A Dusted Review: Atria by Jessika Kenney (March 27th, 2015)

Washington state native Jessika Kenney has the most important quality needed for a westerner exploring musics from far-flung cultures that are intrinsically different to the one she was born into: she has a knack for homing in on the emotional core of each song she explores. Of course, it helps that she is something of an expert in Indonesian and Persian music, although she admits to making “errors and delusions” on this album. If you can spot them, I’d love to know what they could possibly be, as all of Atria sounds exquisite from where I’m seated, pretending to my other half that I’m managing our bills. But, equally, her voice is so resonant and majestic that, even in a foreign language she is able to conjure up such a storm of feeling that it is impossible to question this music’s authenticity. It’s one of those voices, and one of those spirits, that make you forget that she even has backing performers (including her partner, violist Eyvind Kang, and a series of gamelan players), such is the way she unselfconsciously takes center stage and brings the music close to her own soul.

Atria is intriguing and beguiling on so many levels, Kenney’s voice being just its prime attraction. As mentioned, the music is essentially gamelan, albeit played at a pace I have rarely heard. These songs evolve gradually, often with minimal percussive thrust, with bells and bowls resonated until they produce echo-y drones that interlace with Kang’s measured viola lines and Kenney’s extended vocalizations. Any effects of note are on her singing, as her crystalline wordings are extended or superimposed to create a shimmering choir, most effectively on the album’s centerpiece, the 11-minute “Sarira Tunggal” and its follow-up “Pamor.” These are intricate compositions, with several angles and facets to them, much as the Roman edifices that (sort of) give the album its title would have had. On the busier “Wiji Sawiji Mulane Dadi,” field recordings of birds and bubbling streams combine with flute to evoke a pastoral atmosphere that fans of Indonesian music will be familiar with, but also anyone with a taste for English folk (the flute features heavily on albums by Comus and Mr. Fox) or traditional Indian music.

This poise, restraint and precision in both composition and delivery dominates Atria, but never over-dominates it. Indeed, opener “Her Sword I” is almost groovy in a spiritual sort of way, with gentle patters on hand drums and a gorgeous central melody that is infectious without being intrusive, once again leaving ample room for Kenney’s voice to positively soar outwards. Whether deep or stretching into higher registers, her singing is never short of note-perfect, something demonstrated most expertly on the winding lines of “Sarira Tunggal” and the two versions of “Her Sword” that bookend the album, the second more minimalist and sparser than the opener, and therefore all the more dominated by the vocals.

As far as I can gather, Kenney sings entirely in Farsi, but this is largely immaterial beyond marveling at how immersed in the language and ancient musical traditions of Persia she is. Even in less-than-mystical English, Kenney would sound as exquisite as she does here and, for all the quality of the music and instrumental performances on Atria, it’s greatest achievement is how it elevates Jessika Kenney into the ranks of the world’s premier vocalists.

A Dusted Review: The Face of the Earth by Jessika Kenney and Eyvind Kang (January 23rd, 2013)

When I interviewed Eyvind Kang back in 2012, he spoke at length about the presence of duality in his music and how that served as a companion to similar reflections and doubles in the world at large: sound and its echo, people and their shadows, music and its reverberations… That theory was already explored on his previous LP with Jessika Kenney, Aestuarium, but resonates much more clearly throughout The Face of the Earth, from its title to the artwork via the cosmic sounds the duo creates across the two sides of vinyl.

As such, an album that, on the surface, appears to be a collection of obscure songs sung in Persian and/or anchored in the Javanese Gamelan tradition may seem a mere curiosity, but repeated listens reveal a multitude of levels and suggested meanings, bringing to mind the age-old metaphor of peeling an onion. It would be easy to see The Face of the Earth as an attempt to present Eastern musics and their inherent philosophies to a Western audience, and there is an element of that. Kenney has long been a student of Gamelan and Persian song, having studied in Indonesia and under famed singer and ney flute player Hossein Omouni. Her strong vocals display a deep understanding of the nature and history of this music, tracing beyond her and Kang’s arrangements towards the foundations of what they are performing. The liner notes speak of “binary” and “reflections from a mirror” and in Kenney and Kang’s hands, the elegant ghazal and kidung songs on The Face of the Earth become reflections of every facet of song art worldwide. Remember, the pair have in the past collaborated — together and apart — with the likes of Stuart Dempster, Sunn 0))) and Wolves in the Throne Room, so this is no narrow exercise in intellectual Eastern references. Whilst the duo’s knowledge of the traditions they explore is a fundamental component of the music, The Face of the Earth makes no such demands of the audience, meaning each track is absorbing and effortlessly affecting without the need for further understanding of what’s at play.

