Interview: Eli Keszler

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Eli Keszler speaks like a true urbanist. His subject is New York City, the seat of the Empire State, a 500-year-old melting pot and enduring symbol of global commerce and culture. NYC is the USA’s contribution to the international register of vertical metropoles; its dense quarters are constantly spewing forth new ideas for what a city and its residents could achieve. A dedicated wanderer, Keszler is a careful voyeur and custodian of the city’s growth. His latest album, Stadium — a harmonically rich departure from his previously dense, scattered percussion work — was recorded in collaboration with the city as an experience, with Keszler aiming to truly wander and therefore capture the essence of his home neighborhood in the East Village.

Keszler’s New York is a dynamic city that’s seemingly in the throes of perpetual reinvention. Across Manhattan, The High Line park re-engineers the West Side line, a strip of elevated Amtrak line that used to connect the Manhattan Meatpacking District to Albany via the Hudson Line. The park simulates the passage of the train through the guts of buildings and over major streets. It terminates at the Whitney Museum of American Art, a building constructed with postmodern proportions that undulate like a vertical bell curve, with the largest room on the fourth floor. On the eighth is Kevin Beasley’s first gallery installation: one room contains a cotton gin motor that runs while the museum is open, completely sealed and soundproofed in plastic. Strategically-placed microphones enclosed inside the transparent cage transport various drones of the motor in another room, where they are broadcast in surround sound and even into the floor, creating an immersive experience of a body within a machine. Keszler performed in this second room on January 26, lending his signature accelerating drum work to the unpredictable, unbroken throb of Beasley’s ghostly drone machine.

The composer, percussionist, and artist is not unfamiliar with interdisciplinary collaboration in the heart of the metropolis: past site-specific works include attaching triggered cables to the Manhattan Bridge in order to collaborate with the bridge itself; installing long strands of piano wire in downtown Boston; and performing to the sound of a passing train on a roof in Haggerston, Northumberland. Keszler’s poise and concentration are the focus of these performances: he is alone on stage, using gestures and digital augmentation to “ride” through his compositions.

Ahead of his new EP Empire — available this week through Shelter Press — and upcoming tour of North America and Europe (full dates below), Tiny Mix Tapes caught up with Keszler as he was listening to music in his apartment. Like the multidimensional, elastic structures he describes in his compositions, the conversation moved freely between musical and urban topics, observing and interacting with the cities of the world and their myriad set pieces, and attempting to sort this information into meaningful packets.


Let’s talk about the physicality of you playing the drums.

Well, I’m not an electronic musician. I make music with my body. I’m a very tactile person, I’m a very athletic person. I have to move, otherwise I’ll go crazy. I get asked a lot if I get tired, but honestly, I’ve been practicing and working on my playing for so many years, so sure I get kind of sore, but I’m fine. I just did three concerts at the Whitney, and I was sore the next day, but I didn’t feel it while I was playing. Obviously I need to take care of my body when I’m not playing; I have to live like an athlete, more or less. It’s a very tactile existence. I feel very lucky to do something where I get to use my body and my mind. I feel like we’re increasingly entering a world where it’s an either/or thing. There’s very few professions that allow you to do both. I’m really committed to that one-to-one experience of making music. But I’ve learned a lot from working with electronics and from people who use electronics, and my ear has been completely changed by something like Max/MSP. It’s such an invaluable tool to learn about probabilities and learn how to hear probabilities in your mind. Because we have this idea with musical performance, because we’re connected to notation, that material needs to be fixed. The thing I got the most from Max was thinking: you know, maybe I could add this note 70% of the time, and it increases from 1 to 70% of the time over the course of three minutes. That’s a totally different way of thinking about musical form.

Do you ever find in your pursuit of a tactile approach that you are pushing and pulling against physical constraints and limits? Less getting tired, more just… you’re biological.

