I’m turning over more to say about Karn’s passing — and entrancing, distinctive technique on his chosen instruments, most famously the fretless bass style that was so identified with him that everything like it sounds like a knockoff — for something later, perhaps for Foxy Digitalis. Though it was public knowledge he had been fighting cancer, it’s still a blow to see him gone, and the fact that he was only 52 does bring up one short.
For now, just a small sampling of some of his work — on Facebook I said, “One of those musicians whose gift was almost obscured by the context in which he found himself, while also making that context even greater.” And I have to start with a crowning moment, Japan’s “Visions of China” — you could engineer an entire academic conference (or maybe at least a panel) out of everything going on in both song and video here, but the key thing to note is just how ridiculously energetic and opulent the entire performance is. David Sylvian’s mannered smoothness, though of course crucial, is but one part; you can audibly hear four different musicians at once slamming into each other while making it all work every step of the way. It’s almost shocking to think what they would have done after Tin Drum but this was one hell of a way to bow out, and Karn’s amazing bassline swings and steps like almost nothing else on the planet:
If Japan brought him to fame it was his ever-evolving set of collaborative efforts that cemented his voice — there’s the ‘obvious’ ones, perhaps, like Dalis Car with Peter Murphy:
And the Japan ‘reunion’ of sorts, Rain Tree Crow, which might be how more such efforts should be modelled after — if ultimately unsatisfying and frustrating for its participants, allegedly due to Sylvian being, well, Sylvian, by not doing Tin Drum Part 2 — in fact, by barely sounding like ‘Japan’ as had already been heavily codified and idolized — they created a richer result:
But this barely scratches the surface when it comes to things like the many guest appearances, not to mention his solo work and those guests who worked with him in turn. A few samples: