Voice and Sky by Jason Kahn

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Today I’m looking at the latest book/cd project by Jason Kahn, all the way from Switzerland. Here is Voice and Sky on Kahn’s Editions label. The 70pp book (5.5″ x 6″) includes color images of the artist’s installation, and on location, as well as short stylized prose set like concrete poetry. The disc includes 27 tracks with a 67 minute running time, consisting of taped field recordings and intriguing voice contortions, all created by Kahn. Each track is named for the in-situ location in which it was made. At times the voice seems to awkwardly mimic the action, gasping for breath (In Train To Ürnäsch) and elsewhere the voice dominates with little background noise (Town Of Appenzell Train Station) like a sweet sing-song lullaby. The effect, at first, hits you as humorous, that is until you raise the volume to experience every single subtlety in the running water, the slurping, gurgling swine-like creature, the complete oddities of the human voice (Fountain In Town Of Appenzell).

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The vocal contortions continue to range from snoring to deep throat chortle, with lots of unusual experiments on breathing, blowing outwardly, and other various explorations of the body as an instrument. I’ve rarely heard someone take such physical interjections, so purely, outside Jaap Blonk and Meredith Monk, to create such elusive non-conversational new narratives. Voice and Sky encapsulates and extends upon an earlier public installation work, On the Breeze. Most of these recordings were made while he was hiking the Swiss canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden (which looks truly awe-inspiring) and for anyone who has done a lengthy jaunt knows, our bodies use different types of energy depending on the exertion/demand. He’s managed to capture this tactically in real time. It’s as if he’s contact mic’d himself during trying moments where he was inadvertently expressing himself in a natural setting, though at times it seems innately improvised, out-of-body. This is illustrated when he cries out with an almost tribal wail on Between Hoher Kasten And Staubern as tiny bird chirp back and likely get quieter because they are listening as well. The peculiar voice continues in chants, whispers, even shushes (Near Staubern), as distant sheep baa, perhaps in response. The interplay is quite interesting, not unlike the way in which we communicate with pets for attention, response and affection. Kahn has created a gutteral collection that comes off really real, at times a bit emotional with glimpses of hope and sadness (Rainhütte). 

Elsewhere we are engaged in some intriguing running water and other natural elements, sticks cracking as the body moves freely, chimes jangling on the wind, streams flowing gently – all the while while the voices rises and falls from the fore to the background. I’m reminded of an ancient man humming along to himself here, and of a solo monk chanting in solace elsewhere, almost flute-like in tone. The short blurts on Fählensee are attention getting, like a ethnological greeting. This is furthered by the cries on On The Way To Altmann Summit which, if you think about it, before language, may have, in some form, been the way people historically communicated without language. And sometimes here he only embraces simple exhalation, and circular breathing. It’s truly astonishing to hear the rich variations of inhale/exhale, literally bated breath if you will. A standout brief track on the album is Passage Beneath Sämtis Cablecar Station which uses a cavernous space to create an echo chamber. My ears are most intrigued when the voice and ‘scape are completely woven together, however certain front-facing vocal moments here are (no pun) breathtaking, and quite visceral. The book reads like a topographical poem to the places journeyed through in passages that read like extended haikus. Kahn shares: “It is my feeling that the text and recordings on the CD impart something universal and untethered from the context of the original installation.” This open air record certainly attests as he chronicles his experiences for us, becoming one in and of itself. More by the artist can be found here.

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