In praise of: Keith Fullerton Whitman’s ‘Stereo Music For Yamaha Disklavier Prototype, Electric Guitar and Computer’

Keith Fullerton Whitman

Call me a nerd – I’ll freely take it on what chin I have – but there’s something magic about music that does so much with so little. Just the other day, over two cups of fine tea in a Stoke Newington cafe, I talked with Bill Drummond (KLF, etc) about hearing movement in music that might not be there. It was in relation to the sound made by his the17 choirs, but tonight I’ve found the perfect piece of music to apply the idea to.

‘Stereo Music…’ is from Keith Fullerton Whitman‘s Multiples album, released via Kranky in 2005 and recorded at Harvard. Yes, the university. It runs for ten minutes and is, at its core, a single loop, soaked in various layers of echo and hum, hiss and blissful choral drone. It doesn’t really do anything; it just is for ten full minutes. It doesn’t even really get going until four minutes in, when a faint ripple of what could be a processed voice (but isn’t) rises gently in the mix. It’s so very serene that, truly, words do it no justice. The ‘song’ is the most perfectly delicate piece of instrumental music I own, maybe – pristine in its arrangement and execution, meticulously detailed despite so few constituent parts.

And here’s where this notion of hearing shifts in the drone comes into play: the background sweeps vary to tiny degrees, second to second; progressively louder, slight alterations in pitch. But the (what could be a) piano loop remains the same. It does, I’m sure. Yet here I am, tapping different patterns to it upon my chest, wondering how two minutes ago it was an entirely different structure to what now washes against my ears. As the underlying undulations in the sheet of backdrop sound drift into the ether for good, this ‘piano’ plays out ’til it too is spent, never faltering in its repetition and reliability. It’s like Kraut-classical piano-prog, or something. Nah, that’s rubbish. It’s just perfect. And full of self-manifested nuances that only I know.

Keith Fullerton Whitman also records more ‘straightforward’ dance music under various monikers, but for me his given-name ambient works shine bright as near-peerless exercises in modern composition. Some may call it ‘soundtrack’ music, but if certain pictures can paint a thousand words, then pieces like ‘Stereo Music…‘ can sing a thousand paintings. (That said, some of Franc Tetaz’s work, such as the score to Australian horror film Wolf Creek, is close to Whitman’s in its eschewing of conventional ‘classicisms’.)

Today I also listened to new records by Nadja and Growing. Both were fantastic and tied in neatly to my Whitman enjoyment. The new Nadja (click name for MySpace) record is called Skin Turns To Glass, and it’s probably the most tonally beautiful thing of utmost brutality I’ve heard since the self-titled Pyramids album released via Hydrahead a few months back (review here). It’ll appeal to fans of Jesu’s less-vocal dirges. Growing‘s (click name for MySpace) All The Way is typically idiosyncratic, but powerfully addictive of beat – it will set your toe tapping. Two new-release recommendations from two inspiring duos, right there.

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One Response to In praise of: Keith Fullerton Whitman’s ‘Stereo Music For Yamaha Disklavier Prototype, Electric Guitar and Computer’

  1. That does sound rather lovely, truth be told. You must know William Basinski, right? I could go on and on about the similar levels of beauty in a couple of noise-drenched piano loops.

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