Jason Kao Hwang & J.A. Deane
Tone Science Music/Blue Coast Music
We’ve covered the progressive violinist Jason Kao Hwang twice on these pages before and every one of his projects is remarkably distinctive from the other. Uncharted Faith, a duo performance with the late electronics maestro J.A. Deane, called “Dino” by his friends, thus the Dino Duo, unveils not only interesting, uses of electronic effects but an intriguing story. The devastating story may be more interesting to producers and electronic geeks, but general audiences will undoubtedly well up with the human side of it. The entire story is laid out in the liners but those who stream may not be fortunate enough to take it in. Before we get there though, here are a few words on each artist.
As mentioned, we have reviewed electric violinist Jason Kao Hwang’s Conjure and Blood on these pages. Hwang has received many awards and grants, He wrote a highly acclaimed chamber opera, The Floating Box, A Story in Chinatown in 2005 and he has worked with William Parker, Anthony Braxton, Butch Morris, Reggie Workman, Taylor ho Bynum, Tomeka Reid, Oliver Lake, Jerome Cooper and many others. The innovative J.A. Deane played as a trombonist with the L.A. Horns in the ‘70s touring with Tina Turner. In the ’80s he pioneered the use of live electronics with Indoor Life, a popular San Francisco art/punk band. He was a close collaborator with Butch Morris’s real-time compositions called Conductions. He originated “live sampling” – recording members of an ensemble while in performance, manipulating the audio and then playing it back like an instrument. Since 1995 Deane released several albums and directed the ensemble Out of Context. In November 2020, he published Becoming Music-Conduction and Improvisation as forms of QiGong. He passed away in 2021. As you likely gleaned from those brief synopsis, Hwang and Deane met when working with Butch Morris.
Here are the instruments each uses here on Uncharted Faith.
J.A. Deane – Electronics (Sensei Morph touch controller, Spacecraft granular synthesizer software, Akai MPC Live Digital Audio Workstation)
Jason Kao Hwang – Tucker Barrett solid-body electric violin with a Richard Barbera bridge, Atomic Amplifire 12 multi-FX processor (overdrive, distortion, fuzz, wah-wah, phaser, whammy, pitch shift, delay)
Here is the story of, his last project which this writer could attempt to paraphrase but decided instead to give you Hwang’s words directly. Anything else simply feels unfair.
After his life partner Colleen Mulvihill passed away in 2019, Dino moved from Denver to a tiny house parked in a rural field in Cortez, Colorado. There, alone in nature with his two dogs, he completed his book, Becoming Music, Conduction & Improvisation as forms of QiGong, which he sent me in December 2020. I reciprocated by sending him my CDs, including Conjure, my duets with Karl Berger, which he especially loved. Despite the pandemic, we agreed to collaborate on a duo recording! On January 28, 2021, I heard his zoom concert for the Red Room in Baltimore. Dino’s phantasmagoric symphonies, vivid and luxuriant with unique sounds, were stunningly beautiful. We corresponded further and our duo project gained momentum. Dino proposed that I send him “5 to 10 minutes of solo acoustic violin” improvisations. He would “work with it,” then send me tracks to overdub. In March I sent him my tracks. All tracks on this CD, from both Dino and myself, are completely improvised.
Dino edited the tracks into “57 gestures” that he would then “map a subset to another instrument (Sensei Morph touch controller & Spacecraft granular synthesizer software).” On May 12 Dino cryptically mentioned health issues. On May 14, he sent me the first five tracks, not yet titled but in the same order as this CD. He wrote: “Every track was created on an Akai MPC Live Digital Audio Workstation (and your original sounds have been shifted and mutated intensely), and then performed and recorded in real-time. I’m obsessed with exploring, exploding & exalting the DNA of sound. Now there is no question that many of these pieces are harmonically dense. I encourage you to embrace and multiply that density with multiple overdubs if you choose to go that way.” On July 2, I completed my overdubs on a Tucker Barrett solid-body electric violin (with a Richard Barbera bridge) through an Atomic Amplifire 12 multi-FX processor with expression pedals assigned to wah, whammy, and delay feedback. I asked him to send me one more track, which surprisingly, he had ready to go. Only for track 5, Speaking in Tongues, and track six, Uncharted Faith, did I record multiple violin tracks.
On July 11, Dino wrote: “I have been avoiding this because I didn’t want it to negatively shade your contribution to what is probably going to be the final project of my life. I am honored that it will be with you. I have stage four throat cancer. Please follow your heart with how you want to play into this final world. Please forgive me and understand that I simply didn’t want the weight of this to shade your performance as you were coming from a place of such joy, the same place I was coming from when I created my performances.” Dino had a concrete belief in the spirit world, having communicated to Colleen through psychic mediums several times. He decided not to receive treatment and on July 12 wrote: “What is compelling is to be with Colleen in spirit form. I am making a conscious journey to transition.” On July 13 I wrote: “Your decision is courageous and from a deep spiritual wisdom gained through your extraordinary musical journey. I am deeply moved by your faith. I am so thankful that we have created music together. You opened my mind and ears to the expressivity of electronic processing, which enriched my life. I had not heard anyone play in that sonic universe with your boundless imagination and soul. I know your journey forward will be full of beauty and wonder, just like your music.” On July 15, I began sending him mixes and he gave me insightful suggestions. He also empowered me to name the tracks and complete this production. On July 23, 2021, J.A. Deane transitioned in New Mexico with his dearest friends, Joe Sabella and Katie Harlow at his side.
The otherworldly music the duo produced is more than difficult to describe and any words following such a story would pale by comparison. Keep in mind that all sounds are completely improvised, highly imaginative, beautiful in some ways but hauntingly stark, sometimes shrill, and perfectly fitting for one crossing into the spirit world. Hwang’s titles do a reputable job alone in describing these sounds across six tracks – “Crossing the Horizon,” “Shamans of Lights,” “Parallel Universe,” and, of course, the almost twenty-minute closing title track with the eeriest fade-out likely on record. If you’ve gotten this far, you have little choice but to immerse yourself in this project.
- Jim Hynes