for me? The way in which air whistles through the gap between two teeth? The gradual onset of dehydration that brings increasing coarseness to his spew of noise? The falsetto overtones that slip into the frame as his voice box buckles under the demand of endurance? The exercise begins to feel nihilistic. Meaningless. Sound for its own sake; not even for its originator's sake. Kahn emits his sound because he always has, in lieu of anything purposeful to do. It's beautiful and stubborn; an excavation of primal instinct, shedding connotation until only vibration is left.
>Jack Chuter, ATTN:MAGAZINE, 10.2015

The other new release by Jason Kahn holds a much bigger surprise: he sings! He writes in the liner notes that he has been doing so for a couple of years now, and some of it has found it's way to releases (which I may have missed) but 'Songline' is his first studio recording and each piece is performed in real time, no re-starting, no editing. This is just Kahn in a room and a bunch of microphones (as shown in the photographs). He also writes that his voice work is influenced by his work as an electronic musician, 'the notion of noise and distortion and sounds pulled to their breaking point', and upon playing these four pieces, one can easily see what Kahn means. This is not conventional' sound poetry, but in fact pieces of music in which Kahn uses his mouth to produce rather minimal, yet sustaining sounds. Take a deep breath, make a strange sound with one's mouth; that may sound all too easy, and surely we all did that at one point in our lives, but the true beauty, the fine craftsmanship lies in repeating this sound again and again, with the most minor changes. It has indeed all the notions of electronic music, and someone who wasn't aware said to me when she walked in: that sounds odd, and when explained it was just the human voice, she was rather surprised. I was playing the third side; when we turned the record over, and played a bit of the fourth side, it was clearer that this was indeed the human voice. Kahn is very proficient in keeping his voice going and performs his piece as he probably planned it. For me it worked best if he tried to sound like electronic sounds, crackles and drones, culminating on 'Side C' in the best out of four. When it sounds too much like the human voice, I am perhaps less interested, such as 'Side D'. The other two sides worked quite well also, balancing between both ends. Quite a surprising record, and with just a voice when travelling one could expect lots more Kahn releases exploring this new interest. With 'Songline' he delivers a great calling card for a new direction.
>Frans de Waard, Vital Weekly, 10.2015

I definitely didn't think I would enjoy an all vocal improvisation album this much, or on such a grand level. I simply love the acoustics of the room where Jason Kahn recorded in, where he is belting out such interesting and nondescript sounds where, "In the rooms of a former Swiss-com telephone relay station in Zürich. I decided to use the main room, which was entirely empty. Its linoleum floors, bare walls and many windows made for a very resonant space. Double glass windows sealed off the world outside but many sounds still emanated from somewhere deep in the bowels of the building." I wasn't terribly sure what a telephone relay station is, so I googled imaged it, and saw that it was what I thought it was after all. Lines of machines, with women (sometimes men too?) would sit in front of huge electronic boxes with wires and patches, crisscrossing each other, while the operator there would take people's requests for phone calls and to be connected with others. To me, then, there is a sense of irony, or even a haunting simile that almost reminds me of an echo of conversations that might have taken place in the building in the distant past.
Zürich, makes me think of the Swiss Alps, and Swiss bank accounts, and as is with most if not all experimental/avant garde music to me, this album allows us, the listeners, to take the time off so to speak, from the corner of the room with headphones on and be simply enthralled by such sounds that never get much (if any) airplay, or are celebrated in any major media outlet, or even any indie ventures. Kahn's vocals seem to take a meandering direction, so that it's kind of like that snakes game, where you eat a dot and then gain a dot on your body until you hit a wall or something; then it's game over and you start back again, as a smaller snake, until you eat more dots. Are these vocals sung out of a cathartic spirit? To me, it doesn't sound too much like that. It's not an angry sound that Kahn makes, nor is it sad or a depressing sound.
In "Songline", Kahn's voice takes the stage, and it is at times almost sarcastic and pitying. There's a slight aching in his voice, and sometimes it makes him seem out of focus, or misplaced, but there is indeed something special/magical about the acoustics of the album, and his voice too. It's as if you can hear it and perhaps yourself ravel distinctly from one end of the room to the next, or sometimes it remains isolated in what I can picture a photo booth, even though it's just a telecom station, but still, images of old telephones and ways of telecommuting appear in my mind when listening to this album.
Maybe I shouldn't go through my Facebook newsfeed while listening to Side D. Kahn's improvisations makes my online life on the social media site completely asinine. Going on Facebook while listening to "Songline" is like putting on glasses, while scrolling through your News Feed, that will make you see things in a completely different light. People almost appear too distant, ones you thought who might have been your good friends etc. Though I wonder why Kahn decided to do a double album of vocal improvisations. His musical output has mostly involved electronics of some sort, so it's both refreshing and kind of surprising to see him make this record. It's a perfect record for late at night, with headphones on, while listening to someone who has chosen to take a step in a direction that seems to be in a genre that is definitely often overlooked or over-analyzed. Like I mentioned, this is a good late night record, one that is not boring, or seemingly intrusive.
>Mark Ge, Brainwashed, 9.2015

 

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