Jessika Kenney and Eyvind Kang – The Face of the Earth (2012)
Eyvind Kang and Jessika Kenney have an impressive list of previous collaborators, including Mike Patton, John Zorn and Sunn 0))) (they both perform on the outstanding Monoliths and Dimensions (2009)). Here, they team up for their sixth duet, The Face of the Earth, a much more experimental outing than some of the other recordings, such as Ahtlantis (2007) or Narrow Garden (2012).
The first two tracks are on the less experimental end of the scale: Tavaf proceeds steadily at a slow pace, with middle-eastern strings playing a solemn melody against a careful drum beat in a dirge-like way and, given that tavaf is the act of circumambulating the Kaaba in Mecca during a Muslim’s Hajj (pilgrimage), the music seems appropriate, slow and considered. This is followed by Kidung, on which Kang’s exquisitely sparse pizzicato strings take a back seat, gently plucking out the music, over which Kenney’s fantastic undulating vocals sing an Eastern devotional; indeed, kidung is a form of old Javanese poetry.
From there, the album becomes more experimental; first up, we have Ordered Pairs I and II. The first is a drone of multiple plucked strings, while the second is a masterclass in consonance and dissonance, as Kang and Kenney share long, drawn-out notes, creating a slow introspective piece.
The final two tracks are somewhere in the middle, there is more rhythm than on the middle two tracks, albeit generated through repetition, in a way that Merzbow has written about (off the top of my head, in the liner notes to Cycle (2003)). There is more sampling and manipulation on these two tracks than the previous four. The first, Mirror Stage is an audio battle of increasing intensity between Kang and Kenney, with repeated sections of vocal soundings, at times losing their individual identity, with strings sounding like voices and vice versa. The album ends with the title track The Face of the Earth, on which dense multilayered samples of Kenney’s voice are repeated, all with different phase, so that different sounds interact at different times, sometimes in sync, sometimes out of sync.
This is almost certainly not the most accessible record, and those more used to Kang’s other work, such as Ahlantis (2007) or Virginal Coordinates (2003) may be shocked, so I would advise it for the more experimentally minded readers. It is a worthwhile listen, but a pop record, it ain’t!
Favourite tracks: Tavaf, Ordered Pairs II, The Face of the Earth
Spotify link: Jessika Kenney – The Face of the Earth