The credit for this has to rest with Jessika Kenney, and her wonderfully expressive singing style, aided and abetted by her partner’s spectral music. Kang’s arrangements are sparse, mainly revolving around looped viola and setar (an Iranian lute) lines that mount and descend along elegant melodic structures. This gives a lot of room for Kenney to twist and turn her vocals around the melodies. The singer’s voice is pristine, equally at ease with Javanese and Persian, and particularly emotionally potent when stretching notes in the high register. I may not understand a word she utters, but songs like “Tavaf” and “Kidung” are beautiful, with each line resonating with some inchoate emotional universality. Some tracks are sparse, notably the deceptively epic “Kidung,” which extends over 11 minutes and sees Kenney embark on snake-like vocalizations over the sparsest of plucked viola accompaniment from Kang. It could easily be a patience-defying approach, but with every ululation, cry or whisper imbued with intangible emotion, Kenney owns each and every second.

“Tavaf” and “Mirror Stage,” meanwhile, engage in more elaborate manipulations via looped or multi-tracked vocals and the inclusion of percussion and electronic colorations. Whilst the music is therefore denser, the spirit of the tracks is identical to that of “Kidung,” once again returning to the idea of duality, as if these tracks are extended reflections of the more stripped-down ones. Rapidly repeated loops build up a certain tension, particularly on “Mirror Stage” and the title track, which is immediately countered by the operatic grace of Kenney’s voice, a restlessness that never allows the listener to settle into a single emotive state. That this occurs without any clear direction from Kang and Kenney is entirely to their credit. The duo does not merely engage in pat faux-Eastern mysticism, but rather subtly allows each listener to find his or her way amongst the sounds. By refusing to overtly explain or detail their compositions’ history and intentions, they ultimately give us more freedom to enjoy them, on a level that transcends the boundaries of culture and geography.

A Liminal Review: Visible Breath by Eyvind Kang (February 7th, 2012)

The (relative) recent surge in interest in the music of American composer and string player Eyvind Kang is no more than the man deserves. His phenomenal arrangements for SUNN O)))’s Monoliths & Dimensions (2009) helped elevate the robed doom-metal “cave-men”’s sound to new levels of expansiveness and atmosphere. It was therefore no surprise that SUNN guitarist Stephen O’Malley returned the favour by releasing Kang’s Aestuarium (recorded with wife Jessika Kenney) and now Visible Breath (solo, but also featuring Kenney, amongst others) on his Ideologic Organ imprint, both in 2011. Meanwhile, Ipecac will be issuing his latest release, The Narrow Garden, at the end of January. So a prolific few months for Mr Kang!

Of the two latest albums, Visible Breath, recorded most recently, is the most immediately arresting, despite being sparser and more experimental. On the opening title track, quiet horn and string drones emerge deliberately out of the speakers, drawn out and patient in the tradition of the just intonation of LaMonte Young or Pauline Oliveros. Jessika Kenney joins in on vocals, her high keen fooling me at first – I thought it was a trumpet such is her precision and control over her voice! “Visible Breath” evolves gently, building its atmospheres in patient layers; however, it is far from relaxing, as some of the deep drone by Oliveros or Eliane Radigue can be, with strains of unease and disquiet echoing through the mix. Midway through the pace drops off, as Kenney’s voice and occasional strident viola and violin lines swoop and pierce across the ether, with Kang the composer toying with silence as a means of building the tension. The piece gradually evolves and dissolves, never breaking the listless groove it inhabits, even as Cuong Vu engages in some brutal trumpet “solos” that lean towards free jazz. As the musicians gradually drop away, a silence falls over the session like a sheet laid over a corpse.

After a similarly unnerving short interlude, ‘Monadology’, which features fitful moans from Kenney and rumbling horn and piano motifs under sudden screes from Kang on viola and Timb Harris on violin, ‘Thick Tarragon’, recorded after the first two pieces, feels like a slight parting of the clouds, as Janel Leppin plucks away percussively at a modified cello and a pedal steel guitar slides to-and-fro like a graceful pendulum. The drones here are lighter, but no less mystical -especially as the percussive sounds make way for more drifting, mellow tones and excoriating vibrations of strings- and on Visible Breath you can’t help feeling that Eyvind Kang is living up to Stephen O’Malley’s description of his music as “spectral”.

The Narrow Garden is altogether sunnier than its cousin, and features a near-orchestra-sized group of musicians guided by Kang, who is only credited as conductor. Kang describes it as “a concept of love, of poetry, like a troubadour or ashugh, courtly love that goes in two directions – one the more ineffable, kind of delightful […] and the other direction is the implication of a kind of violence.” This dichotomy is not immediately perceptible, as ‘Forest Sama’i’ swoops forwards like a clear ray of sunshine, all loping hand percussion and elegant string and flute patterns. Atmospherically, the album crosses borders with confident ease, as Orient and Occident collide, a proper melting pot that throws up Middle Eastern rhythms alongside hints of the European psychedelic folk of Yatha Sidhra and The Incredible String Band. But later tracks return to the subtle malaise of Visible Breath, especially the title track and epic closer ‘Invisus Natalis’, with claustrophobic, atonal string drones and colliding textures. The effect is almost akin to a film score, with a subtle and involving progression that feels like a narrative, slowly escalating to its dramatic finale, with Kenney once again displaying her prodigious vocal dexterity. The Narrow Garden may not have Visible Breath’s stripped-down immediacy, but it remains a robust demonstration of Eyvind Kang’s epic ability to distill atmospheres and ambiance with the power of an alchemist. His vision pushes geographical, musical and conceptual boundaries in a way that grants his music endless mystique.

Everything that has made Eyvind Kang such a distinctive figure on the modern composition scene can be found in these two remarkably different albums. They can be fierce, quiet, unsettling, graceful and calming all in the space of a few bars. A remarkable talent unfolds in the grooves of these albums, one that’s exhilarating to engage with as a listener.

You can also read this review here

A Quietus Interview – Finding Out Something True: Eyvind Kang (February 3rd, 2012)

Eyvind Kang is a composer, arranger, multi-instrumentalist and performer who gained prominence in 2010 when he worked on arrangements for Sunn O)))’s much-celebrated Monoliths & Dimensions, helping the famed doom/drone unit transcend their guitar-based roots and connect with modern composition and experimental music. But beyond his numerous collaborations (which also include work with the likes of Bill Frisell, Laurie Anderson and John Zorn), Kang has established himself as a potent artist in his own right, as demonstrated by two albums released on Sunn O))) guitarist Stephen O’Malley’s Ideologic Organ imprint, Aestuarium (credited to Kang and his partner Jessika Kenney) and Visible Breath. He also has an upcoming release on Ipecac Records, The Narrow Garden. All three albums reflect the diversity of Eyvind Kang’s musical output, with none sounding at all like the others, but also his singular approach to tones and atmosphere.

On the eve of an O’Malley-organised concert at London’s Cafe Oto , as well as the  release of The Narrow Garden, the Quietus caught up with Eyvind Kang to discuss his interest in diverse sounds, upcoming projects, plans for the Oto show, and the themes and approaches behind his compositions and music.

Could you please provide us with a bit of information about your background? Were you always into music? How did your recording career start?

Eyvind Kang: I grew up in Canada, Winnipeg and Regina, and a little bit in Iceland. My ancestry’s a mixture of Icelandic, Danish and Korean. I was in awe of musical instruments. I’ve been taking different kinds of lessons and studying, practicing my whole life. As a kid, I noticed some other kids taking piano lessons, so that was my first impulse, but I started with violin, as a lot of Korean kids do in the US. I had an amazing teacher in elementary school, who introduced me, and everybody in the class, to orchestra music. In my teenage years, I got into reggae and played the bass with some friends in a band. We just learned music communally. And it just kept going – my God, it never ends!

