Behind the Beat: Horse Stories

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Thursday, May 05, 2011
Karl Bauer Photo

There's a video on Horsebladder's Myspace page that could be a vignette spliced straight from a David Lynch film.

In the clip, Northamptonite Elaine Kahn—the one-woman tour de force that is Horsebladder—enters stage left, barefoot and dressed in an orange dress, slowly brushing her hair while being trailed by a yellow dog. She sets down the brush, bows to the dog, and turns to face the camera.

A quick cut finds her outside at night, in a different dress, manipulating a keyboard. The wind blows her hair as the music swells.

Kahn likes to push the limits with her experimental, ethereal compositions. For her it's about playing around with elements and textures.

"I have ideas for projects and I want to see if I can go through with it," she says. "Like, if I have the nerve. It becomes a personal dare."

She says that growing up in the suburbs she was not exposed to underground culture. She credits—or blames—her three "truly weird" siblings and an "interesting" mother for shaping an esoteric aesthetic during her formative years.

These days she draws motivation from the likes of Catherine Ribeiro, Kim Gordon, Ally Harris, Virginia Woolf and "teenagers."

Kahn has been known to throw anything and everything into her work—even kitchen appliances—to complement Horsebladder's core instrumentation of keyboards, voice and percussion.

"Sometimes [it's] incidental noises, too, like the hum of this one fridge in my old apartment," she says. "Usually I mess around for a while, see what happens, and occasionally an interesting rhythm or melody will emerge. I'll isolate what I like and use it as a basis for further messing around. Other times I get some tune, or phrase, stuck in my head and roll it around—for years sometimes—until I get it right.

"In general, I try to record a lot because I think a lot of progress is a fluke and I need to be able to recreate it."

While Horsebladder is one of Kahn's main focuses, it's certainly not her only project. Kahn writes poetry; her chapbook Customer was published by Glasseye/Ecstatic Peace Library. She has also co-curated, along with local experimental maven Bill Nace, Loot, a performance series at Hadley's Flying Object featuring one reader and one musician on the first Sunday of every month. And she runs an Etsy shop called Sable Second Hand.

In addition to solo material, she has released a CD-R, Mares, with her band 50 Foot Women, a partnership with Jessi Leigh Swenson. Kahn recently completed a short tour, and has a forthcoming Horsebladder LP, Not I'll Not, due out soon on the venerable Ecstatic Peace label.

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