Review: Tenshun – Continuous Probability (self-released, Mar 4)

The history of “pure” turntablism—deploying the sounds of the device itself (motor hum, empty scratches, etc.) in a musical context—is a long and storied one, and is also a great example of a case in which innovation compounds upon innovation. By that I mean that even two-plus decades beyond the ostensible exhaustion of such an approach by legends such as Tétreault, Yoshihide, M (both Erik and Sachiko), Schick, and others, no one could claim that contemporary figureheads like Maria Chavez or Graham Dunning aren’t consistently breaking new ground to this day. Unlike many in the field both past and present, San Diego artist Tenshun (sometimes 10shun, real name Jonathan Calzo) has an extensive hip-hop background, much of his early career consisting of conventional DJ sets and beat tapes released in and around his Kilowattz crew. In recent years he’s become a prolific abstract improviser and experimenter, honing a basic but versatile performance setup of empty table with live modular processing; this assembly is what generated the dizzying assault of alien sound heard on the self-released Continuous Probability. All recorded live without overdubs on the same day, these sixteen tracks might be more like sketches if they weren’t so complex and fleshed-out, but each one is so thrillingly kinetic that any rough edges or lag points are near-impossible to pick out. The individual textures are all appealing in their own right, but Calzo keeps us too busy with the constant stereo shifts, cutups, and jagged layering for any to even come close to getting boring. A turntable is definitely the heart of this music, but then in that case the synth is the brain; this heavy, mincing real-time approach reminds me a bit of Eldar Tagi’s playing on Flock (with Patrick Shiroishi), and it’s something I hope more improvisers take cues from in the future. If your patch cables aren’t melting you’re doing something wrong!