By the time I went to college, I thought that I wouldn’t go into music, but somehow I was hooked, so I ended up sticking with it – that’s how I ended up in Seattle, actually, at Cornish, in the early nineties.

I started recording when I was in college. My first CD, 7 NADEs, was recorded around then, maybe in 1994. I’ve always been making music, from the get-go.

Do you want to know the names of some of my teachers? Every time I say their names, it hardens a shell around their teachings, so I prefer not to.

How are preparations going for your concert at Cafe Oto in London?

EK: Great. Me and Jessika are knee deep in that! We’re married, so we do this all the time. It’s really nice to bring it across the ocean. It’s going to be my first appearance at Cafe Oto. We’re excited to play there and be a part of the show.

What can we expect from you on the night? Will it be a more stripped-down show than the music on The Narrow Garden?

EK: Yes, but not as much as Aestuarium! It’s rather confusing, because a lot of things came out at the same time, recently, like The Narrow Garden and Visible Breath, and then there’s the duet with Jessika, Aestuarium, which is very stripped-down. There were eight or nine musicians on Visible Breath, and then on The Narrow Garden it was getting up to chamber orchestra size. The music we’re bringing to Oto is Jessika. [laughs] It’s not going to be as austere as Aestuarium, because that was recorded five years ago, and since then, a lot of plant-like tendrils have grown out of that, and we’ve gathered them up into one thing we can present.

I want to do a gig to release The Narrow Garden, but it’s kind of a conundrum. It was taken from a live gig I did in Barcelona, however… There will be some brand new pieces (at Oto) and we might want to revisit bits of Aestuarium, but I can’t imagine we would play it the same way. The stuff we’re preparing is very different to anything that we’ve done that came out. Aestuarium is one pole, and we have another pole involving a lot of electronics and ambience. I don’t know what the space of Oto is like, but we have a little tour coming up, so hopefully some of those rooms are appropriate.

Can you give me a bit of background on the recording of Aestuarium?

EK: Aestuarium was a bit like a shadow, a tone. Me and Jessika play together, and combine the sounds… O’Malley called it spectral music, which was a surprise, because I feel Jessika and I use phenomenology of sound and tone, so it’s kind of the opposite of “spectral”, as I understand. Spectral composers want to study the nature and interior of sound – the consciousness of sound – whereas when we did Aestuarium, we were going into ourselves, our own consciousness of sound, where there was no difference between hearing and making sound. Intention, like the old Aristotelian meaning of the word. So we went into ourselves, and found that the sound and its shadow are like twins, and we joined them in our piece. But five years later, even with being graced by the vinyl reissue – which is like an echo back – we realised the shadow and the tone had grown apart from each other in an interesting way. I’m riffing on Ibn Arabi, the great Sufi philosopher. He said that the object that casts a shadow and the shadow itself, are related, point-by-point. But the proportions in the shadow can change so much that you’re dealing with infinite proportions. The shadow can be infinitely large. That’s the kind of thing that I think we’re practicing. With the “marriage” of our tone, we can be shadows of each other. One can be finite, one can be shadow.

One of the other images is the stroke of the pen, the letter… The letter created by the stroke of the pen.

What was the theme behind the album? Water and nature seem very prominent, as well as the use of Latin lyrics…

EK: Yes, and Tibetan notation. I think Aestuarium was about consciousness, in a way. There was also the Latin text, which was very deep. Visible Breath was about nature and elements, wind and water; and The Narrow Garden is more about plants and animals. And stories…

At the time (of Aestuarium), we were living by the water on Puget Sound, and we recorded at our home. Our friend Mel Dettmer, a great recording engineer, came over and we just did it in a day or an afternoon. The composition too: everything just happened right there, nothing was pre-planned.

We were living on the water, and it’s a place where fresh-water and salt-water come together, the “aestuarium”. You can actually hear the water on the record! It’s an interesting place, where salt- and fresh-water meet, with a really interesting energy. There are salmon, a really important fish, and birds like the cormorant and the heron. So we were kind of entering into their realm.

