by Susanna Bolle

Call him the anti-Lars Ulrich, but for New York sound artist Kenneth Kirschner, the free and unfettered distribution of his music via the Internet would be something of a William Gibson-inspired dream fulfilled. Indeed, for years, he studiously avoided distributing his exquisitely crafted minimal electronics through traditional media such as vinyl or CDs, instead making his work freely available via mp3 audio. “I've always been a very strong advocate of the freedom of information,” he explained recently in an e-mail interview, “which I feel is one of the critical political issues of our time. As our lives become increasingly dominated by digital technology, I believe that it is essential to resist the corporate drive to commodify and control all digital copies. I think there's a genuine ambivalence in our culture about the status of the digital copy: 50 million Napster users can't be wrong!”

There was only one problem: Given Kirschner's self-described pathological aversion to self-promotion, his music was not really being heard. And so, however reluctantly, Kirschner has at long last begun to publish his music on CD. The first release was a collaboration with fellow New Yorker Taylor Deupree (a pioneer of an ultra-minimal form of electronic music known as microsound) called post_piano , and just this month, Kirschner has released his first solo CD, the quietly engrossing September 19, 1998 et al on 12k.

Each of the three pieces on the album features a very different character reflecting in some measure the various sound sources that Kirschner employed in making them: from the ghostly echoes and ethereal swirls of his mp3 collection on “February 8, 2003 (each of the pieces is named for the date that Kirschner began work on them)” to the austere piano and clanking household objects on the album's centerpiece, “September 19, 1998.”

What unifies the three seemingly disparate tracks is an underlying methodology by which Kirschner attempts to balance elements of chance and accident with rigorous editing. “I begin,” Kirschner says of the process behind his music, “by crafting a large number of individual elements, the 'molecules' of the piece, if you will - single sounds or clusters of sounds that are composed in isolation from each other, with no predetermined building blocks. I then use chance procedures to determine the large-scale structure of the work. I throw all the elements together randomly, essentially splattering them across the canvas of time. As with any random process, this creates some really beautiful accidents and some really ugly ones. What follows is a very long, intensive editing process in which I sift through the debris of these collisions, removing the bad conjunctions and emphasizing the good ones to slowly sculpt the final piece.”

While he is not an academic composer - not surprising, given the methodology underpinning his work - Kirschner cites American avant-garde composers such as John Cage and Meredith Monk as his primary influences. By far the most important influence on Kirschner's work is the very anti-systemic composer Morton Feldman. Feldman's influence is most evident in the mesmerizing drift of Kirschner's “February 8, 2003.” “There's just no way to overestimate the influence of Feldman's music on me,” Kirschner admits. “I feel that a lot of my own work since has been quite obvious and desperate attempts to imitate Feldman. I think it's inevitable that you try to imitate those you most respect, and inevitable that this imitation fails; but the hope is that you fail in interesting ways and in the process actually create something new.”
Kenneth Kirschner