Grisha Shakhnes – The distance between a word and a deed

Grisha Shakhnes - The distance between a word and a deed, closeup of a translucent dark red cassette tape

While much of Grisha Shakhnes’ music could be categorised as obscure and undifferentiated, “The distance between a word and a deed” strikes me as perhaps his most elusive effort yet. (It’s also his longest, clocking in at around two hours if you count the bonus material included with the download.) This elusiveness makes me think of the monochrome paintings of artists such as Robert Rauschenberg and Ad Reinhardt — blank and featureless at first glance, but on closer inspection a subtle wealth of detail emerges from the traces of brushstrokes or the uneven application of paint.

Shakhnes’ music has such hidden details too: the long, terrifying crescendo in ‘Stockholm variation #2.5’ and the quiet opening to ‘Stockholm variation #3’ are two of the more prominent examples. Indeed, after multiple listens the various whoops, rumbles, crackles, whistles, and distortions heard across the album could hardly be called ‘undifferentiated’ in any strict sense, but what is interesting is that the sense of blankness and elusiveness remains, even after the details have become audible. It’s as if the album invited (at least) two equally valid and rewarding ways of listening: you can zoom in on the subtle nuances and changing timbres, or you can let the quietly thundering, rattling flow carry you away from all concepts and all thought. In the latter mode, the music acts on the senses like a heavy downpour or the constant chugging of a train.

Both ways of listening are rewarding, and can be switched between at will. Yet however one listens, there’s a vague sense of melancholy or restlessness that hangs in the air like a mist, preventing things from becoming too comfortable. This is not some kind of ganzfeld effect, creating a uniform stimulation field to trick the senses; rather, there’s the perception (hallucination?) of a certain turning away, a declining to comment, a silence that is allowed to fall behind and between the rumble and clatter. Sometimes the distance between a word and a deed can be very great.

Grisha Shakhnes / Disappearing Records

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