europe is the latest release from Yan Jun, an artist from China who specializes in shallow listening for deep people. It was created as part of his DAAD residency in Berlin, and is maybe the purest crystallization of Yan’s work as it’s developed over the last several years of a diverse career. You don’t really listen to europe with your ears so much as certain parts of your ears. In headphones, its almost-ultrasonic tones reach right past the cochlear hairs to address your auditory cortex directly, a stratagem also employed on Yan Jun’s 2011 Ear Drummer. I suspect that europe is not really for listening at all, but for pondering, sitting through, rinsing and cutting vegetables to, writing about, enduring. It sounds like tinnitus; it sounds like cricket missives. Perhaps it is sound post-hearing. It’s certainly not “music” of the kind that is typically recorded and made commercially available:
the frequencies here are so extreme that they warped the cassettes in the process of production, so that the physical format is different from the file, an index that has broken away from its master.
This phenomenon is not unheard of within China’s old-guard experimental scene: once Torturing Nurse turned in a master with a frequency range so great that it broke the lathe cutter meant to press its limited vinyl release, or so the legend goes. But the difference between Torturing Nurse, with their performative S&M theatrics, and Yan Jun, whose demeanor can only be described as quizzical, is key. europe’s press text says that although “Yan seems like someone you’d like to have drinks with” (he is), this release is an emotionless barrage of “sounds that can rightly be called extreme without any hint of aggression” (it is). europe reminds me of the feeling I got looking at Zbigniew Karkowski’s face the last time he performed in Beijing, like a cold buzzsaw through my innermost thoughts. The association is not coincidental, as Yan was a friend and collaborator of Zbig’s, and it’s hard not to hear the latter’s clinical, philosophical, almost radically non-ideological extremity in this new release, if only (obviously) in an abstract sense.
Hurry to grab one of the 100 physical copies if you want to hear europe anywhere but in your unconscious.