Kenneth Kirschner: Filaments & Voids

Taylor Deupree & Kenneth Kirschner: May

True to its title, Kenneth Kirschner's Filaments & Voids focuses as much on sounds as silences throughout its two-and-a-half-hour duration. It's a marvelously seductive, double-disc recording that, despite being extremely restricted in the materials used, holds the listener's attention due to its carefully-measured handling of tension and release. Three long pieces of varying character comprise disc one; a single, seventy-three-minute piece occupies the second.

There are multiple definitions for “filament” but two in particular seem relevant here: the word can stand for fine thread or threadlike structure (as in filaments of gold), and it also commonly refers to the threadlike conductor, often of tungsten, within a light bulb or lamp that's heated to incandescence by the passage of current. Much like a light bulb on the verge of dying out, the New York-based electroacoustic composer's delicate, tendril-like fragments flicker on and off, injecting fleeting flashes of luminosity into otherwise dark and empty spaces.

In “October 19, 2006,” high-pitched, softly whistling tones alternate with pregnant pauses, pauses that are often longer than the sounds that precede them, followed by the industrial hum of low-pitched exhalations and mid-range whispers. Tension mounts during the silent passages as one anticipates the next tone's appearance, an approach Kirschner carries over into the second piece “September 11, 1996” where vibrantly shimmering, church organ-like tones appear and then slowly fade to silence. Though the two pieces might appear superficially alike, there's actually very little silence to speak of in the second piece since a new chord appears at the very moment its predecessor completes its fade. Markedly different in character, “June 10, 2008” casts silence aside (until its eventual fade-out) in its deployment of (in the composer's words) “impossible string instruments modeled in a software package” which manifest themselves in multiple layers of glistening drones; when Kirschner's tone clusters collectively sing in ecstatic union, listeners familiar with Stephan Mathieu's recent Radioland will find it hard not to hear parallels between the two works. Likewise, the electronically-treated piano fragments spread across the second disc's “March 16, 2006” might remind some of Kirschner's “post_piano” recordings. The Filaments & Voids piece is ultra-ghostly in character, with fragile piano traces swathed in ambient noise textures and constantly expiring into nothingness as if they're too weak to sustain any prolonged duration. Kirschner gives the instrument's slow-motion melodies an aged, almost decrepit quality that calls to mind Eisoptrophobia , Akira Rabelais' 2001 recording of equally spectral piano settings, until the tones gradually lose their pianistic identity when Kirschner stretches them into infinitely long, wind-like strands. The immense temporal expanse of “March 16, 2006” pushes the album's conceptual idea to an extreme, just as does Rabelais' own seventy-minute “remix” “As Long As I Can Hold My Breath (By Night)” on Harold Budd's Avalon Sutra. Both are “hard-core” pieces that admittedly may try the patience of the listener unaccustomed to such uncompromising undertakings.

It would be wrong to not include some small mention of the recording's first-rate presentation, with the highlight the panoramic photograph by Taylor Deupree that adorns the front and back covers and distills the essence of Kirschner's music into visual form. 12k releases always stand out for their tasteful design but Filaments & Voids seems like an especially flawless melding of form and content.

Speaking of Kirschner's “post_piano” output, May finds him collaborating with Taylor Deupree in a thirty-six-minute live set recorded on May 9, 2008 at the OFFF Festival in Lisbon, Portugal. During the performance, the two sat side by side at a single grand piano, with Kirschner tinkling the ivories and Deupree manipulating the instrument's inner strings, and both applying laptop-generated processing and sample manipulation during the music's creation. What results is a dense, shape-shifting flow of electroacoustic sound where untreated piano accents and phrases rub shoulders with crackling textures and willowy atmospheres. Sustained tones softly whistle and assorted noises flutter and echo while processed and non-processed piano sounds restrainedly intermingle. As it moves into its final third, the music slows, becoming more melancholic and dream-like in the process. With ample detail and maneuvers packed into a singular succinct statement, the recording makes for a natural complement to Filaments & Voids while offering an obviously more concise encapsulation of Kirschner's approach.

January 2009