Keith Fullerton Whitman: Multiples

Keeping up with Keith Fullerton Whitman is becoming a full-time occupation. Recent additions to his discography include last year's Schöner Flußengel and two recent releases, Yearlong, a collection of 2001-2002 concert collaborations with Greg Davis, and the Hrvatski live set Irrevocably Overdriven Break Freakout Megamix. In contrast to the frenetic ferocity of the latter, Multiples is cool and controlled, with Whitman carefully sculpting sounds in eight pieces. Given that the album was created at Harvard University studios where Whitman had access to vintage synthesizers and electronics, one is tempted to label the album academic, an urge bolstered by song titles like “Stereo Music for Serge Modular Prototype-Part Two.” But labeling it as such would do this captivating music an injustice by imputing to it associations of austerity and inaccessibility; instead, while there's no compromise to the integrity of its abstract leanings, it's both eminently accessible and musical. “Stereo Music for Acoustic Guitar, Buchla Music Box 100, Hewlett Packard Model 236 Oscillator, Electric Guitar and Computer-Part One,” for example, might be an intimidating mouthful, but its contents—looping patterns of glistening acoustic guitars joined by synthesizer interjections—are anything but.

The gentle overture “Stereo Music for Hi-Hat” opens the album delicately with muffled cymbal shadings, while synth glimmerings gradually settle into a soft, muffled drone in the calming “Stereo Music for Acoustic Guitar, Buchla Music Box 100, Hewlett Packard Model 236 Oscillator, Electric Guitar and Computer-Part Two” to bring the album to an equally quiet close. Elsewhere, one encounters a pronounced Steve Reich influence in “Stereo Music for Yamaha Disklavier Prototype, Electric Guitar and Computer.” In this incredible piece, a simple piano pulse loops hypnotically until silken layers gradually mass above it, creating a gorgeous wave that escalates in volume and then just as subtly deflates, leaving the piano once again alone. The album's most daunting yet perhaps most memorable composition is “Stereo Music for Serge Modular Prototype,” an 11-minute exercise in spacey soundscaping plus a wonderful showcase for the vintage synthesizer's steely timbre and sonic range. During its three parts, convulsive splatter, ear-splitting tone piercings, and wailing drones commingle—a remarkable array of sound on an equally remarkable album.

May 2005