Kim Myhr & Jenny Hval / The Trondheim Jazz Orchestra In The End His Voice Will Be The Sound Of Paper

[Hubro; 2016]

Styles: madrigal, neo-classical, “poetry,” blank paper
Others: Jim O’Rourke, Bob Dylan, Julia Holter

Bob Dylan’s vowel sounds used to be massive. Common-sense lore has him lauded as a lyricist, but words were always ancillary to an emphatic, wheezing delivery, which could swell like a balloon under duress with the enunciation of a phrase like “Panamanian moon” and then proceed to deflate as though a tiny, metallic reed were affixed to the opening.

Time has articulated itself farcically in the evolution of Dylan’s career, though. It’s unclear to what degree Dylan has self-consciously effaced his old style and how much of it is just due to aging, but for whatever reason, when I listen to Bob Dylan’s new music, the most striking quality is how completely “classic” Dylan has disappeared from the music. He is there, but only as an artifactual, distant referent — a sublime past version, only ancestrally related to the profane death-rattles of the singer presently on record.

Jenny Hval and Kim Myhr came up with the title for their experimental collaborative piece, In The End His Voice Will Be The Sound Of Paper, as the result of a conversation around Bob Dylan’s withering voice. Paper, of course, does have a sound, in the same sense that Hval’s voice could itself be described as paper-thin. But the figurative aspect of the title implies death as a synaesthetic dissolve, of semantic content submerged back into a blank medium. The ensuing record, which enlists the considerable chops of the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra, is very much a meditation on voice; specifically, what is it?

From the giddy accumulation of clustered fingerpicking that opens “Seed,” we can feel the crawl of fingers across wood and wires, human physiology fusing with the creaks and shudders of wooden technology, evincing the shape of a warped body, grappling at its seams and struggling to find its edges, melding also with the eerie pastoral setting implied in the modal playing to evoke the teeming entropy of undergrowth that belies a distinct body. Hval incants, “The voice/ Brushes the skin,” letting us know that henceforth voice impacts as a physical property, but also as a disembodied one. In lieu of this, the orchestral body expands and disbelieves its borders, as woodwinds and horns fade into a richly dissonant harmony, barely eliciting notes from their instruments, subtextual metallized human breath sounds belying every proper horn tone.

Where “Seed” is awakening, schismogenesis, restless biology, “Something New” is tentative dread, the anxiety of unintelligibility, the pregnant rests between dissonant horn drones and uncanny silence hanging in the eaves: “He opens doors and windows/ And listens to the wood/ And to the hedges/ Singing some other soul/ Sung in a foreign language.” Near the close of the track, a hollow pipeline of air tunnels through the resonant materiality of the brass, signaling to the end state of physicality: thin, hollowed, medial. Amidst destabilized pastoral guitars, Hval keys us to slippage of identity at play, the loss of self implicit in evolution: “You’re losing yourself/ And there’s always something new/ Something I don’t recognize/ Each new thing replaces something old/ Each new thing belongs to someone else.”

And so maybe the unintelligible non-resemblance of new-Dylan vocals is less attributable to the loss of the something old, but to the possibility that the answers really were blowin’ in the wind all along, through a set of lungs and out through a “Mouth that sings/ One, two/ One, two,” decentralized but actual like Foucaultian power, and as biology rends the vocal cords belonging to the body of organs and fluid that history made an artifact of, we feel like we might be listening to someone we’ve never met but have always known. A stranger like ourselves.

Links: Kim Myhr & Jenny Hval / The Trondheim Jazz Orchestra - Hubro

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