Sure, I make plenty of mistakes, and I’ve learned to use mistakes. Maybe that’s something that comes from improvising. Sure, I’m limited by my technique. I’m also just limited by physics. You want something to happen on your instrument; you hear something in your head, and you find out it’s impossible. So, you’re interfacing with the limits of a resonant body. Especially if you’re trying to achieve unconventional sounds, I often don’t know if it’s possible until I try. So I definitely feel limited by that; I definitely feel limited by the equipment I have on hand. If I want a certain tone, and it’s just not possible — that’s the endless challenge and interest of it. It would be pretty stale if you achieved what you wanted at all times. There would be nothing to do.

You use certain objects to modify and augment your drum kit. Has that changed over time?

Definitely, it’s been additive. I’ve added things, designed and invented a few mounts that help me. They didn’t exist, and I had to build them myself. I continue to develop new pieces of equipment, new mutes; I work a lot with different types of muting on the drums. I have a variety of materials I use for that. It’s an ongoing project — as the music changes and the people I play with change, it becomes apparent that there’s no way forward but to add this or that. If I was a teacher, telling a drummer to follow my lead, I would say that certain techniques that I use make no sense, would be completely irrational. But in the context of the music, it’s the only technique that’s appropriate or the only sound that’s the absolute right sound. At this point in my life, I would say that I’m more of a percussionist than a drummer. And in [Oneohtrix Point Never’s band], I end up changing sticks and pieces of equipment constantly, sometimes 10 or 12 times in the course of a 4-minute song. It just requires very specific colors for different sections. That’s more the way of a classical percussionist than a drummer.

I’m pretty excited that your album Stadium and upcoming EP Empire are [released] on Shelter Press. I’m a big fan of theirs.

They’re great people.

How did you get to working with them?

Oh, I don’t know. We’ve been in similar circles for quite a few years now. We’ve been in touch for awhile, and it made sense to work together on these records. It’s been a total pleasure.

Did you have them in mind? Because, to me, it seemed like these two records had a lot more musical elements than the things you were doing in the past that you might have released, say, on PAN.

I didn’t have [Shelter Press] in mind when I started writing the music, but I have expanded my thinking, or opened myself up expressively, with my music — being comfortable with my own decision and my own taste or philosophy with my music. It just kind of happened; I guess when you do that, things become more complicated in a way. They may become similar, but that might make it more complicated, you know?

That process of opening yourself up… were you listening to different music or trying to incorporate more into your sound?

I’ve always listened to a really wide variety of music. I think I just started to draw connections or figure out exactly what I was interested in and what I wasn’t, weaving in what I found important in what I’ve developed and left out the nonsense. When you realize that you’ve been thinking dogmatically, you know it can be painful to realize that — you know it’s a huge problem in general with our culture. But when you realize that, it can be kind of painful, how much can be stripped away, and maybe you’re left with something musical. That’s been some of the process, just opening up to what I really want to do and erasing everything that seems cultish. When I find myself engaging in cultish thinking, I get kind of disturbed and start backtracking — or really, checking myself. As soon as that happens, it feels like anything is possible.

“Cult-ish” thinking is an interesting term for it. It immediately makes me think of manifestos, futurism, attaching oneself to an ideology. Do you have any examples of things you were trying to pull away from your composition or performance?

I think I was really committed to a complete stripping away of melody, and harmony, in any conventional sense, for years. And I started to realize that this wasn’t something I felt very strongly about. There were certain things that remain from that experimental world-way of thinking about music, like expansive sense of rhythm or a “coloristic,” melodic rhythm, which is pretty much nonexistence in a lot of pop music. But certain other things didn’t matter to me, and I was just pretending or taking for granted the idea that there can’t be genre reference, or harmonic or melodic material. So I really started reflecting on what I was listening to. And working with Oneohtrix Point Never, with Dan and with Laurel Halo and all these people, it quickly became clear that the world is much faster if you let it be. So I just decided to let it be, in the last four years or so.

