Jason Kahn

Timelines Los Angeles
Creative Sources CS 166 CD

Dense, palpitating, quivering and almost ectoplasmic, this session captures a peerless quartet reading of a graphic score composed by Jason Kahn, which in its layers of strain and repose often sonically embodies California’s largest city. One reason this exactly 60-minute performance is so authoritative is that, like Kahn, who plays percussion throughout, each participant is a composer in his or her own right.

During the course of the bulky, mostly solid and taut, but sometimes distended and airy, piece, the arrangement and tonal intersection draws on prepared piano cascades and patterning from Olivia Block; the shrill or distanced split tones and other off-beat effects of Ulrich Krieger’s soprano and alto saxophones; plus synthesized signal-processing from Mark Trayle’s electric guitar. Moreover, individual static-laden sequences and blurry signal-processed pulses are given shape by additional flanges and wave forms created by Kahn’s analog synthesizer, Trayle’s laptop and Krieger’s live electronics.

A Zürich-resident who grew up in Los Angeles, sound artist Kahn has composed scores for theater and dance, was a member of composer Arnold Dreyblatt’s Orchestra of Excited Strings, and has worked in more Free Music-oriented situations with other sonic explorers such as Austrian turntablist Dieb 13 and Swiss-German electronics manipulator and percussionist Günter Müller.

Largo as well as agitato, “Timelines Los Angeles” cycles through a series of fungible or distinctive patterns, while maintaining its block-like solidity. Although constructed out of crepuscule wave form sequences, signal-processed drones and rugged laptop-induced electronic static and glitches, individual textures humanize the first section which takes up two-thirds of this single-track CD. Metronomic piano chords plus shattered, strummed and stopped internal string patterning on the piano harp from Block; strokes, rattles and clanks on unyielding metal and wooden surfaces from Kahn; and extended techniques from Krieger that encompass watery split tones, body-tube thumps, pressurized tongue stops and flutters plus wide-vibrato reed bites, confirm that the polyphony is acoustically as well as electronically produced.

By the time gradual diminuendo and a pause signals movement into the score’s final variation, it has become apparent that while monolithic, the creation isn’t impenetrable. Each instrument appears to be following its own line, which united create the linear composition. Subsiding to a gentler interface in its final minutes, the understated burbles and resonations become as audible as the delayed chirps, clangs and buzzes. Finally the vibrating mass completely disappears.

Not as programmatic as Kahn probably imagines, “Timelines Los Angeles” offers an unparalleled, if austere, listening experience whether it properly describes the city of angels or not.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Timelines Los Angeles

Personnel: Ulrich Krieger (soprano and alto saxophone and live electronics); Olivia Block (prepared piano); Mark Trayle (laptop and guitar) and Jason Kahn (percussion and analog synthesizer)