The lyrics are from a Latin psalm. It’s about a pelican, it’s a lamentation, but it’s kind of unimportant, because we didn’t want to emphasise the biblical side… But when you’re dealing with the song, it’s so sacred. I’m really fond of Latin.

In contrast to Aestuarium‘s sparseness, The Narrow Garden is very lush, with a lot of musicians. How did you come to compose the music for that album, and was it a challenge working with so many collaborators?

EK: It is really different, but if you listen to the other two records that came out on Ipecac, it’s very much in the same ball-park. They were sort of one-offs, that went down somewhere in Europe, with art groups, and the results are documents of those experiences. But it took a long time to digest and mix. It was a challenge to work with a lot of collaborators

Again, what is the thematic background to the album, if any? Do all your albums work to a theme or narrative?

EK: My albums center on a polarity, a sort of yin-yang dynamic. So it’s a quasi-narrative, and actually, The Narrow Garden is a little more like that, because there’s the storytelling. I wanted it to be like a children’s story, so it kind of holds your hand and walks you through it at first, and then there’s a forest, where you kind of get lost… But those are metaphors. With Visible Breath and Aestuarium, you’re just in there, but in The Narrow Garden, there’s more formality, more manners, it’s mannered. But “narrative’ is another term I’m not totally crazy about, because it suggests that music is subservient, or following a form. I think that’s a particular phenomenon of film music. I’m glad when people say it’s like film music, because it kind of means that it was like a dream to them, that it evokes more; but when I’m working on it, I don’t like to think that it’s following a narrative outside of the sound, really. I think of dynamic states, and I always want to know where it’s going, that there’s a direction in the sound and that I’m following that.

Aestuarium seems to have a Celtic feel to it, whilst The Narrow Garden features more Eastern influences. Have you always been interested in musics from around the world?

EK: From one point of view, it’s an apt description, but I think of it in terms of time, more so. Like sound worlds, and time eras. The way human beings think of sound is like a language, so there are periods when different languages of sound are more dominant. I’m interested in thinking about what a person would have done in the year, say, 1000 Common Era, when they picked up an instrument and started singing. Everything changed after the so-called Renaissance era and then the Enlightenment. Your boy Francis Bacon, and all those cats, they just revised everything that was going on in music. But the symbols in music writing are really rich, more so than scientific writing or the alphabets, there’s more to work with. They’re sounds from old worlds, that are connected to the East… The Orient, which can refer to the Arab and Persian world, and to the Far East. From a composing point of view, I’m very interested in the Orient. I don’t prefer the term “melting pot”, because I don’t believe in the reductionist elements of that phrase. “Biosphere” is more fruitful.

You can talk about world music, but, to transition to that without going through Sun Ra, Michael White, would be impossible for me. I live in a colony, breakaway settler state. To think, like Aime Cesaire, about the pan-African as a door, which is called “world” but to deal with the means of valid knowledge, of language, translations, intuition, tradition where learning means receiving, composing/improvising means giving… There are a lot of musicians I met on the Arabic music scene in the States, and a few of them are on The Narrow Garden.

Visible Breath is very different to the other two albums, and feels darker. What was the context for composing that album? Do you plan the atmospheres in advance, or do they evolve organically.

EK: Visible Breath is the most recently-recorded of the latest releases. The atmospheres on all three albums just evolved. What you’re listening to sounds completely different to me, and I think it sounds completely different to someone else. And I think there are other possibilities, because there can be spirits, ghosts, and it would sound completely different to them. So I want to leave it completely open, I don’t want to say that [an album] is mournful or dark, because I don’t know how it sounds. But it’s interesting for me to hear… Visible Breath can be kind of dark, maybe, but I didn’t feel that. A lot of magic happens, but it’s a question of conscious and subconscious. What you think you’re going to do, consciously, is only the tip of the iceberg.

On Visible Breath and Aestuarium, you play viola, but you are credited as conductor “only” for The Narrow Garden. What was the thought-process behind the decision?

EK: Just because it was a large group of musicians with limited time to rehearse. As conductor, I could just make it happen and cue the people so they didn’t get too confused or lost, and just guide it. I think that’s the ethic of the music too, because it’s taking the listener and guiding them. A guided tour [laughs]. “Ethic” is a very strong word for conducting and organising. That and manners and there’s an image of courtly love that comes up in the lyrics, “courtoisie”, chivalry, Sufi chivalry, which is called futuhat.

