Keith Fullerton Whitman: Lisbon

Recorded on October 4th, 2005 at the Galeria Zé Dos Bois, Lisbon distills Keith Fullerton Whitman's considerable powers of imagination and technical prowess into a singular forty-one minute piece. What impresses most, however, is the control and patience he exercises throughout. Rather than prematurely exploiting dramatic extremes, the tension builds ever-so-slowly with the ultimate effect much stronger for being the product of such restraint. Whitman includes background detail that'll have technophiles salivating—the piece apparently an exercise in real-time guitar-computer synthesis with customized guitar and pedals augmented by battery-powered sound-devices, tapes of 'automatic synthesizer compositions' (recorded using the same Serge Modular Protoype and Buchla Music Box 100 systems he used to create Multiples), and field recordings—but such detail rightfully recedes into the background once one hits 'play.'

Lisbon is a monolithic work that moves from placid sine-tone ruminations to waves of organ-like drones, gentle lapping patterns, guitar shimmer, and eruptive layers of billowing, sometimes bleeding, synth glissandi. Though the piece builds to a searing climax with Whitman's guitar streams evoking Robert Fripp's snub-nosed sound (followed by eruptive clatter that resembles furniture being moved around onstage), there's not a freakout moment to be heard and, frankly, the work is all the richer for it. At its fullest density, the piece swells into a gargantuan ethereal mass of writhing guitar howl that calls to mind Fripp & Eno's No Pussyfooting and Markus Schmickler's Wabi Sabi. During its concluding ten minutes, Lisbon assumes a more free-form, violent ambiance of wrenched scraping noises before flaming out in a climax of disorienting hallucinatory haze. In notes accompanying the release, Whitman reports that, contrary to past practice, he decided to “not sweat the details, let mistakes be mistakes and just let the music breathe without (his) normally prescribed 3-year gestation cycle of incessant editing, re-mastering, tinkering, etc.” This listener at least hears few mistakes but rather an organic and mature creation that does in fact breathe, but with a vitality that's not merely forceful but combustible.

March 2006