Yeah, I did notice some chords, even some melodies…

Yeah, there’s a lot of harmony. A lot of harmony, a lot of very specific tonalities and modulations — things that are more conventional. But again, to me, that’s just me being honest. I don’t have any position or feeling either way about it, so there’s no reason to pretend that I do.

Yeah, even more so on Empire I noticed it. Did you play all of the instruments aside from percussion yourself?

On Empire, I play everything on the record. On Stadium, there are other musicians on it. A lot of the keyboards are instruments that I’ve built. Some are actual physical instruments, some are software instruments — I’m able to do a lot of it live now with this sensory percussion software I’m using, which translates gestures and sound on the drum set directly into a way of triggering and working with samples. I’m able to do quite a bit live, and some of Stadium and Empire are live triggered. Quite a bit of it actually is live with some preparation, and then I often spend time listening and imagining how I can expand the music or move it into different directions in my home studio.

I watched the video performance of you doing Stadium in New York, and then I was thinking about the one you did in the UK for NTS, where you had the train sounds in the background. That, to me, seems like a pretty stark contrast in the way you’ve approached live performance.

Yeah, it’s completely changed what’s possible. The software — something I’ve been dreaming of for years — it’s finally come to life, and it’s great. It makes a lot of concepts with the drums, and what’s possible with percussion, very translatable into a digital domain or across a physical plane into an electronic one.

It’s interesting, because I sometimes hear electronic musicians, especially ones with a background in performance, worry about how to make loops and triggers, something that can be “performed,” whereas with you, it seems like you have a kind of spaceship cockpit. You’ve got everything within arms reach. Did you very consciously decide that it will be just you on stage?

For this particular tour around this record, I did it solo. I’ve written music for ensembles, for classical music and groups of friends. I’m not at all attached to doing it solo; ideally, I would like to have people on stage. I do like the analogy of a spaceship, in terms of what the setup is like. I’m able to configure… I’ve been describing it as a landscape. There’s a variety of directions it can go, and there’s an aspect of responsiveness where I’m responding directly to what’s coming back to me. So, even if I’m working with material that’s to some degree predetermined, it’s emerging in a surprising way. It allows me to navigate these pieces. Every time I’ve done this live show, the pieces emerge in a different way; they’re not these fixed objects. It’s a completely integrated system, and I’m almost riding on top of it. I’m sort of like surfing on top of this system I’ve built, so it’s really rewarding and interesting. It doesn’t feel static at all.

Talking about responsiveness, to me, that kind of recalls improvisation. I wanted to ask to what degree that plays a role in your composition and performance?

I love a lot of musicians and music that stems from an improvised music ethos, or a philosophy, or a social space. I have a very expansive definition of what improvisation means, and I’m pretty skeptical of the “accepted” [definitions] — like the idea that an instrumentalist that meets with other people and plays without any preparation is “improvising” — I don’t necessarily buy that. I think people develop their own languages of playing and thinking about musical form. So, for me, one thing I know is true is it would be impossible for me to remake a piece again. Everything is too elastic and loose to be reassembled. It’s like building a castle out of popsicle sticks. The material is too chaotic and loose, and rubbery, complicated in a certain way, for it to go together again. I like to think of it as the magic of how it all goes together. I think that’s connected to improvising, which is like a kind of attitude about making music. Obviously I love improvising and I love playing with people who are committed to that tradition. I would say I’m more of a writer and composer, but I’m an instrumentalist; I play with my hands. I’m very informed by improvising; the philosophy of it has had a huge impact on the way I think about making music and my outlook towards what is necessary to make a good piece of music. I’m not precious about materials or equipment. And that comes from the attitude that if you give me a fork, I could do something that would be musically interesting. I think there’s an improviser’s attitude… someone like Morton Feldman, in that he’s feeling his way through writing, which I would say is what improvising is.

It sounds like you’re forming your own… philosophy? I don’t want to use that word, but— your own approach to composing that fits within all the different elements you want to incorporate. You spoke about elasticity, which makes a lot of sense to me, especially when I think about your installations, which seem like a network of objects working together.

