The fine folded pressures of the lidless eye.
Renowned through his collaborations with John Zorn, Mike Patton, and Trey Spruance, Eyvind Kang has become the go-to violin guy for a certain strain of the American Avant Garde, but can he deliver the great on his own?
The names check out. He was ready, correct and very present on the records of other men; no mere arranger, this man is your Kang and deserves some respect. The Narrow Garden contains the broken shards of an musical empire maturing, but still sharp.
illusions of primary coloured relations: cars, guns, girls Gatorade, gum
On first listen his albums are instantly within an oeuvre that contains a recognisable syllogism, logic and aesthetic, an understanding that any emotionality or statement or import will not relate to tin-pan alley illusions of primary coloured relations: cars, guns, girls Gatorade, gum or the grey blizzard of musical careerism. It concerns the areas where the eerie weird meets the uncanny.
It's a musical space for people that consider themselves explorers and the role that place plays in the music of Eyvind eludes many listeners, we are at once knowingly presented with timbres of Arabian music, nursery rhymes, home county pastoralism (a la Britten) and the sort of post-lecture knitting factory avant-garde that in most cases stinks up the academic recesses of a thinking girl’s sexless party. Or if you like it's a map where the words fall off depending which way you hold it. It's alienating in so much as it makes alienation a really possibility and an end in itself.
In The Narrow Garden (TNG) The amalgam of influences, production aesthetic, acoustic tonality, choice of scale suggests some deeper kinship of weird symbols, archetypal wrestling, and pleasure seeking brutality that is instantly familiar to fans of Bungle, Patton, Zorn. But of all his bros, Eyvind's closest musical comparison exists within vast geometry of Trey Spruance's Secret Chiefs 3. However as matter of contrast, with TNG we are shown aspects of a personal story that allows naive melodies to mature, where atonality seems meaningful and gets right under your skin….
It's classical rock with ethnic folk overtones but where Trey's palette runs more globular and with more grandiose bombast Kang demures. Which isn't to say that Eyvind is a wallflower, just that he shades his equally intriguing pronouncements with a softer brush. Exquisite miniatures if you will.
The Narrow Garden starts with a smattering of djembe pattering out the childhood reminiscent tongue twister 'how much wood can a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood' before a simple melody picks up and becomes embellished with strings and further instrumentation.
Rhythm. A beat. The beginning. Adjust the cushion, shift the orgone inhibitor, hold onto sense and feeling because you're in for a strong urge to count.
Listening to Trey speak about Eyvind's music we get a feeling that numeracy and harmonic structure are of central importance to both musicians. This preoccupation gives a strong sense of terpsichorean structure and medieval courtly dance which complements the interlocking movements of instruments as participants, who follow circular geometric forms, and which never end so much as 'close'.
This classical idea of a mathematical musical order reflected in the nature's harmony, where tonal qualities of the universe were assumed and believed to order the human senses, organs, and personalities, sets the stage for humanity's (and by extension; the album's) central paradox.
the world when isolated from humanity seems to exist in a state of self-righting harmony, whereas the human seems unbalanced and chaotic
Namely that the world when isolated from humanity seems to exist in a state of self-righting harmony, whereas the human seems unbalanced and chaotic. If humans are natural why aren't we also harmoniously aligned to our surroundings? (see note below)
To some adherents the alignment of maths and music allowed a positivistic chance for correcting this paradox and both Trey's and Eyvind's recent music has played with these concepts both as intellectual exercises and perhaps something more. The Narrow Garden, is an exegesis on this theme. It investigates it with every suspended melody and diminished return, moreover the harder you look the louder it shouts the same blasted question. If harmony, eternal or otherwise, is the key why isn't basic simplicity the answer; you can't argue with a circle for geometric harmony can you?
Without a perceptive question, any answer is meaningless and at worst really really boring. The perfect music of a flawless circle would sound like a monotone symphony playing to no one, by no one, without any ironic context or permeable barrier of expression, let alone extravagant facial hair or backup dancers . Perfect simplicity, as Jim Sclavunos once told me 'is just not worth it'.
Pure harmony is pure torture, the asymmetric melodic grist in the mixture is the electrolyte salt and crystalline catalyst. Lucozade for the soul if you will, perhaps even Mountain Dew for the afterlife.
