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Basil Kirchin’s ‘Particles’ – Vocals In Jazz Music #2

In this issue we are going experimental. If you’re not into that, try sticking by till the end anyways and get inspired!

Last time we focused on the effects of subtle inputs of voice in Takehiro Honda’s ‘This Is Honda’. This time we’re going somewhere completely different but with similar effect. For the most part, this album contains no human voice at all. Despite that, it fits incredibly well into my fascination with vocals in jazz. Before I explain, let me introduce you to the creator of this magical piece: Basil Kirchin.

Kirchin is pretty much a textbook example of a 20th century experimental musician: He was brought up playing drums in his father’s big band in the 40s before “[he] was fed up playing other people’s music” and needed something new. In the 50s he then went to India to receive his mandatory spiritual enlightenment (10 years before The Beatles did) to start making experimental music in the 60s after making a living with composing horror film soundtracks and stock music. He experimented alot with taping and manipulating organic sounds like chirping birds. Unfortunately his experimental works didn’t get the recognition they deserved up until the early 2000s when they were reissued, attracting new curious listeners only a few years before his passing at age 77. Today he is even credit as a founding father of ambient music. ‘Particles’ (2007) was made in the result of his new found fame. It was finished shortly before his death. It’s the last gift to a new generation by an old man who, after 30 years of obscurity, has finally found an audience for his art .

The album is the six-part concept suite ‘Secret Conversations Between Instruments’ encased by the tracks ‘Bye Bye’ and ‘E+Me’, which paint big band music into a new refreshing light, bringing it back to Kirchin’s roots. The concept of this experimental suite is one everyone should be familiar with after hearing Charlie Brown’s teacher talking.

But even if you have not, it becomes pretty clear that those instruments are rather talking than singing. It’s in this weird realm where it’s neither music or speech. This effect is essentially achieved by fast atonal tone series with speech-like breaks inbetween. Similar to ‘This Is Honda’, I got the impression that it was doing something with my attention that most instrumental music can never achieve. Right from the start (second track on the album) my brain gets subtly tricked into trying to figure out what those instruments are talking about. The suite paints a picture of instruments acting out some sort of scene. At the final part, ‘Rise and Revolt’, I’m imagining two, then three, then a few characters complaining, plotting and finally riling up a crowd to revolt. All in a rather cartoonish Looney Tunes style.

And then comes the magical ‘E+Me’. After the suite and with the beginning of ‘E+Me’ I found myself highly sensitized on every single instrument. The instruments were still independent living characters in my head. Characters that stopped with the nagging and revolting to harmonize together peacefully. And then out of nowhere, 39 minutes into the 41 minute album there are actual human voices for the grandiose finale. And again I’m even more emotionally invested than before. After some digging I found out that the singing is actually based on a song Kirchin’s wife Esther used to sing everyday to the autistic children she worked with. Esther died very shortly after him.

To close this up, I hope you listen to the whole thing and have the same inspiring experience I had. The Concept Suite delivered many inspirations for new music and has affected my way of listening for a while. Even if just for a tiny bit. As with most experimental avant-garde music, it is not something you put into your playlist to listen to on your commute to work. It is an inspiring short story. You might not even like it. But it provides enough depth and room for interpretation that you perceive it differently every time you pick it up. I think at the root of most major shifts in popular music there is a mostly unrecognized pioneer like Basil Kirchin.

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