Jason Kahn – On Metal ShoreJanuary 8, 2012
This evening didn’t start so well once I got home from work. I don’t recommend rubbing freshly chopped chilli into your eye. It hurts a lot and it takes about an hour for the sting to subside enough to open your eye again. I also don’t recommend trying to eat your dinner with your eyes closed either. Or at least, not with a clean t-shirt on. Still, after tonight’s mishaps I spent time with a vinyl album I have been playing on and off for a couple of weeks and enjoying a lot- the new solo, self released album by Jason Kahn named On Metal Shore.
The album consists of two compositions, one on each side of the hefty 180g vinyl. Both of the pieces are computer sequenced arrangements of percussive recordings made by Kahn, but with a large amount of the contributing material recorded outside using found metal objects- railings, water tanks, pipes etc. Many of these items were found on beaches or beside lakes or other bodies of water, though not all of them, and various other external sounds make their way into the compositions via these recordings, birdsong, running water, passing trains etc. Kahn plays these found metal items with mallets and other items, tapping out very simple repetitive figures, but also passing sound waves through them using various transducers.
The end results are very fine indeed. There are three kinds of sound that seem to be audible throughout the two works. We hear the rapid clockwork of Kahn’s metronomic tapping, often on its own, on different metal objects, sometimes buried under other sounds. Then there are all kinds of fuzzy, cloudy, hisses and purrs, layers of white noise the origin of which I usually haven’t a clue. Then there are the environmental sounds. Sometimes they hang around, sometimes they are carefully implanted into the composition, like the second or two of a train passing over loose sleepers that is suddenly pitched against a rapidly tapped metallic chime late in Side A. In his liner notes, Kahn mentions that the inspiration for this album could be found in his duo album Vista that he made with Asher in 2008. For that album he had worked with steel railings outdoors, and having enjoyed the experience he set out to record similar sounds again. Certainly much of the feel of Vista can also be heard here in that the sounds coalesce into clouds of highly detailed white noise, dense and at their height hard to penetrate, but with the fizzing surface layers masking the very simple percussive structures below. Where On Metal Shore differs from that earlier collaboration is in the way the layers are often stripped back, sometimes gradually, sometimes with sudden cuts away from one set of recordings to another, so revealing the elements, often very simplistically beautiful parts underneath. The occasional recognition of other, external, often natural elements in the midst of everything also adds another, very welcome element again.
I wrote somewhere recently that I have enjoyed Jason Kahn’s last few releases a great deal, and that, while he has appeared on a lot of CDs and I have enjoyed his work for more than a decade now he seems to have really found a degree of musical craftsmanship and a sense of clarity to his recent work that gives it an emotional, direct quality to it that I may not have sensed so easily before. On Metal Shore is up their with his fine solo album Vanishing Point for me as his best work yet. It has a physicality to it that really grabs you, a tendency to build to obvious high points but in a way that still feels exciting, similar to how AMM performances did for so many years. I works particularly well with the volume turned up high so that the layered reverberations seem to rattle about the room and the lapping water and twittering birds seem to appear in the space around you. This is a fine piece of work then, a record that makes me very glad to have bought a turntable again in 2011 and one I heartily recommend. It also comes in a lovely hand painted cover on thick grey card that just makes me mourn the loss of Kahn’s Cut label. Hopefully there will be more like this soon.