Review: Kenneth Kirschner – Compressions & Rarefactions

Kenneth Kirschner - Compressions & RarefactionsThe first piece on Compressions And Rarefactions dangles above my head, suspended from the ceiling by a solitary hair. Crystal baby mobiles swerve and bump into eachother in a cascade of glacial clinks. Pseudo-violins produce fine strands of drone, like light winking upon glossy surfaces. Surely the hair must snap soon, although the longer I listen, the less likely it seems. I become increasingly aware of the phantom forces that keep the album in a state of precarious balance. Something unseen is pushing back against the fate of death. The music seems to respire slowly and thinly, the strings surging in and receding like air circulating lungs of glass. For 29 minutes it just hangs there, ready to drop. I never stop believing that it will.

In the grand scheme of Kirschner’s work, 29 minutes is brief. “July 17, 2010” is over two hours long. Again, he gravitates toward brittle texture (in the instance of this track, exclusively working with an assortment of everyday kitchen drinking glasses), with tension residing in the fact that the material is one that shatters rather than erodes. One heavy-handed impact – one misplaced action, no second chances – could be enough to kill the music. Because of this fragility, I never feel comfortable pushing Compressions And Rarefactions to the back of my consciousness. I can’t leave it unattended. The glasses rattle and sigh like a rainforest of transparent cicadas and delicate rustling trees. Kirschner deliberately picks frequencies that communicate with eachother on strange harmonic angles, slanting the soundscape and increasing the risk that one of the instruments might roll off the edge and smash. Even when strung out into drones, the sounds feel restless and unable to sit still, refusing to dissolve into the pool of my subconscious, quivering the forefront of my mind in jagged, vividly sharp focus.

As such, the sensations I encounter during the first minute of listening still linger and twitch at the fourth and fifth hour. Yet with such extreme durations comes a strange, time-based immersion: the horizon spanning in front of me and behind me, stranding my ears within Kirschner’s universe. I start to feel distant from other music. I accept that all sound is fragile and see-through. All breaths are slender and forced. Miniature drones toy with their own mortality, toeing the tightrope of good fortune for longer than they probably should. On the final piece, which centres on a set of layered, polyphonic viola performances by Tawnya Popoff, the music swells into being and retreats into darkness. For two whole hours, each breath of crooked harmony could be the album’s last. The album wheezes through high strings, falling silent for what feels like an eternity, before the chest of Kirschner’s music rises once more. Always once more.