Kenneth Kirschner Compressions & Rarefactions

[12k; 2015]

Styles: minimalism, long form, stasis, microtones
Others: La Monte Young, Taylor Deupree, Morton Feldman, John Cage

When I listen to music, it’s absorbed into the course of my daily routine. As a result, it’s rare that I’m only listening to music. I’m also listening to the sounds of the city: to the traffic, to other people, to other songs. Compressions and Rarefactions is over six hours long. It’s an exercise in concentration, one too long to actually fit onto a CD. It takes time to set in, and I was determined to give it that; but as I went about my day, there didn’t seem to be enough space for this music. Instead, I found myself enamored by the precision of each discrete moment.

Mostly, I tried to listen to it while doing work, when I could afford some decent peace and quiet. I heard “July 17, 2010” faintly and only ever heard Kenneth Kirschner tapping on kitchenware with his fingernails — plus echo, for two hours — while I deleted emails and fell into a trance. It takes a certain sort of patience to produce this music, but to listen to it is nearly a passive activity: it sinks in, and I forget it’s there, and it fades into a whisper. Hollow plinks fill the air, crack apart, and are replaced by the clack of the keratin of Kirschner five years ago, real close up, reminding me to pay attention.

He will kind of come back into focus every now and again in this way, injecting a “human” presence to his music: the tap of his own fingernails, the woody revealing tock of a bell, a key being harshly struck, though he makes a note of pointing out his music’s often synthetic and heavily modulated quality. Even an hour and a half into a composition, there is a constant assertion of concept, a distant presence that keeps assuaging and then stirring tension, rearranging the molecules. It’s one thing to simply compose long pieces of music, but Kenneth takes extra care to embody each second of his with a personal quality, an indiscrete change.

Kirschner will write compositions that sound uncomfortable for a performer to play, even if they are pleasant-sounding, like “April 16, 2013,” which overextends its shimmering bell patterns until the song becomes a vague blur. When performers do appear, Kirschner’s music feels more in tune conceptually with La Monte Young’s drone experiments, an extreme sense of restraint and concentration being used to build something one of a kind.

“October 13, 2012,” recorded with Tanya Popoff on viola, oscillates from dissonance to gorgeous on a lush cascade of tones. It gives a poignancy to the arbitrary date, a sort of profile for the life of the day. This profile is made methodically through slight variations on a core form, over a great period of time, long enough that they detach themselves from one specific event, timbre, or chord, just sort of drifting in place like a mobile. “January 10, 2012” has a purgatory patience about it, sounding like clocks ticking at midnight, then rewinding back in slow motion. It feels pensive, indecisive, the whole two hours a delicate waiting game. At work, it soundtracked my last few hours, my exit, and my impatience, and was cut short by it.

I can’t say I absorbed these songs wholly because I didn’t. I never had the time to scrutinize their every note or the multitude of expressions and little changes that make Kirschner’s presence so indelible. I was never able to examine them how full written works would demand. This record speckled my days with expansive, articulate sounds that I sampled from at my leisure. I put it down and picked it up again when I craved its distinct, near-therapeutic timbres, confident I could click in anywhere and have my perspective shifted. These songs latched on to me, and I heard them in pieces, some subconsciously, and they were brought into definition, like a stone rubbing, through consistent pressure waves in the air. They made work easier, and the crowds seemed calmer.

Links: Kenneth Kirschner - 12k

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