The Classics 002

Saturday, 26 June 2010

For those that have heard it, making a claim that Sonic Youth's Silver Session for Jason Knuth EP is a 'classic' anything will sound bizarre at best and totally asinine at worst. Really, it's barely an album in the conventional sense of the term and, in truth, the band will admit that it was made for all the wrong reasons; Silver Session for Jason Knuth exists as an act of vengeance. As Thurston Moore wrote in the liner notes that accompany the disc:

“We didn't really know Jason Knuth — it's possible we had met him, or had been in the same room as him, but we didn't recall… we heard about his passing on the internet – a flurry of grievous and surprised reaction – people were asking us if we were aware of how much he identified and championed our music – as music director for KUSF he seemingly used SY as a standard for playlisting – indeed at his memorial his friends played “The diamond sea” in acknowledgment of his enthusiasm towards us – he was affectionately referred to as 'Sonic Knuth' …Here in NYC, so far from the SF community, we were touched and more than intrigued. We learned jason was a vibrant, well loved guy on the music scene w/ a completely genuine exuberance towards art & music. His demeanor obviously shroued a complex inner life which led to suicide. What jason's feelings were towards his own human existence we may never know but we do know he will be missed by many as a companion. Sonic Youth wanted to make some gesture towards him as well as focus on suicide prevention. Proceeds from this CD will help fund the San Francisco Suicide Prevention Hotline (415-781-0550). It is manufactured and distributed by Revolver, a company with close and personal associations with Jason.

A note on the music: Silver Sessions were taken from an evening when SY had to do vocal overdubs for “A Thousand Leaves” – the band upstairs was hammering out some funky metal overdrive and we couldn't "sing" properly (?!) – we decided to fight fire with molten lava and turned every amp we owned on to 10+ and leaned as many guitars and basses we could plug in against them and they roared/HOWLED like airplanes burning over the Pacific – we could only enter the playing room with hands pressed hard against our ears and even then it was physically stunning – we ran a sick outmoded beatbox through the P.A. and it blew out horrendous distorted pulsations. Of course we recorded the whole thing and a few months later we mixed it down into sections, ultra-processing it to a wholly other "piece" – in a way, it's my favorite record of ours – I hope Jason digs it. – keep on keep on keep on – Thurston/Sonic Youth/NYC 1998.”

Really – an EP made with the express purpose of derailing someone else's train of thought and aggravating them – can you believe it? Not only that, with such a description of the record's construct as outlined by one of its' auteurs in hand, it begs the question of who would want to listen to it.

Well, I would; and there's a reason for that totally unrelated to the possibility of me being a super, “must have everything they've ever done because it's all pure gold” Sonic Youth fan. In fact, while I like Sonic Youth, I own surprisingly few of their records. Further, I don't even have a finished copy of Silver Session. I have a CDR copy that I have treasured since 1998; I haven't been able to find a finished copy at the same time I've had the disposable income to purchase one.

So why does Silver Session For Jason Knuth mean so much to me that I would cling to a CDR for twelve years (and counting)? You won't believe it, but this record has saved both my life and my sanity several times over since I first borrowed it from a friend twelve years ago.


The truth is that, since childhood (three or four years old), I have suffered from very, very pronounced insomnia. Bad insomnia; like, “Awake for days on end, hallucinating, speaking in word salads” sleeplessness. It can be scary and, when I was a kid, my parents tried a few different things to help but, in the end, they taught me how to use the coffee maker and asked me to brew them a pot when I got up in the morning because I would, almost invariably, be up before them. I found a few things that helped – none of which would be regarded as being particularly good for anyone's health – but none of them could be an “all the time” kind of thing.

Then I discovered Silver Session.

When I was in college in 1998, my insomnia hadn't subsided, but I was drowning it pretty regularly – as many college students tend to do. I was listening to a lot of Sonic Youth then, thanks in part to a friend I made who lived a couple of floors below me in the dorms. He was a “gotta buy it all because it's all genius” Sonic Youth fan, and I remember how excited he was the day he got a copy of Silver Session. He came running upstairs to brag at me and ran to throw it into my stereo to listen. I remember the excited look on his face fading as the EP played its' way into oblivion. Layers upon layers of formless, humming and oscillating multi-frequency feedback erupted from my stereo speakers and washed over us. It didn't really sound like anything playing out into the air like that – nothing intelligible, anyway. After “Silver Mirror” faded out to close the EP, we wandered downstairs to the cafeteria to grab dinner. My friend was not happy with his purchase and it showed but, in true indie-geek form, he dared not say so.

A few twists and turns aside, I ended up back in my dorm room, hours later. I was thinking I should crash – I had a final the next day – and at least try to get any sleep I could, I grabbed my headphones for overnight wear and noticed that my friend had left Silver Session behind by accident so I figured I'd give it another shot. I laid down, pressed play on my Discman, and got ready to stare at the ceiling for a few hours.

In retrospect, I know now that I didn't make it to the end of the album that first night.

I awoke the next morning totally refreshed after six hours of uninterrupted sleep and, as I'd find out over the next few nights testing the theory, I owed it all to Silver Session.

Why? Good question.

In listening to Silver Session for Jason Knuth in the cold light of day, it's difficult to discern how it works, but the smart money is on how the disc allows a listener's mind to wander and ultimately exhaust itself. Between those dense layers of feedback and the broken beat box that cycles through the proceedings occasionally, one's imagination begins to veer into the scenery and create new, fascinating back drops. By turns, the passages ('songs' might be too strong a word) are capable of creating vibrant landscapes that include urban squalor (“Silver Flower”), spacial plains and expanses (“Silver Loop”) and totally abstract nuclear meltdowns (“Silver Son,” “Silver Shirt,” “Silver Wax Lips”) that are always cluttered with sonic debris, but that debris quickly becomes the thing that listeners gravitate toward and try to trace their way around and examine. Surprisingly, while each of these eight tracks is instrumental and employs no conventional methods of composition, each song has a captivating spark in it that will keep listeners in the right mindset engaged to see how deep and how fine the detail in these images gets. It's an unlikely effect, but Silver Session transcends its' own obvious compositional shortcomings and reveals itself as a quirky and impressionist work of art that not everyone will necessarily be able to see, but will enrich the lives of those that do.

Before I gave it back to its' owner, I burned a copy of Silver Session for Jason Knuth on a friend's computer (I didn't have one of my own at the time) and have since wrapped it in a replica of the album's sleeve that I created as any geek would do, I assume, but it's the only time I've ever done it.

Twelve years later, and my insomnia hasn't subsided. I don't expect it ever will; it's more manageable now, but not gone. Silver Session for Jason Knuth still works though, when I need it to, and that's reassuring to me; when all else fails, it still works. “So how does all that make it a classic album,” you ask? Think about it – a classic record is one that changed or improved your life and made a lasting impression right? To combat insomnia, people get hypnotized, drink warm milk, work themselves to exhaustion, buy white noise machines, or indulge in any number of other options. I listen to Sonic Youth's Silver Session for Jason Knuth – my classic solution now – for twelve years running.



Silver Session for Jason Knuth remains available on Amazon. Buy it here .

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