Kendra Steiner Editions

August 2, 2017

Manfred Werder, “2005(1)”, Winds Measure Recordings 28

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Manfred Werder

2005(1)

Realized and recorded by Jason Kahn

Winds Measure Recordings 28 (8-cd set)

recorded in 2010, released in 2012

further info/ordering: http://windsmeasurerecordings.net/catalog/wm28/

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As with any genre of music/composition, from bluegrass to minimalism, the field recording category rises or falls on the ingenuity and depth of both the composer and the performer. In the case of a skeletal composition such as Werder’s 2005(1) (you can read about the piece here: http://manfred-werder-archives.blogspot.com/2013/05/on-20051-winds-measure-recordings-wm28.html ), the performer is given an incredible amount of latitude, and among the many performances and recordings of the piece one can find online, for me the interpretation by Jason Kahn deserves special attention and should be considered a kind of “classic” of its type.

We’ve released a number of albums at KSE which have featured field recordings—-the two which come to mind first are Alan Jones’s use of under-water recordings and Russ Alderson/Xanthocephalus’s use of ornithological recordings—-and a number of other albums have used found elements (and Matt Krefting’s works come to mind with that), but the PURE field recording, not altered or “treated” or used as one element in a sound-gumbo, takes things to another level.

It’s ironic that the “field recording” genre has emerged in the last few decades, a period when people are closing themselves off from natural sound. When I find myself in a public place where people are sitting around waiting—-for instance, at the Department of Motor Vehicles or at a tire shop or dentist’s office—-I am usually the only person who is NOT hooked up to a set of headphones or ear buds. When I see runners or walkers moving down my street, most of them are connected to some sound source. Oh, I realize that in past periods most folks probably were on automatic pilot and weren’t really LISTENING to their environment (in the way that a John Cage or a Zen master would have wanted them to), but at least they could HEAR a car horn, or a slipping fan belt, or a skateboard, or whatever. We seem to be experiencing so much of daily life SECOND HAND, consuming and digesting sounds and images PRESENTED TO US rather than from the environment in which we are existing.

I’ve always been someone who has listened to his environment. Once back in the 1970’s, when I was travelling through Western Kansas, the friend who was driving mentioned, somewhere past Goodland, heading toward Colorado, “boy, there’s nothing out here,”….to which I responded, “yes, there’s nothing to get in the way.”

At one of my security guard jobs back in the 1980’s, the employer wanted me from 10 pm to 2 am, and from 4:30 to 7:30 am, but did not want to pay me a full time salary, so I had to clock out for that two-and-a-half hour period. I did not have a car at the time, and there was no bus service in the middle of the night, so the most sensible thing for me to do was to simply stay at the worksite, sit out on the loading dock facing the city below, and soak up the environment. I would turn the lights off on the dock, so the dim glare of the distant lights from the small city below would fade in and out, here and there, one color then another, movement in one direction then movement in another, and for long periods of time, only the stars and the moon, and of course, they would evolve constantly through the night, and some nights not be much of a presence at all. Then there were the sounds of the night. Clanks or thumps or squeals which were miles and miles away, which I could construct scenarios for, the hum of the rare car on the street below or a more distant hum or tire screech from another road to the east or the west. Although I lived at the time in a tobacco-growing state with low taxes on cigarettes, they were still expensive with the little I was getting paid, so I’d usually bring about 4 of them with me to work, and smoke one every half hour or so during this down-time in between shifts. The constantly changing visuals and the distant symphony of varying sounds pulled me in, I’d smoke a cigarette here and there, but time became irrelevant, and before I knew it, 4:30 had arrived, and it was time to clock back in and start my morning rounds and responsibility.  It was far more satisfying than some Light Show with music by Pink Floyd or a screening of Fantasia because it was infinitely more subtle and ever-changing and it was real–it was not being “presented to me.” It was also free.

I  grew up on the side of a mountain, west of Denver, with Highway 6 down the bottom of the hill from me. I would sleep with my window open most of the year, and as my bedroom faced the road below, I would turn out the light after reading, and would just listen to the sounds outside as I fell asleep. Who knows how that affected my dream-life. Ask the fourteen-year-old me, as the present me does not remember.

