Roland Kayn still wins the prize for the most out of body musical experience I’ve had in his thoroughly vast and other worldly An Electronic Milky Way Of Sound. A shade under 14 hours of tiny fluctuations of clouds of steel wool drift. A flythrough of the galaxy, that like the actual experience from a human perspective would reveal a gargantuan amount of consistently alien views punctuated by the tiniest cameo of familiarity. Perhaps a fleeting glimpse of what looks like Saturn or Jupiter, maybe even a split-second twinkling of that tiny little green blue world wrapped in clouds, called home.
Even now, An Electronic Milky Way Of Sound feels like a rarefied journey that I’ll make every month or two and the overall effect of euphoria is as potent as ever. Whilst its spikey surface immediately feels hard going, over time, the culminative effect is always a bizarrely uplifting. What Kayn did in the recording, for me, feels like a mystery to be kept mysterious.
So, the thought of another massive piece, the almost as huge 10 hours of Scanning had my expectations sky high. This piece composed in 1982-83 but not released until now by Kayn’s daughter Ilse, who now looks after her dearly departed fathers label Reiger-records-reeks. The majority of the German composer’s work was referred to by Kayn himself as cybernetic music. Using a modular synthesiser set up, a form of machine intelligence is born. The circuitry start to process, interact with themselves to generate material that genuinely feels like music without or beyond humans.
“The cyberneticist creates the unheard – because the electric current, with which he works, knows no memory.”
Roland Kayn, Amsterdam, March 1990
Scanning also hangs together more like a series of behaviours or control experiments. If the source material is something broadly musical, the set up attempted to re-organise the sounds most basic elements into huge episodic prototyping. The pieces titles read like a scientific process of discovery using sound as some form of source material. There is no doubt that some overall understanding of the titles here reveals some sense of what Kayn is doing with his sonic soup.
Kayn’s music comes preloaded in so much complex packaging it would be easy to slip into a huge discussion of how the music is made or the concepts it explores rather than what it actually sounds like. However, the obvious point is reached when you hit play and you start to travel through the 24 sections of Scanning.
The whole thing opens up with little warning in the 26 minutes of Sonogram. A sonogram is another name for an ultrasound commonly used to view developing babies in the womb. That it’s the start of the journey here gives a sense that the whole work gives flesh to a new form of life…
Nomogram and Polygram further expand out in the following 50 minutes and plot a formless slowing down of a sound source so obliterated it’s microscopic. Sonically ambiguous, anything that is recognised as sound could form the basis of this and have the circuitry control a just perceptible application of the brakes over the duration.
Cycloids I has an immediately different quality. A gelatinous woozy drift rocking back and forward slowly becoming less and less pronounced. Cyloids ll seems to do the same thing backwards but the momentum and material catches on edges as it re-ascends. Tiny details like fog horns miles away appear in a bizarre smudged conclusion.
The next 5 parts are given over to the monstrous Anisotropic Modulations. Each part exploring a different density following a similar build up and falling away. Like a single measured waveform that requires 30 minutes to complete a single cycle. Time is stretching here but it’s not clear whether it’s the sound or your brain that’s distorting.
Given the engaging but savage dusting of these initial tracks the shimmering glow of Networks l raises like an absolute revelation. A sun radiating out into deep space with a wavering snaking element. In a hugely satisfying and surprising psychedelic arc halfway through, the sound slowly feels orchestral and approaching recognisable. The effect is remarkable before again pixelating into higher registers. Networks ll, lll, IV and V follow a similar trajectory but explore deeper more muddy variations. Nothing as simple as one track it seems can convey this richly yielding experiment.
There is an almost choral sense to the placement of sound in Radi. Gradually the space gets more cluttered with a million angry wasps before a laser beam absorbs everything in another kosmic drone. This oasis gives way before long to the wildest passage so far in a chopped-up gale force wind mayhem before again alternating between alien calm and earthy chaos.
The penultimate piece, Array, has a pleasing buzzy patina with every surface coated in a percussive quality. It feels almost like a soothing ambient texture after the head detuning of the previous 9 hours.
Scanned Modulations straddles the final 30 minutes and immediately feels like an absorption of all the strategies and processes mapped out so far. Here, stereo image and layers and layers of scree move around hiding and revealing themselves. This is an unbelievably manipulated heaving carpet of sound animated, static, fluid and solid that eventually trails off…
When the speakers do eventually fall silent it’s fairly normal to be washed with a bemused amazement. Scanning definitely gives an even greater sense of the variations, the nuances and the palette than I’ve heard before in his work. The planet sized footprint is of course an unwieldly nightmare for some but again, I believe the trick is to give yourself completely to the black hole. The whole piece starts off like a life being formed but this isn’t some genetic Lego set. We have the science part, and all the controls and experiments on display.
These 24 examples collected in this 10 cd box reveal more variety than An Electronic Milkway Of Sound, and that’s clearly connected to this being a more exploratory earlier work rooting around in the options rather than a meditation on one. Scanning bizarrely ends up more like what us humans may expect from an album. The huge tract of time this music gives you to think and make connections, and Jim O’Rourke’s Steamroom series (who mastered this collection), Paul Dolden’s sonic landslides as well as a beatless mode GAS and even Daevid Allen’s Euterpe Gratitude Piece or Bladerunner, all strangely overlap here. Different atmospheres and textures made of similar stuff with the overall coating that has that immediate and unmistakable surface.
Clearly this music isn’t not going to win over everyone but somehow the duration blots out a need to connect out-with the listening experience – crystallising into a brain popping machine devised zen.
We are listening to something made in 1982 and 1983 and it sounds like it’s not even from this planet. Scanning is another huge statement from Roland Kayn and again it’s completely, totally and truly unparalleled.
Nothing even gets close to this.
Scanning is out now on Reiger-records-reeks