I think that, naturally across the different ways that I work, there are a lot of connections and overlapping concepts. A lot of it has to do with layering of textures and of small gestures that form into masses. The idea of a rhythm turning into a pitch by acceleration is really fascinating, and I’ve been obsessed with it for years. But also I’m very interested in the world in general, and I try to stay open to what is happening, staying very involved in what is going on rather than getting too caught up in my own theories. Although I do have a very specific way of making music that I’ve been cultivating for years. I have a very specific outlook and philosophy of making music, but as I’ve opened up my music to more what I’m listening to and experience, I’ve found the ideas have more meaning when they butt heads or interact with the world versus themselves, which is where I think a lot of experimental work can trip itself up in a way. Muses talking to each other instead of something that would find its way into a pop context. When it does, it’s such a magical thing, because it’s an aberration and an anomaly.

Do you find that having the buildings and infrastructure and chaos of the city is necessary to inform your process?

I live in Manhattan; I’m very into living in New York; I love it here. I feel very connected to the city, and I’m a big walker. I love to look around and see what is happening. A lot of Stadium was formed through that process of basically listening and walking around. I almost view that as the perfect format for listening to it, as a way of navigating a city. I think about my music as being extremely connected to cities. I’m fascinated by the chaos of cities and the complexity that comes with that, both the beautiful and the very serious parts that don’t work. I try to let both of things happen at the same time. All the music I’m making is to let very conventional ideas of beauty butt heads with extreme dirtiness and chaos. I find that to be the most honest and perfect state of music, for me.

As you walk, do you have a kind of method or plan with how you approach it, or do you just try to soak things in and let them come to you?

I’m letting things just happen. I’m trying to truly wander, actually. But life takes you places and you have to go places, but I try to take advantage of my time, and walk as much as I can, and avoid the trains, and let that soak in. I also spend a lot of time on tour, and I have days off or hours off, and I have five hours to walk around Vienna or something. I take advantage of that, and I always try to find something in it. That’s the most creative space for me, when I’m wandering.

Are there any particular places in New York City, where, when you discovered it — not necessarily in terms of sight — but on a level that made it a very important landmark, I guess you could say?

I mean, the East Village where I live now. It’s a pretty miraculous thing that I’m over here, because it’s the neighborhood that I got to know the best when I first started hanging out in New York, and it feels kind of serendipitous that I’m here. Tompkins Square park is an amazing place, and I spend a lot of time there. There are so many places. The whole city is basically under constant construction, but going to DUMBO for the first time and doing research for the Manhattan Bridge installation was really exciting: walking over the bridges, listening and being around that level of noise. It’s a huge city, and I’m still discovering things.

When I went to London, there were construction sites everywhere. It was this crazy juxtaposition of very historic buildings with towers of glass being sandwiched in between, wherever they could fit.

Mmhm, well, you have Katz’s Deli, which is now being encased in two glass condos. It seems to me that every city in the world that I visit, people say the same thing more or less: that this is happening. The younger generations have decided not to leave the city, so you have very wealthy people that have decided they want to live in cities, and you have a complete redone concept of what that would mean. At the same time, with something like Stadium, I envision a lot of glass condos when I listen to it. It’s not a nostalgic or vintage attempt at the city. There is a very chaotic, marketplace feeling. I find it very beautiful, the combination of clear glass and destroyed buildings next to each other. It’s very intense. There are a lot of things you can say about it. But that’s very central to my thinking right now: what that could mean and how would you convey that in sound.

Because when you do your installations, it’s not just you performing; you’re using the space physically as well.

I work very directly with architecture in my installations. I start with some general idea but a very open plan going into these spaces. And I try to figure out what would be interesting after going to visit them. I love finding corners of spaces that are underused and misused, and I love figuring out ways to incorporate them, to physically encourage people to walk across spaces or areas of buildings that are considered neglected or useless. Or even condemned or something. That whole process has been fascinating.

