new music reviews authored by paul khimasia morgan

Wednesday, 1 June 2016


Alice Hui-Sheng Chang / Jason Kahn
USA  Pan y Rosas Discos  pyr172  download  (2016)

Four pieces on offer here; numbered simply 1 to 4 recorded in Melbourne, Australia in January of 2015.  A departure of sorts for Jason Kahn, who has previously been heard improvising at the controls of shortwave radios and analogue synthesisers, [see his recent cassette Thirty Seconds Over on Aural Detritus], or on percussion.  Alice Hui-Sheng Chang is a new name to me.  Alice has this to say about her work:  “…(she) challenges the boundary of a presentation site physically and imaginatively, viewing each performance as a site-specific response…”.  Her music has been released on Antifrost, Trente Oiseaux, Homophoni, New Weird Australia, Kwan Yin and Sub Rosa among others.
In terms of its basic construction, Voices runs the gamut of vocalese.  The material here reminds me somehow of the way birds communicate.  The internet tells me: "Songbirds learn their songs and perform them using a specialized voice box called a syrinx”.  For a bird, singing can be draining. It is both energetically expensive and alerts predators. So then why do birds sing? Evidence suggests that in part, it is to proclaim and defend their territories.  The chances are when you hear a bird singing it’s a male. The majority of female songbirds in temperate zones use shorter, simpler calls while the males produce the longer and more complex vocalizations we think of as song.  The story is different in the tropics where females commonly sing, and many species engage in duetting."  In Chang and Kahn’s case, their duetting is strangely comforting and their voices respective timbres complement each other well.
On 1 both Kahn and Chang creak and hum; wheeze and whisper.  Initially, Kahn seems to use an intimate close microphone technique at times, whereas it sounds as if Alice Hui-Sheng Chang’s approach is more full bodied and interacts with the recording space.  However my perception of this changes as the piece progresses.  There is a granular quality to both voices and it is impossible for me to tell who’s doing what.  By the last couple of minutes Kahn is clearly making noises which remind me of Dylan Nyoukis’ saliva-filled mouth/throat-noise explorations but without the tape manipulation typical of Nyoukis’ live vocal performances.
The second piece is more structured (academic) to my ears, although due to the brevity of information I have been given with this album, this assumption may be erroneous, or even irrelevant.  I suspect that there are incidents of double-tracking of Kahn’s vocals on this piece but again don’t take my word for it.  The duo employ space as more of a feature in 2, which results in the feeling of slower pace overall.
The third piece begins with whistling and very electronic-sounding close-up mouth noises before developing the first full-throated display of what you might traditionally recognise as “singing” on the album.  This is the shortest piece on Voices and something of a lull before the maelstrom of 4.
Track four is possibly the most confrontational featuring as it does Alice’s joyless cackle and Jason’s wet ululations from the very start.  Weird high pitched whistling like the noises coaxed from a slowly deflating balloon follow; pops, multitimbral exhalations, the distant overheard mumblings of a confused great-uncle, osculations, wavering, lip-smacking and so forth, but now with a restraint and sense of calm that you just don’t get from practitioners like Phil Minton.  Until Alice starts screaming like a hungry goat, that is.

Jason Kahn appears to be working exclusively with his voice at the time of writing, so it will be interesting to hear his development of this way of working over future recordings.  Interest in an older generation of vocalising artists like Bob Cobbing and Henri Chopin is on the increase and the aforementioned, (and previously seriously underground artist), Dylan Nyoukis was recently subjected to a sympathetic piece in The Guardian, [] so perhaps Kahn’s timing of this album is spot on.

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