Eyvind Kang - "Visible Breath (excerpt)" (Visible Breath)
While Eyvind Kang’s name may be familiar to many, it may be more for his work in collaboration with others than for his own work. Sadly more people pay attention to bands like Animal Collective, Mr Bungle and Beck than listen to modern compositions such as Virginal Coordinates and Athlantis, the latter seemingly an experimental take on Medieval themes.
Visible Breath offers three long pieces, with the two on side A different in sound but not spirit from those on side B. "Visible Breath" and "Monadology" work with grouped strings and brass, ebbing and flowing like an orchestra breathing in slow-motion. High-end drones and gentle glassine squeaks blend at times, as though the instruments are speaking in a peculiar, alien language. The dissonant harmonies are unexpected but not unpleasant, though the disturbances they communicate won’t be to everyone’s taste. Most effective is the floating high note that drones at the upper levels of hearing, creating an expectant air of anxiety, over which the other instruments project their voices. At points the music settles into rhythmic bursts like a slow-motion horror movie score, but the brass tints it in an oddly regal direction.
The second half, over 16 minutes, is the piece "Thick Tarragon,” which despite the culinary title feels more like slowly-flashing points of light in a nearby galaxy. The gradually unfolding composition relies on pedal steel guitar and modified cello (performed by Susan Alcorn and Janel Leppin) as it evolves from arpeggiated notes and counterpoint melodies into drawn-out bowing that leaves delicate trails of sound behind ping-ponging harmonics. It isn’t until the end that the cello shifts into the lower register, and the instruments mirror one another through a six-note progression which deposits us abruptly in a quiet factory of rattling and squeaking metal. It’s an incongruous ending to a piece that, up until then, has seemed more organic than artificial.
If there’s a common thread through Visible Breath, it feels like the opposition of dissonant voices within gentle settings, and the ease with which a small ripple can disturb smooth waters. Drones are broken by gutteral brass, discordance unsettles calm atmospheres, and delicate tendrils of sound resolve into unmusical rattles. This setting and upsetting makes for unsettled listening, but provides plenty of food for thought.