Khonnor with the Greater Explosives at Supermarket (268 Augusta), tonight (Thursday, March 30). $5. 416-840-0501. Rating: NNNNN
One of the more intriguing anomalies in the world of electronic music is Handwriting, the debut album by Khonnor. A warmly engaging island of thoughtfully assembled songs in a sea of blippy minimalism and glitchy beat battering, it seemed to come out of nowhere in 2004.
Widespread critical acclaim soon followed, with various UK music journals drawing favourable comparisons to Fennesz (ah, the Brits), but even more interesting was the fact that Handwriting was created not in Frankfurt or Belgium but in small-town Vermont. The real shocker, however, was that the mysterious Khonnor is actually Connor Kirby-Long, a smartass 17-year-old who knocked out Handwriting on his bedroom PC, reportedly using a microphone from a Learn Japanese set of instructional recordings.
"There really wasn't much of a concept to it," shrugs Kirby-Long over a friend's cellular. "I just wanted to make the best recording I could with the limited resources and equipment I had at the time. I wanted to use the computer for something other than making beats and 'electronic' noise. So much IDM at the time was just like the sort of farting noises you could get by pouring milk into your computer. I was trying for something a little more musical.
"I'd been e-mailing back and forth with John Twells, who asked me to help him kick off his new label, Type Records, so I put together the songs that became the Handwriting album. That's about it."
Since then, the challenge for the kid called Khonnor, apart from getting money out of the people who keep using his tunes in snowboarding videos, is figuring out how to translate what he does on his home computer onto the stage in an entertaining way without setting anything on fire.
"A few years ago, people didn't mind going to a show and watching a guy typing away at a laptop, but now there's the expectation of more virtuosic performances."
Right now he has two laptops, a sampler and a mixer with some feedback loops to play with onstage.
"I'd feel uncomfortable if I were up there with just a laptop and no real control over what was happening. I'm still trying to figure out what I should be doing, but I have no plans for any interpretive dancing."
In the next few days, Khonnor's new 7-inch single, Burning Palace b/w Heat Convex Dreaming, should be released by Type, but thus far there are no firm plans set for the much-anticipated follow-up to Handwriting. Whenever the next disc appears, it may have a different ring.
"I'm taking a music fundamentals course at Linden State College in Vermont, and as part of the class we get to play handbells. They're mostly used in church services, but they're actually an interesting instrument. I've been thinking about bringing a mini-disc to record some handbell material to work with. I'd like to compose some music around them.
"Our instructor is always showing us video footage of different handbell choirs - some doing covers of My Heart Will Go On and Sweet Home Alabama, and this one group from California that was trying to improvise with handbells while these women in skirts were dancing around seductively. It sounded really horrible, but the visuals were hilarious."