Roland Kayn – Simultan (1977 / 2018)
Note: This is an expanded and altered version of a text, originally written for SoundOhm.
The internet, this strange, undefinable space within which we currently so often interact, for many of us, has ideology. It is a place of communication and transmission – a democratic space to share and to learn – a realization of the modernist hope that, through technology, humanity might find the tools to express, be better and grow. Like any tool or technology, it rests in the hands of its users and interpreters – it can be deployed for good as much as bad. Sometimes it even seems to have a mind of its own.
My own attempts to harness this spirit – hoping to deploy technology as a tool for democratic communication and transmission, have countless sources. Almost all trace their roots to the days before it existed, or existed with such a presence in our lives. If I were forced to cite only a single one – the reason this disembodied voice is here, spending his waking hours trying to point others to the music which he loves, it would unquestionably, as I know it does for so many others of my generation, trace back to Jim O’Rourke. He is the silent hand who sculpted so much much of the spirit and context of music which we now know. He is a thread which binds the past to the present, and the future of what is to come. He is the seed for the return of the incredible body of work which stands before us – Roland Kayn’s Simultan, originally released in 1977, now reissued by Die Schachtel.
I first encountered O’Rourke’s music during the mid 90’s, shortly after moving to Chicago – a member of the city’s then little heralded local music scene, working on an already extensive body of solo work, as well as within Gastr Del Sol, his duo with David Grubbs. Something clicked. I fell in love with everything he touched, scrambling to track down every album on which his name appeared. Crucially, O’Rourke’s importance during my formative years offered two important points of understanding. Through the diversity displayed in his own practice, I began to address and conceptualize music outside of systems of genre and categorization – as a diverse network of conversations and ideas, existing at greater depths than the skin of aesthetics. And, through the way in which he regarded the music of others – constantly citing influence and love affair, trying to help people know what he knew and hear the music closest to his heart, I began to envision sound and music as a spectrum in which ideas, understanding, and knowledge were intended to be selflessness communicated and shared – that through the expression of the value we placed on the creative acts of others, we could transmit our value for those to whom we give. It was through O’Rourke’s championing of his work, that I first encountered the name Roland Kayn. Thus this piece of writing, with its context, has synchronicity – a composer who embraced technology with the optimism of the modernist spirit, allowed it to sometimes have a mind of its own, of whom I first heard because of the man who laid the foundations for so many of the ideas which define my writing and The Hum. While perhaps a little off topic, credit where it’s due. In all likelihood, this record – one which, for those who take the time to hear it, will likely have great impact upon our context, wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for O’Rourke.
Roland Kayn, via Lydia-und Roland-Kayn-Archiv, Bussum
Born in Germany in 1933, despite being one of the great pioneers of electronic, computer, and instrumental avant-garde music, for the majority of his life, Roland Kayn remained almost entirely unknown – a gem at the end of a trail of breadcrumbs – a founding member of Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza, who struck out to build a body of work which stands almost entirely on its own in the history 20th century music. Though the composer was included within Deutsche Grammophon’s seminal Avant-Garde series during the early 1970’s, it wasn’t until 2017, six years after his death, that the ranks of his fans began to noticeably swell, following the release of his monumental work, A Little Electronic Milky Way Of Sound –14 hours stretching across 16 CDs, by Frozen Reeds. Building on the spirit of their beautiful Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza box set from 2017 – a body of work which included important contributions by the composer, longtime Kayn devotes, Die Schachtel, have just reissued Simultan, an overwhelmingly important work in his canon, stretching across three incredible LPs.
When grasping for descriptions, Roland Kayn might be called a composer of electronic, electro-acoustic, or computer music. Part of cross generational swell of creative optimism and ambition, which, following the close of the Second World War, combined new technology with radical ideas, hoping to shed the shackles of the past, it’s easy enough to lump him in with his peers. In truth, Kayn stood almost entirely on his own, dedicating the majority of his career to the sculpting of an entirely new, revolutionary territory of sound. The composer referred to his efforts as Cybernetic Music, a generative process of composition through programming. Simultan was among the first these works to emerge.
Cybernetic Music grew from Kayn’s longstanding engagement and fascination with data processing theory, an interest which outweighed his relationship to the work of other composers and the zeitgeists of the day – a fact which contributed to his being declared “persona non grata” by the avant-garde establishment, and ultimately his lasting obscurity. He neither fit in or played by the rules – attempting to allow sound to be self-self-sufficient, stripping away notions of harmony, melody and rhythm, as much as those of the composer and art. Deploying complex networks of electronic devices – early computers, to follow his instructions, he created a music which takes form through a system of signals and commands, rather than ego, emotion, or the impressions of personality delivered through ideas. Organizations of sound, allowed, as much possible, to exist on their own terms.
1977 issue of Roland Kayn’s Simultan by Colosseum Records.
Created during the period in which Kayn was living in the Netherlands, recorded with the assistance of Jaap Vink and Leo Küpper, both electronic music legends in their own right, Simultan is stunningly beautiful – filled with a remarkable sense of humanity and touch – a strange incongruity considering the system through which it was made. It is a double – art as an indication of the inherent power of sound, existing beyond our mediation of it, which Kayn spent his life fighting to reveal.
For those drawn to post-war efforts in avant-garde and experimental electronic music, particularly work coming out of Utrecht and Groupe de Recherches Musicales (GRM), but who have yet to encounter Simultan, the work is likely to represent a towering revolution. It stands among the most striking efforts of 20th composition. Ranging from seductive ambiences, grinding swells of atonally and pure texture, to buried tone clusters, it does everything Kayn set forth in his ambitious project – an immersive image of what might be when sound organizes itself or is allowed to have a mind of its own. It is an album which offers a complex metaphor for a way of being – the wonders of happening, when we relinquish ego and control.
Die Schachtel’s issue of Roland Kayn’s Simultan (2018)
It’s hard to say enough good about this one. A wonderful culmination of long standing efforts of a small handful of dedicated fans – Jim O’rourke, Ian over at Frozen Reeds, and Die Schachtel, faithfully championing Kayn’s incredible and singular work. A stunning journey in sound and work of profound and intoxicating power, Simultan, appearing before us now as though for the first time, stands among the best of all avant-garde electronic works of its era – like its composer, timeless, yet never having received its rightful due. Die Schachtel’s lovingly produced boxed edition, issued with a booklet with new liner notes exploring the composer’s work and ideas at length, takes great strides to rectifying this sin – bringing this seminal work back into print for the first time in 30 years. Essential and not to be missed. You can check it out in its entirety below, and pick it up from SoundOhm or a record store near you.
Post Script: As yet another a testament to his selfless temperament, shortly after the publication of this piece, Jim O’Rourke got in touch, thanking me for my words, and asking that I offer a nod of praise to Massimo Ricci, Christoph Heemann, and Roland Spekle, all of whom endlessly championed Roland Kayn’s work, helping it reach a wider audience and appreciation during the 1990’s, and equally deserve praise for these efforts. Thanks to Jim for allowing me to do so now. In his own words, he sees his efforts with regard to Kayn, as simply taking up their torch.
Roland Kayn – Simultan (1977 / 2018)