You of course worked with Sunn O))) on Monoliths & Dimensions. How did that collaboration come about, and was it a challenge for you to work with a metal band?

EK: They have a Seattle connection, so I met them through Mel Dettmer and Randall Dunn, who both recorded Monoliths & Dimensions. Randall does live sound for Sunn O))), so he was the connector, really. He talked to Sunn O))) about me, and to me about Sunn O))). I think maybe Stephen [O’Malley] initiated it, but I don’t know. I got the long metal, doom tracks and they gave me free reign to draw and paint with their tracks. It was a great experience. For the choir, we went over to Vienna. Stephen and I met during those sessions, and we realised we had quite a lot to talk about. At that time, I was discovering the whole “spectral” music thing and Stephen went crazy with that, his own way of understanding that. Sunn O))) has touched a nerve with minimalist composers, and they’re teaching them in their classes! Stuart Dempster is also the great link, and Stephen O’Malley flipped out that he was on board. Dempster has all these links to Deep Listening, he’s just huge, and he was quite enthusiastic about Sunn O))). So you have all these composers who “get” Sunn O))), but in their own way, with all their background in contemporary music, and the terminology around that. Whereas Stephen and Greg (Anderson) call themselves cavemen.

It was challenging to work on Monoliths & Dimensions, because the envelopes of the sound – the attack, the decays, the swells – all those things that are lovely about Sunn O))) when they play, create another dynamic than acoustic instruments. So what I wanted to do was follow the dynamic curve that was implied in their sound through the unfolding of instrumentation. After a while, though, it wasn’t very intellectual – I became a caveman too [laughs].

How do you approach the composition of a piece or album? Do you have a set idea that you work to, or do you let the writing evolve organically?

EK: It writes itself usually. There’s a process of logic, finding out something true.

Finally, what are your plans for the rest of 2012? Are there any more releases on the horizon?

EK: We’re looking to come back to Europe in July, and hopefully to London. We’re doing these small shows for very small audiences. We performed at a zen centre on New Year’s Eve, where there were about ten or twenty people, but even performing to two, three, four, five people would be ideal. Where we could all sit together. It’s a completely different musical experience than a venue with microphones.

I’m working on some pieces right now. I just did a string quintet, a piano solo, and a duo for cello and oboe, so smaller pieces. I hope to include them on a record that I got the go ahead to do. The first rehearsal for the cello/oboe thing is tomorrow, so I’ve got to get my act together! I’m seriously psyched about the piano piece, so that’s the ongoing composing side. I’m also putting more time into just playing. I play hardcore jazz with Bill Frisell – he’s a serious dude, so that’s the jazz side, and I’m trying hard to come face-to-face with something like John Coltrane or Charlie Parker. That legacy. And then also Persian music has been crazy: I also have a concerto for Persian ney that I’m recording right now. We’re doing it like a student project. I’m hoping that will be completed this year. But the main work is practicing…

Photo by Bryce Davesne

A Quietus Review: Aestuarium by Jessika Kenney & Eyvind Kang (September 9th, 2011)

SOMA002s_CVR-350x350_1315564697_crop_180x180When SUNN O))) guitarist and all-round drone/metal/experimental bigwig Stephen O’Malley was handed a curatorial role by Editions Mego to provide the albums for their new Ideologic Organ imprint, it would appear (at least at first glance) that he didn’t scout about too far to land his first release, as vocalist Jessika Kenney and violist Eyvind Kang both appeared on SUNN O)))’s monstrous 2009 opus Monoliths & Dimensions, the former directing the choir on ‘Big Church’, the latter providing string and acoustic arrangements on the same track and on ‘Alice’.

But as Ideologic Organ is dedicated to exploring “acoustic” music, in all its varied forms, you’d be wrong to be the expecting saturated guitars, cavernous vocals and doom-laden lyrics that one tends to associate with O’Malley’s own musical output. Aestuarium is a work of delicate beauty, as pristine as the surface of a lake at dawn on a summer’s morning.

