ROLAND KAYN – A Little Electronic Milky Way Of Sound

Frozen Reeds

So, where do I start from?

I’ll choose the glorious Soleilmoon catalog, a reference for many mortals intrigued by unconventional musics in the 90s. There I saw for the first time the name Roland Kayn (erroneously spelled “Kayne” on that printed paper) stuck to a near-epigrammatic description of what would become my principal connection with the central nucleus: the quadruple CD version of TEKTRA. I waited for much too long before determining to buy that item; but once landed in my player and given a spin, I instantly knew that there was no going back to normality from that marvelous hallucination.

The exchanges with Herr Kayn occurred via written letters, typically sent by fax. I am not conversant with German; he didn’t speak English, yet sparsely remembered some Italian terms. His daughter Ilse was the fastener of two akin instincts willing to interlock. Only once did Kayn reply via email, in broken English, to a question on one of his later pieces; after the briefest explanation, he amusingly signed himself “Rolandino” (the Italian for “Little Roland”) which is how, to this day, I affectionately refer to him in my thoughts.

How could one not admire this person? Being held hostage by that egoless music, floating across awesome superimpositions of impenetrable spaces, rarefied atmospheres and gliding harmonies, were unprecedented experiences. A veritable youth-to-adulthood transition that pulverized quite a few beliefs in a life spent surrounded by innumerable types of acoustic realizations.

I decreed to purchase everything that had been released by Rolandino until then, and that is exactly what happened. Never has a man been happier to spend his hard-earned money. This was the obvious thing to do in order to get closer to what really puts a soul in “full vibration” mode.

As bad luck would have it, the Kayn/Ricci summit remained a chimera (my fault, of course) notwithstanding invitations, good intentions and theoretical plans; he decided to plunge into eternity too soon, at the first rays of 2011. When Ilse broke the news I was stunned for hours, in the meantime bidding farewell to the desperate need of asking him more questions. To the bulk of which – I’m sure – he would have replied with a dry smile and selected words of wisdom; and, in any case, placing the interlocutor at safe distance from the sheer technicalities of his impulsive wonders, which he kept vague on purpose (although – for the geeks among you – Sasha Frere-Jones has penned an article tackling some of them).

Furthermore, Kayn used to store tapes and records in boxes that were left unattended for years. That we’re now able to enjoy materials retrieved from those boxes is a minor miracle. Thanks in no small part to Jim O’Rourke – who digitally refurbished the contents of DAT tapes otherwise destined to ineluctable decay – A Little Electronic Milky Way Of Sound becomes a means to certify the recognition of a true visionary. At last, one would say.

Why did this writer occupy the preceding paragraphs by blathering of his own relationship with Kayn and his sonic cosmos? Simple: because no verbal variety – either technological or pictorially esoteric – will ever help the curious neophyte to authentically understand how these sonorities affect the auricular membranes, and that includes this exceptional 16-CD box set. One can associate historical names according to what’s heard; at times it’s impossible not to think of Iannis Xenakis or Tod Dockstader. Nevertheless, Kayn’s self-regulating creatures belong to a cosmic continuum that encompasses his entire oeuvre. Thus, this is neither a “starting point” for the uninitiated, nor an “addition” for the adept. It is more like managing to cut a sizable chunk of sky to stuff it into a marine shell: as phenomenal as the internal resonance may result, we’re impotent in front of the overwhelmingly complex endlessness that still surrounds us.

When all is said and done, everyone is going to approach these compositions in their own way; all kinds of individual response are expectable. However, it is not necessary to treat this set as a chore to be performed from early morning to late night, as suggested by Geeta Dayal in another article. In keeping with Kayn’s philosophy, events should happen spontaneously: picking a single CD to study it exhaustively; listening to twenty minutes every day; randomly choosing between myriads of combinations of shades and kinetics. It doesn’t matter how long one wants to stay; what’s crucial, that time has to be exclusively dedicated to a focused listen. If ALEMWOS (make that “anything by Kayn”) is used as environmental complement, the point is totally missed; indeed I recoiled in horror while reading Dayal’s account of how well it mixed with her coffee machine, bird songs and street noises. (*Stop press Jan 5, 2018: then I became enlightened following this tweet).

This is not Music For Films.

And – just so everybody knows – hearing Milky Way via mp3 files, perhaps at low volume, is not doing any justice to the tremendous dynamic gamut through which the deus ex machina’s research was carried out.

To seriously learn the phylogeny of such a variegated, unpredictable organism and the effects it may have on your innermost core, one must be really probing its multidimensional reconditeness. Kayn’s originality lies in this apparently implausible junction between the dissolution of a composer’s vanity and the aural abundance returned by autonomous mechanisms. The vibrancy produced by the latter is not deprived of stochastic recurrences and atypical leitmotivs. Similarly to Frank Zappa’s “conceptual continuity”, in a way.

A rigid (or injured) psyche receives what’s unusual as a jumble of chaotic signals and feels the urge to “talk about” them, refusing to subject itself to a fundamental learning process; on the other hand, a healthy questioning brain absorbs the true meanings by listening intently. It’s an old story that we will never cease to repeat.

In other words, is there any need to compulsively expound the inherent physics of sunlight while being pushed at higher levels by the hues of a crystalline autumnal sunrise? Will humans finally relinquish their delusional quest for the “comprehension” of laws they’re too limited to even think of?

If you checked “no” to both questions, it is very likely that Roland Kayn’s vision is right up your alley, and that ALEMWOS will send essential communications towards the clean aerials of a discerning integrity.

Lastly: what about the narrator? Well, the picture of Kayn used for the box’s insert was taken in 1964, in Rome. Year and place of birth of “Massimino”.

We will merge our frequencies, Roland. It’s a promise.

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