Keith Fullerton Whitman – ‘Generators’ LP / Live Video

Long overdue shouts to Keith Fullerton Whitman, proper master of experimental sounds and music engineering. Also he has a wicked beard, and takes a pretty decent photo. Wire ran a well-pieced feature on him a few issues back, definitely worth hunting down. Nothing I could add that wasn’t covered there, but I did come across this video today that needed sharing and having dropped a few minutes of Generators on Monday’s NTS show, it’s an excuse we don’t need to post about the man.

Releasing music across several electronic genres since 1999, Whitman’s built up a healthy catalogue. It’s his work under his own name over the past few years that’s proper caught our attention though, releasing records on labels such as Dekorder, Pan, Kranky and most recently Editions Mego. It may take a while to fully get in to Keith Fullerton Whitman’s unique world of electronic exploration, but it’s infinitely rewarding and highly addictive.

His bio / mission statement is interesting enough, and alone requires concentration just to understand to the end.

“Keith Fullerton Whitman is a composer/performer obsessed with electronic music; from its mid-century origins in Europe through its contemporary worldwide incarnation as “digital music.”

Currently he is working towards implementing a complete system for live performance of improvised electronic music that incorporates elements from nearly every era: a reel-to-reel tape machine, a selection of small “jerry-rigged” / “circuit-bent” battery-powered sound-producing boxes, an analog modular synthesizer, an early “consumer” home-computer, and at the core; a contemporary computer running a custom-built Max-MSP based modular system that both controls these elements and acts as a central conduit into which their sounds are captured/collected, processed, then diffused to up to eight separate channels/speakers/amplifiers.”

For the geekier and those with more understanding with what’s going on, you may be able to get some further understanding from the press release below for Generators. As I understand it (which may be incredibly wrong) Whitman’s last offering and current “live” show is based around him building the electrical tools, links and connections that make the music possible, then letting it play. The creation of the music comes from the set up and design of the electronic circuitry. It instantly brings to mind Peter Zinovieff and 1967’s first performance of a lone computer at Queen Elizabeth Hall. That moment is covered in What The Future Sounded Like which as a documentary is essential viewing.

Generators press release via Editions Mego

This LP covers the final two performances of the piece over two consecutive evenings ; the opening solo set from the final night of “High Zero” festival in Baltimore at the Theater Project, September 26th, 2010, then the performance during the “For Eliane” night of the “Propensity of Sound” festival dedicated to Eliane Radigue’s work at Issue Project Room, Brooklyn, September 27th, 2010. These recordings show the piece in two different iterations, taking two different trajectories entirely. They’re considered as the definitive versions of the piece.

Composed for, and realized with a scalable selection of digital & analogue modular synthesis equipment, “Generator” was at attempt to wrest a viable performance-based music out what had until then been a solitary set of sound-design tools. The piece grew out of a frustration with the limitlessness of computer-based real-time synthesis & algorithmic / generative systems vs. their utter failure as performance solutions. It hinges heavily on the ideology of the “Playthroughs” system (in that the subtle tuning inconsistencies of a physical instrument – the electric guitar – could be amplified & multiplied) through the use of multiple layerings of different topologies of oscillator, yielding an unstable array of modal canons that drift in & out of “tune,” causing all manner of inter-voice beating & assorted psycho-acoustic effects.

It’s interesting stuff and the further you look back in to his catalogue the easier it is to see how Keith Fullerton Whitman has evolved and continues to do so. The video below is an example of his live performances once the gear’s been set up.