Jacob Kirkegaard: Conversion

No one should come to Jacob Kirkegaard's work expecting to be emotionally overcome—in that regard Conversion is the antithesis of Górecki 's Symphony No. 3 (Symphony of Sorrowful Songs). Instead, Kirkegaard's desire is for his work to focus on methodology and be “free of any deliberate emotional or ‘musical' intention”; consistent with that credo, Conversion (available in vinyl and download formats only) is less musical work than sound sculpture.

On conceptual grounds, the recording is fascinating, as the Berlin-based sound artist has collaborated with the Danish ensemble Scenatet (consisting of a clarinetist, percussionist, trombonist, violinist, violist, and cellist) to re-present his original pieces Labyrinthitis (2008) and Church (2006) in instrumental form. Such a transformation is designed to bring into sharper relief the musical dimension of the sounds used in the original works. And what were those sounds? In the former, sounds (“oto-acoustic tones,” if you prefer) generated by Kirkegaard's own ears, and in the latter ambient field recordings of an abandoned church within Chernobyl's radioactive zone.

During side A's eighteen-minute “Labyrinthitis II,” suspended strings waver for minutes on end, their vibrating tones initially pitched at a high register before being paralleled by others at a low level. In this case, Kirkegaard's hazy material presents itself in a spectral style suggestive of a soothing kind of microtonal minimalism. The opening minutes of “Church II” evoke a cavernous, desolate emptiness—especially when the metallic, gong-like tones reverberate so powerfully—until the ensemble surreptitiously emerges to augment the drone before eventually withdrawing to once again place the focus on the original sound material.

While admittedly one comes away from the thirty-four-minute Conversion less affected than one would be by a work possessing conventional musical and emotional dimensions, the recording is nevertheless very much in keeping with Kirkegaard's approach, which has seen the Danish artist and freq_out member capturing in aural form generally unheard sounds, including those produced by a geyser, a sand dune, an empty room, and so on. The idea scenario, naturally, would be for one to hear the originals and the Scenatet versions side-by-side, but the absence of the former doesn't prevent the listener from appreciating the latter as stand-alone creations.

June 2013