Paul Simon once had trouble knitting the various elements of Graceland together. Some parts were recorded in South Africa, other parts in New York. He had assumed that the timings and the key was the same, but something appeared wrong and he would not be dissuaded to 'let it go'. Paul Simon was sure that after all; 'unlike Life, in the studio you can fix anything'.
That's when it's alive. That's the rock in the roll. That's what keeps mics fresh.
The key element that he had not understood was that his South African session guys, while playing simple figures, were also playing 'suggestions' that resolved over the course of the entire song rather than simply four bars down the line. To Paul Simon his liberated-through-art Apartheid pals' occasional miss-hits and skippages were (to paraphase) 'less than intentional but so much more than accidental, intuitive even'. Trite bullshit aside, when we cross the feel/know divide music is real when it changes bar to bar, never repeating. That's when it's alive. That's the rock in the roll. That's what keeps mics fresh. That's what keeps techno from being repetitive!
Well maybe not the last one but you get the idea. The Narrow Garden operates in the same way, it aims transcend binaries.
In tracks like 'Mineralia', straight developments are 'teased' into place by Fibonacci based accents, circular melodies, and counterpoint 'drops' that give the sense of pulling the centre of each composition into place as though you didn't realise that as a listener you had 'assumed' yourself out of harmony.
It's a reminder of that classic book The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat recounting a patient of clinician Oliver Sacks who didn't believed himself to be walking perfectly until he was shown a film of himself walking bent to one side at a 45 degree angle. Musically speaking, we love the pentatonic sat-nav so much we'll follow it until the lake water is lapping as the gear stick. Kang isn't saying 'watch the road' he's just telling us not drive to into the lake.
The trick with The Narrow Garden is that the playful deceptions, the random paths, and dischords present us with a world made up of irregular travels, an impression that decries common and pedestrian ideas of order and harmony, but satisfies in way that the commonplace never can.
The relationship to chaos and change in music is what makes it interesting. At various points during the album chaos appears to reign but then it is precisely in finding closure outside of the asymmetry/symmetry within Eyvind's music that is its highest reward.
To contemporary ears the years of blues based conditioning has made this album more exotic than it should be. A release of this confidence shouldn't be shoe-horned into questions about our musical ancestry but it does, and in a weird way it becomes political. Traditional Celtic music, for instance, has more musical variations associated with it than the average rock radio station. Accepting that monoculture (as some would have it) has never truly existed, it verges on interesting to think that popular appreciation tries to ameliorate all musical difference into some identifiable pop amalgam. It plays at being remarkable that we still think that this hasn't always been the case. After all, popular is consensually what the group demands.
Music that does not cater directly to our lower functional needs IS interesting
The point is that, what we are supposed to receive with divested nonchalance, IS remarkable. Music that does not cater directly to our lower functional needs IS interesting. We don't NEED, a dubstep wobble or anthemic riff to connect with something, however we know that both things crank a party and a cranking party means you get laid, make friends, and people compliment you on your obscure t-shirt graphic.
Happily we can have both, and in the moments when the twins are out buying more champagne and handmade gnocchi I suggest you tell babylon to smoke a fat one and contemplate the high white tower of Kang, gazing out into the tourmaline expanse of your own antediluvial cleverness.
What saves this album from being characterised as being unrepentantly arrogant is that not only does it feature some phenomenal and heartfelt music but that once you get it, it welcomes you. That the alienation engendered by the solitary experience of The Narrow Garden is never fully realised, it is never lonely, the album joins you in your world. The Narrow Garden's intensity and concentration is based on using you as a vessel, it cannot be shared.
To paraphrase a Pixar documentary: the mark of a good work is that it appears as though it is the vision of one person, the mark of a great work is that work stands for itself. The Narrow Garden does exactly that, perhaps more, The Narrow Garden colonises you.
On Ipecac, January 30th
Note from above: there is an idea which would suggest that actually humans are completely in harmony with their surroundings. Just as various natural processes have caused extinction, resource depletion, and destruction, thereby 'allowing' another species to become dominant, humans are just another plague (See Bill Hicks) that will inevitably over extend itself leaving that which the earth craves and cannot make for itself, plastic (See George Carlin). This plastic, remaining on the earth, will become an evolutionary structural component of a sentient species, immortal, with fashions lasting eons, twins of unimaginably sexual appetites and whose technological waste merely increases another carbon-based lifeform's number until their core resource, dead tissue aka fossil fuel, is spent. At which point they'll be recycled… there is this argument but it's patently fanciful and will not be actualised by the time Kang's record hits the shelves.