Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Manfred Werder (Jason Kahn) - 2005¹ (windsmeasure)

The (English) score for this piece is three words of text:



These words are surely the sub-text of any sonic work, anything at all in fact as long as there's air to carry sound. This actualization was created by Jason Kahn who provides 31 18-minute recordings, one for each day of March, 2010, spread over 8 discs. That's 558 minutes of sound, nine hours and 18 minutes. I've just put it on for the first time (Disc One) and will write during the course of my listen, which will at least stretch into tomorrow.

All of the recordings were made at 10AM on the same Zurich street (Hauptbahnhof), so I gather that the sounds will be of a similar general character while containing, obviously, differing elements, but we shall see. The first is quite full, the dull roar of traffic backgrounding the treads of passersby (I have the impression that the pavement is wet), the odd snatch of conversation, buses braking but, suffused throughout, the strong hum of the city. The immediate frame of reference for me is the occasion I was asked, several years back, to participate in a realization of Cage's 49 Waltzes for the Five Boroughs, for which I took up a station on some nondescript corner of suburban Staten Island and described what I heard, saw, felt, thought for 45 minutes. As one should know by now, but would certainly realize by engaging in such an activity, there's far more going on, aurally, than you normally realize, layer upon layer of sound and, very apparent to me, the shape of the spaces between, in the air. You automatically get something of that here, though necessarily compressed into what's emerging from your speakers.

The first track just ended, quite abruptly, the second leaping into existence straightaway. Curiously, you do indeed pick up a slightly different flavor, even as the elements are by and large the same. It's as though the scene is a sixteenth-note off from the previous one. A question which immediately springs to mind is: Why record this work as opposed to simply experiencing it? The score, after all, is essentially a spur, albeit a somewhat poetic one, to be somewhere, listening. Sitting here now, hearing the trucks, the drips (I still think there's precipitation involved), I'm not sure as to the rationale, but we'll see.

[ a couple hours later, still in the midst of track 2, which I'd paused] finding the (necessary) lack of a spatial element a little off-putting. That is, in situ I could make choices with that aspect in mind while here, things are flattened out. Still choices to be made, just not as rich. The inability (much) to turn one's head, to move within the sound.

It's the following day, May 3rd, and as I'm home for the afternoon, I continued on with the fifth segment which feels slightly different from the earlier ones, though hard to put a finger on why. Perhaps simply a substantial amount of "new" sounds, some banging as though from the unloading of metal off a truck into bins, a snatch of English. That dull roar which is consistently there, I'm pretty sure, is due to a large interior space and, hah! I just googled the site to discover, rather belatedly, that Hauptbahnhof is a railway station, the largest in Switzerland as a matter of fact, with large interiors like this one:

So, well done, ears.

Ah, and I should mention the packaging somewhere in here, a (typically) beautiful windsmeasure job, a white set of four large folds, accordion fashion, each side with two disc pouches, lovely to look at and hold. A photo image wouldn't do it justice.

Behind me, Day 6 proceeds with the usual smattering of footsteps, crying babies, distant PA announcements (something I only just noticed--wondering how much, doubtless a lot, that I'm still missing). I still come back to the basic necessity of a recording, whether it's the case or not. Is it some attempt to have the listener inhabit the mind of Jason Kahn for several hours, to perceive what he did during that time? Aside from being impossible, that would seem silly. Sometimes I think of this project as a baroque, over-the-top way of telling the listener, "You there! You go out and actuate this score!". Of course, there's the specificity of what occurred during these captured hours as well, the recognition, via encapsulation on these discs, of the utter uniqueness of these moments, but unique in the sense of this patch of soil being unique from that one.

[I'm listening to these in order, for some reason, as though expecting a dramatic arc...]

Wondering about the choice of location, of such a full, rich sound source. When "nothing" is happening, just that hum, it's rather beguiling. Pluses and minuses. [Day 10]

An especially nice hum near the beginning of Day 16 in addition to a wide variety of clatter, bells and voices. The station had it workin' that day. My favorite so far! :-) Seriously, how strange that would be, to think, "Yeah, well, on March 16th, there were some *great* sounds, as opposed to those other days..."

So, halfway through. No expectations, of course, of the second half being substantially different but it's by no means uninteresting to listen to, occasionally absorbing (though not so much as the sounds, along with the Werder/Kahn, in my room) so we continue on...tomorrow.


Back the next evening, Friday, just placed Disc V , Day 17 in the changer. Thought about the work a good deal during the day, still having difficulty "justifying", if you will, listening to someone else's realization of the piece, much less (though necessarily, I suppose) a recording of same. There is the pure sonic pleasure, the wash of sounds which, as I think I've said, is not unenjoyable in band of itself. I've long held that one of my favorite ambient listening places, or type of place, is an airport terminal--the large interior space, the distant announcements, the multitude of languages one hears--and this isn't such a far remove so, in a sense, I'm quite happy. At the same time, I feel almost neglectful or lacking for not doing it myself which, of course, I could at any time, though it didn't happen to occur to me today until now to do so. I wonder if a "legitimate" space would be my room here, with Werder's work, via Kahn, coming over the speakers....