Much of this is down to Kenney’s remarkable voice. It glides out of the speakers on opener ‘Orcus Pellicano’ like a quiet brook sliding down a mountainside. It’s clear and immediate, yet steeped in history, seeming to stretch towards the listener from across an ocean of time. Kenney sings in Latin, yet her phraseology seems to come from even further back, echoing traditional music from the pre-Roman Celtic civilisations of Ireland and Britain, steeping Aestuarium in a sense of occult paganism, as if Kenney had, prior to recording, uncovered a grimoire of ancient rites and was using them to channel the spirits of her pre-colonial ancestors. Adapting the musical styles of lost civilisations for the modern times is a particularly treacherous exercise.

It’s one thing to cover folk tunes that have been handed down from generation to generation, à la Pentangle or Fairport Convention, but to try and recapture music that has mostly been forgotten, whilst all the while making it palatable for modern sensitivities, is another kettle of fish altogether. Just listen to the bile-inducing fluff of Enya or the Titanic soundtrack for particularly bad examples. On first reading about Aestuarium, I was worried it would sound like a dodgy Dark Ages film soundtrack. Instead, it may just be one of the best modern examples of a minimalist tradition that evidently stretches back into the mists of time, but came to a head from the early-60s-onward with the popularity of Indian masters like Pran Nath and Ravi Shankar, and the emergence of modern composers such as LaMonte Young, Marian Zazeela and Charlemagne Palestine; not so much in the actual style (the pieces on Aestuarium tend to be rather short and airy, as opposed to the lengthy deep drones of Young or Nath), but in the way Kenney and Kang stretch into the past and across borders to create arresting “new” drone and vocal music.

On ‘Figura Nox’, Kenney brings her interest in Middle Eastern music to the fore, her undulating chanting seeming more indebted to Persian or Maghrebin traditions than the Celtic tones of ‘Orcus Pellicano’. This globe-trotting never seems unsettling, though, as the whole of Aestuarium is dominated by the theme of water, from its recording on the banks of Puget Sound to the way it brings in a diversity of influences and phraseologies into one homogenous voice, in the same way cultures crossed oceans to come together in estuarine ports and cities, from Britain to America via Ancient Egypt and The Far East. Aestuarium is ideally suited to being listened to on a vast seashore on a windy day, watching gulls circle over listing cargo ships and choppy waters.

Incredibly, Kenney and Kang (sounds like a detective show duo…) achieve this broad and textured atmosphere with just vocals and viola. Eschewing any predictable call-and-response stereotypes, they combine the voice and strings to become one source, the deeper tones from Kang grounding the soaring vocalisations of Kenney. This is most effective on the spooky, hesitant ‘Unnamed Figures’, on which the two musicians edge around one another, almost seeming to duel as opposed to duet, both expertly poised, creating a tension that belies their stripped-down set-up. Kenney’s voice is mournful and aching, conjuring deep emotions from the sparsest of means. On ‘Dies Mei’, the loping vocal plays off against a percussive backing line, Kang’s virtuosity adding extra dynamism and building on the edginess of the previous track. But by the final piece, (relative) calm is restored. Kang allows himself a rare mini solo which segues into a tremulous vocal by his musical partner. And so the album slides away, like the tide receding from the shore, leaving a sense of having experienced something primal, timeless and haunting. For all that Aestuarium sounds far removed from standard heavy O’Malley fare, it is easy to see what drew him to the album, beyond its obvious beauty. With its impenetrable lyrics, minimal, sparse arrangements and overarching sense of mystery and arcana, it is perfectly keyed in to the same Ur-klang (as Julian Cope would say) that informs the deepest recesses of SUNN O))) and Khanate’s music.

But beyond all that, Aestuarium is simply a stirring and beautiful album showcasing two premier musicians advancing into inventive forms of minimalist, but emotionally resonant, music. You can find layer upon layer of meaning in the grooves of this LP, and consider ad infinitum where it fits in the minimalist, or indeed O’Malley, cannons; or you can slap it on, close your eyes, and journey to the wild shorelines Jesskia Kenney and Eyvind Kang conjure up with their intense and beautiful sounds.

You can also read this article here: http://thequietus.com/articles/06946-jessika-kenney-eyvind-kang-aestuarium-review