It’s interesting you bring up neglect. One of things I find interesting is all the people who explore abandoned buildings…

Right, like Detroit porn.

Exactly, in Memphis it’s fairly common. We have a lot of mid-century, empty brick warehouses and stuff like that. The purpose of the building is almost lost when it’s empty, and then when you compare that to these new buildings that seem to have a very idealized vision of transparency, you can see exactly what people are doing inside of them. Do you think you could ever have an installation that fits within the hyper-transparent, modern space versus what you’ve been doing in the past?

I think I could, definitely. Like I said, I’m so responsive to the space, it wouldn’t be the same thing. I would respond very differently. These new condo spaces are fascinating. I’m horrified by them, but it’s a completely different way of inhabiting a city. Like, the new very high-end ones actually have a car lift that go directly up to your apartment. A couple of them have schools, grocery stores inside of them. It’s kind of like a JG Ballard High-Rise scenario, where people don’t really have to interact at all with the city they live. Which, you know, who am I to judge how people live? But it seems odd. It’s kind of a gated community inside of a city. But if someone asked me to do something inside one of these buildings, I would figure it out. There are a lot of possibilities to look at them in unusual ways. The one I find the most odd is one opening up in the Lower East Side; it’s called the Rollins, for Sonny Rollins. It’s right against the Williamsburg Bridge. He famously practiced for two years under the Williamsburg Bridge before returning with this completely different sound, and I kind of joke around that he’s one of these great geniuses of the 20th century, and your reward in the 21st century is you get a condo named after you. There are so many things about these buildings that are fascinating and terrifying; it seems like an ideal place to do something, because it’s so loaded and complicated from the start.

We have one of those “spaceship” buildings in the city here. It’s a school, there are condos — you could basically never leave. It used to be a big Sears factory, so it’s millions of square feet. But if you’re not going to demolish something like that, how are you going to fit it adequately so that the building suits a modern context? Because, back then, it was storing furniture, you know. Now that stuff happens at the outskirts of cities, and in the center everything is very light and digital.

An instrument I used a lot on Stadium that I built — I would take field recordings and filter them, and map short strikes from the city recordings and create these complex layers of empty city spaces. I love the idea. Stockhausen talked a lot about the idea of speeding up Beethoven’s symphonies so that they last one second, so I love the idea that through these sampler instruments you can make a sort of swarm out of an entire landscape that lasts one second. So you’re walking through this landscape in one second…

That’s a very interesting idea, though. You spread out a waveform and pick a slice out of that — that’s if you’re stretching it. But if you’re compressing it, you can traverse the entire space in a tiny fraction of the time.

It’s a Gestalt reading of the space; it takes a single moment. Dan Lopatin and I talk a lot about this idea of compression: compressing music, compressing information, compressing data. Through my playing, I like to compress so many hits, so many textures on the drums, so it forms a kind of sustain and the drums take on the role of a singing voice or a kind of singing texture. I like to layer that with these massive spaces that are compressed into this single gesture, or even mapped on the drums. And then you have a physical gesture from an acoustic instrument triggering a massive city space. There are all these ways of layering time in non-linear ways. I think that is kind of the essence of our experience these days; it’s a barrage of information. But how do you turn that barrage into something that conveys something understandable. I think that’s what you were asking about musicality. That’s what I’m doing: trying to take my ideas and make them more understandable, more approachable.

On a larger level, I think it’s a huge question. Because we have incredible amounts of day, and we’re still trying to figure out ways they can be organized or broken down into meaningful packets. I think, even in music, we have that — it’s a cliche these days — it’s almost impossible to keep up with it.

Oh yeah, it’s impossible. But nor should you try.


