Jason Kahn: Vanishing Point
23five Incorporated

Tarab: Take All the Ships from the Harbour, and Sail them Straight into Hell
23five Incorporated

Jason Kahn and Eamon Sprod (aka Tarab) are but two of the artists whose sound works have been made available by 23five Incorporated, a San Francisco-based, non-profit organization founded in 1993 whose catalogue includes releases by John Duncan, Christina Kubisch, Francisco Lopez, and Achim Wollscheid.

Vanishing Point can't help but be imbued with some degree of poignancy given that Jason Kahn dedicated it to his daughter, Louise, who died shortly before the American sound-artist began working on the piece in 2007. The single-track, forty-seven-minute composition opens at full throttle with the agitated churn of a dense mass of prickly static, at the center of which ghostly tones emerge, faintly audible against the thick noise cluster Kahn generates from unidentified sources (in his work, he draws upon a range of sound sources, including machinery, field recordings, percussion, synthesizer, metals). The tones valorously persist despite being progressively overwhelmed by the swelling intensity of the seething mass (imagine amplified recordings of roaring factory machinery, a hornet's nest, and cymbal patterns multiplied and merged). Eventually underground shudders violently wobbling like an out-of-control washing machine fight their way to the surface of the now-rumbling mass. A noticeable diminishment sets in at the half-hour mark as Kahn incrementally strips back the layers until little more than a crackling shell remains, much like a campfire slowly dying out. It's here that the work's title is most strongly felt, with the sound materials gradually disappearing into a distant point on the horizon. Kahn's work invites the label “noise artist” but he's no Merzbow: Vanishing Point is “noise” of a gentler sort that eschews abrasiveness for a more restrained approach that's easy on the ears. There are no pain-inducing ruptures, blasts, or squeals but instead an oceanic and even-keeled sound mass that—even at its most intense—is almost soothing.

Though it's also a single-track composition, Tarab's Take All the Ships from the Harbour, and Sail them Straight into Hell is a creature of entirely different character (the title leaves little doubt as to how Sprod feels about mankind's habit of soiling the natural world with its creations). In place of a relentless sound mass that slowly diminishes in intensity, Tarab's piece alternates between quieter sequences of rustlings, creaks, and footsteps and louder episodes where heavy pieces of metal grind against one another. Field recordings figure heavily in the Melbourne-based sound artist's composition, with many of its sounds originating from Angel Island (a one-time Nike Missile site for the US military) in the San Francisco Bay area. Though Sprod arranges and layers the material with care and circumspection, he does so without altering the naturalistic character of the sounds themselves, and consequently the ease with which they can be identified helps keep the listener engaged throughout the fifty-five-minute piece (toy instruments and found objects are also used as sound sources). Cavernous whistles, rumbles, creaks, distant voices, water churning, winds, animal noises (pigs, ducks), and rattling surface during the piece's ebb and flow, before the materials swell into a collective, water-drenched crescendo. Listening to the recording is much like sitting on a dockside bench with your eyes closed, taking in the comings and goings of ships and all the rest of a typical day's sounds at the harbour, and then hearing them played back in an edited, hour-long form.

August 2009