Synthesist and improvisor Ajay Khanna keeps good company in St. Louis' experimental circle. He plays with Chris Smentkowski in Brain Transplant, has performed live with Eric Hall and Dave Stone, and now has recently begun releasing brief transmissions via Bandcamp.
His rig is charmingly simple and produces a gritty, often abrasive range of sound: Khanna favors a few recent synthesizers made by Korg -- the Monotron and the Volca Keys. It would take too much synth-nerdery to dig into the specifics, but both pieces are relatively inexpensive, pocket-size, and employ analog technology that references some of the more celebrated digital instruments of the last 50 years. Each of the three releases Khanna has posted is different, but all show a mind busy at work coaxing noise out of consumer electronics.
Working backward, Khanna's first digital release of 2015 is his most musically approachable. (Although the line between "music" and "noise" can be a contentious one for players and listeners.) "Code Test for Bruxism 7" is, as the title suggests, a dry run for Khanna's set at Nathan Cook's monthly noise/drone/etc. showcase, Bruxism.
His set was fired from an old Thinkpad laptop that fed data to his two pocket synthesizers, and the fifteen-minute piece begins with something akin to a harmonium drone before cycling through his tiny rig's big possibilities of buzzing, squelching and stuttering transmissions. Arcade sounds, white noise, motorik rhythms and swooping portamenti cycle through like a demonstration of the instrument's capabilities, but that flurried activity builds to an elegiac finale as twin oscillators flit around each other with varying degrees of tonality. The Bruxism set shows Khanna's range, though it is less focused than his two later works.
"Monod" displays the bristly low end of the Monotron, an instrument that eschews a traditional keyboard and the twelve-note scale in favor of the sonic space in between notes.
If we are to read into the title of "Against Modular" -- twelve minutes of modulated sci-fi static and blown-speaker buzz with a few dog-whistle frequencies for balance -- we could take it as an everyman's stand against the big-budget ARP and Moog rigs used in electronic music from the 1960s through today, with hardware costing as much as a south-side starter home. Or it could be making the case that good and progressive noise recordings can be made with relatively simple, over-the-counter electronics and a little intuition.
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