Ian Maleney reviews Jessika Kenney & Eyvind Kang‘s The Face Of The Earth, an album of dualities that explores Persian traditional music where “memory and imagination are key“.
When presented with an album based on abstract Persian traditions and executed through even-more-abstract use of the voice and violin, it’s tempting to get a little overwhelmed by the undoubted (and mostly incomprehensible) profundity of it all. Thankfully, Jessika Kenney and Eyvind Kang have offered some hints as to how to engage with it. The idea of duality is central to the album as a whole. First, the duo. Kenney is an accomplished vocalist with an instinctive feel for tone and timbre who has explored interpretations of Persian music extensively in the past. Kang is an adventurous composer and multi-instrumentalist who has collaborated with names like Beck, Mike Patton, Bill Frisell, Laura Viers and Sunn O))), alongside his all-too-rare solo output.
The liner notes describe the central idea of duality in two ways, seeing it as a reflection and ensuing separation of a singular whole and the inverse to that; a secret unity that joins two discrete entities. The combination of voice and strings that makes up most of the music here is a physical manifestation of this, with two elements becoming one as often as they feel distinct from each other. They push towards one another and then pull apart, most obviously on second track ‘Kidung‘ where the strings and vocals trade phrases before their harmonies run so close that they begin to dissolve any difference in tone and distinguishing one from the other becomes difficult. Kenney’s careful use of effects makes this possible, taking her stunning voice and making it echo subtly in the distance, in and around the violin’s gentle notes.
The penultimate track here bears the Lacanian title ‘Mirror Stage‘. This moment of separation, where a child becomes aware of their body as something distinct from the mind, something with internal and external elements, is a fitting metaphor for the album as a whole. The discordant notes and clashing rhythms in the track suggest that unity is something that is sometimes struggled for, with tension and fear embedded in the endeavour for peace of mind. When they meet, seemingly by accident more than design, the momentary harmonies are glorious.
The title track comes last and the resonance of the phrase is made clear. The ability to see one thing as two, to make metaphors from reality, is key to the spiritual process. That goes for music like this and of much traditional culture around the world through story-telling and visual art. Music, in itself, is a metaphor in that it bends two realities together; the emotional and physical, logical and illogical. It is both ephemeral and visceral at once. Memory and imagination are key, for any music requires a combination of the two from both listener and player. Kenney and Kang invoke such spirituality in their music through their engagement with a seemingly mysterious or lost tradition, bridging the gap between past and present. There is room in the music for the listener to imagine their own resonances if there is room in the listener for the music to take root. Two becoming one, again.