The raw material of natural sound is something I’ve long appreciated, and I still do. Such is the material from which Jason Kahn’s interpretation of Werder’s piece has been sculpted. I’ve used the term “sound sculpture” for a number of KSE experimental music albums where texture is an important component—-works by Fossils, for instance—-and I’m going to use that term here too because it emphasizes the three-dimensionality of the sound, in a way that the image of a “canvas” does not.

The way Jason Kahn has interpreted this work is to make 31 eighteen-minute field recordings, at the same time each day at the same location within a Zurich train station, for each of the 31 days in the month of March 2010. Kahn has made a number of artistic and technical decisions here to create this 31-installment sound sculpture, something that anyone who thinks the field recording genre is “easy” should consider. He wisely chose a recording location which is NOT near the trains or near the passengers coming to and fro—-one gets the impression that we are located at some less-traveled section of the station…..the trains can be heard at a distance, the murmuring of people can be heard at a distance, although some people come rather close to the recording device and then move away from it. This is not some sound effects recording of trains….it is a recording of a live environment, and placing the sounds of the trains and the passengers and the like at a distance reinforces the resonance and the three-dimensionality of the space. It immerses you in this world. And it’s an infinitely fascinating world….just like the one you and I are in, and can go out and experience as soon as we get off the computer or portable device where we are reading/writing this. Reality has become an installation.

I’ve made a number of references in other writings to Warhol’s massive suite of SHADOWS paintings, which were for many years contained in one room at the Dia Beacon in Beacon, NY, right next to the Hudson River. I had the privilege of experiencing that exhibition and spending many hours among the paintings. I have an analogous experience, but in sound, when I listen to the 31 sections of 2005(1), spread over 8 cd’s.

Kahn has carved 31 sculptures-in-sound for us, and he’s served it up as a series work. Is it tedious, I can hear someone ask (though probably not someone reading the KSE blog). Only if immediate experience and phenomena are tedious, and if they are, I’m sure Netflix has a number of acclaimed series on and available for binge-watching.

For me, it is an important and beautiful work, and one of the most beautiful aspects of it is that when a CD is over, I can go outside, sit on the porch or walk around on my street, and “realize” my own version. A version that is always present, always varying, always rich and unpredictable and full of textural variation…and always free. They may want to  turn water from a natural resource into a commodity, but they can’t do that to our immediate environment and its sensory impressions….or perhaps I should more accurately say, they haven’t figured out how to do that yet. Give them time. Until then, grab one of the remaining copies of this rich and beautiful and deep 8-cd set—-stop, slow down, disengage the gears, and immerse yourself in this world…in 31 installments. As composer Werder states in his interview about this piece, “I’m looking for a situation where for a certain time something like ‘the world’ would appear. Not one to look at or listen to. Not one to project concepts onto. One to be part of, where in a chaotic and infinite becoming something like a real sense of meeting and sharing would emerge.” Indeed!

manfred werder 2005.1

jason kahn: actualization & recording

zürich hauptbahnhof, march 1 – 31, 2010, each day at 10 am

disc number – tracklist:
I:
01-3-10 18:00
02-3-10 18:00
03-3-10 18:00
04-3-10 18:00

II:
05-3-10 18:00
06-3-10 18:00
07-3-10 18:00
08-3-10 18:00

III:
09-3-10 18:00
10-3-10 18:00
11-3-10 18:00
12-3-10 18:00

IV:
13-3-10 18:00
14-3-10 18:00
15-3-10 18:00
16-3-10 18:00

V:
17-3-10 18:00
18-3-10 18:00
19-3-10 18:00
20-3-10 18:00

VI:
21-3-10 18:00
22-3-10 18:00
23-3-10 18:00
24-3-10 18:00

VII:
25-3-10 18:00
26-3-10 18:00
27-3-10 18:00
28-3-10 18:00

VIII:
29-3-10 18:00
30-3-10 18:00
31-3-10 18:00

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Addendum: the day after posting this blog entry, I was reading an article from the BBC News Service about secret codes in the espionage community, and ran across the following passage, which perhaps explains another appeal of the 31 days of train station field recordings:

“It’s quite difficult to generate a completely random number because a system for doing so will, by its very nature, be predictable – exactly what you’re trying to avoid. Instead officers in London found an ingenious solution.

“They’d hang a microphone out of the window on Oxford Street and record the traffic. “There might be a bus beeping at the same time as a policeman shouting. The sound is unique, it will never happen again,” says Stupples. Then they’d convert this into a random code.”

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