If you visit his blog, you'll see some sites where this and other pieces have been realized. I rather like the Chilean one, a cul de sac in Santiago with a parked Volkswagon, a mic set on a tripod, nighttime, the implied quiet.

I thought today, initially, about the unlikelihood of my ever playing this work again but then thought, yes I would do so, though when I was in a rural setting, some place that was not only quiet but very distant from the kind of environment recorded here.

That eternal, blurred, sourceless hum continues to fascinate; the massed result of dozens of sounds, all the edges sanded off by the station interior, molded into this suspended, near-tangible thing, absorbing any sound in its ambit. We've all heard it or its cousins. Still, you can listen to it endlessly. For that, for reminding me, a tip of the hat.


Saturday morning, gray. Humorously enough, I realized I'd mistakenly replayed Disc I last night instead of V. It matters so little, but diligence compels me to continue, so V is in now and I'll try to experience all the remaining ones today. This morning, I was thinking of the cumulative effect of all the recordings. This is more to the Kahn side of things as it was his choice to record 31 times (nothing in the score to indicate anything of the source), to revisit the same location, etc. There is something to that, especially with the pervasive hum, sometimes almost throb, permeating the soundscape. It's not difficult to get to a trance-like state, perhaps easier when you're dealing with purely aural phenomena as opposed to being there in the flesh where all the other sense complicate matters. Playing it fairly loud today, front window open, giving Jersey City passersby a taste of Zurich.

[a little disorienting hearing American English on Disc VI]

hah, an entirely different set of sounds on March 22, heavy drilling creating vast, rumbling drones. Wonder if it's the same location? As lulling as the tracks had become, I have to say that it makes for a welcome change of pace, though I missing feeling the vibrations through walls and floors that Kahn undoubtedly did. Great sounds, though.

I've just slipped in the final disc. In between, several more days, nothing outstanding, but that thought makes me wonder about those drills, the fact that they stood out so, that they really shouldn't but almost inevitably feed into our (my)
need for variation, something that, in a context like this, implies that we're simply not listening well enough, that something like those drills should have the same "value" as any other sound or set of sounds. That is doesn't is disturbing, in a way. This is another thing that Werder/Kahn have brought to mind.

A close friend pointed me to a poem of Raymond Carver's, "For Tess", something I'd seen before, but not in a while. It somehow resonated here:

Out on the Strait the water is whitecapping,
as they say here. It’s rough, and I’m glad
I’m not out. Glad I fished all day
on Morse Creek, casting a red Daredevil back
and forth. I didn’t catch anything. No bites
even, not one. But it was okay. It was fine!
I carried your dad’s pocketknife and was followed
for a while by a dog its owner called Dixie.
At times I felt so happy I had to quit
fishing. Once I lay on the bank with my eyes closed,
listening to the sound the water made,
and to the wind in the tops of the trees. The same wind
that blows out on the Strait, but a different wind, too.
For a while I even let myself imagine I had died –
and that was all right, at least for a couple
of minutes, until it really sank in: Dead.
As I was lying there with my eyes closed,
just after I’d imagined what it might be like
if in fact I never got up again, I thought of you.
I opened my eyes then and got right up
and went back to being happy again.
I’m grateful to you, you see. I wanted to tell you.

The penultimate day begins noticeably quieter than most, if not all, previous ones. I checked a calendar, thinking perhaps it was a Sunday (and that maybe I'd missed prior softnesses) but no, it was a Tuesday. A national holiday? Who knows? Again, it makes for an engaging variation, reminding me of my earlier statement that, given my druthers, I might have chosen a less overtly rich location as to sound sources, though of course this is as rich as anything preceding, just subtler. Or apparently subtler to naive ears. Very lovely, in any case. and just as I write that, these enormous roars fill the space--amazing, vast--possibly those drills again but the details muffled while the volume remains the same or even increases. So strange and fantastic, as if a jet plane was taxiing through the station. Wow. Have to smile, thinking of a "climax" with, perhaps, the 31st as a coda...

So, March 31st arrives, a day like any other, those drills still pounding, more schoolkids milling about. Sounds you haven't hears, or at least noticed, appear: crinkling cellophane, maybe. I still pick up, as I had at the beginning, what sounds like something wet, dripping, though I'm no longer sure of it. It ends abruptly, as each day had before, here during a conversation in English.

What to make of it? Would I recommend it? Well, sure, on the one hand--it may well cause one to think about matters too often neglected. But on the other, one shouldn't need a document like this to engender those thoughts. That nags at me, the whole issue of a) recording the event and b) releasing it. Perhaps if only as a spur to do actualize the piece oneself, that could be reason enough. Yet, it's a gorgeous package. But is it too easy to fetishize? Buts and maybes....



Jon Abbey said...

nice review, Brian!

asher tuil said...

thanks brian, wonderful stuff.