Eli Keszler tour dates:

02.15.18 – Chicago, IL – Pitchfork Midwinter #
02.21.18 – Boston, MA – Anderson Auditorium, School of the Museum of Fine Arts
02.23.18 – Montreal, Canada – Mutek, Phi Center
02.28.18 – Fort Worth, TX – Fort Worth Modern Art Museum %
03.06.18 – Amsterdam, NL – Muziekgebouw
03.08.18 – London, UK – The Roundhouse #
03.09.18 – Brussels, Belgium – Performatik, the Brussels Biennale of Performance Art
03.16.18 – Brooklyn, NY – Murmrr Ballroom &
03.29.18 – Braga, Portugal – Gnration
03.30.18 – The Hague, Netherlands – Rewire Festival
04.26.18 – Malmo, Sweden – Intonal Festival
05.01.18 – London, UK – Kings Place
06.05.18 – Philadelphia, PA – PhilaMOCA

# with Oneohtrix Point Never
% Nate Boyce
& Carl Stone

Eli Keszler announces three-song EP Empire on Shelter Press, drums up some tour dates

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Avant-garde drummer, percussionist, amelerionist, violaskapa-ist, vibracelesta-ist (vibracellist? I mean, are these instruments even real?!) and generally trailblazing sound artist Eli Keszler has announced a new EP called Empire, out February 14 via Shelter Press. The brief three-song release follows Keszler’s ninth studio album Stadium, which was unveiled last October and made us collectively shit our pants, eventually landing at #11 of our favorite 50 music releases list.

Hey; speaking of Stadium: a repress of that album, currently sold out due to its unmitigated slaying, will be available on February 14 as well.

Keszler has also shared his touring/professoring/hanging out itinerary for the Spring. He will perform his own music at Montreal’s Mutek on February 23 and a couple of festivals in Europe, as a duo with Nate Boyce at the Fort Worth Modern Art Museum on February 28, and in Oneohtrix Point Never’s band in Chicago and London (check the full agenda below). Finally, he will also teach a course with Rashad Becker at CAMP in the Pyrenees in April.

Both Empire and the new pressing of Stadium can be pre-ordered now via Bandcamp. Listen to a fragment of the EP below:

Empire EP tracklisting:

01. Enter the Bristle Strum
02. Corrosion Kingdom
03. The Tenth Part of a Featured World

Eli Keszler tour dates:

02.15.18 – Chicago, IL – Pitchfork Midwinter #
02.21.18 – Boston, MA – Anderson Auditorium, School of the Museum of Fine Arts
02.23.18 – Montreal, Canada – Mutek, Phi Center
02.28.18 – Fort Worth, TX – Fort Worth Modern Art Museum %
03.06.18 – Amsterdam, NL – Muziekgebouw
03.08.18 – London, UK – The Roundhouse #
03.09.18 – Brussels, Belgium – Performatik, the Brussels Biennale of Performance Art
03.16.18 – Brooklyn, NY – Murmrr Ballroom &
03.29.18 – Braga, Portugal – Gnration
03.30.18 – The Hague, Netherlands – Rewire Festival
04.03.18 – Aulus-Les-Bains, the French Pyrenees – Why Do Stuff? Approaching Sound & Music from the Outside with Eli Keszler and Rashad Becker (not a performance)
04.26.18 – Malmo, Sweden – Intonal Festival
05.01.18 – London, UK – Kings Place

# Oneohtrix Point Never
% Nate Boyce
& Carl Stone

Music Review: Eli Keszler – Stadium

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Eli Keszler

Stadium

[Shelter Press; 2018]

Rating: 4/5

“These are ‘dead intervals.’”

The silence between. Between the end and the beginning. The silence in. A rupture. An interruption, the silence in between. Or, a duration of a death. Eli Keszler makes and will have always made music in and of this interval. For instance, Dead Intervals. Piano wires strung through trees. Sounds that traverse the interval, but can one still call them sounds? Can one hear them? Transmitting the text, “Man is deaf.” For whom then are you singing?

“Music is what man owes to time. More precisely: to the dead interval that produces rhythms.”

The silence in a rupture. The present is. The present leaves itself. From self. The present is the departure. No instants or in the flux or in the flow, no moments either. But a present. In the silence. In a rupture. That tears apart and joins together. That tears together. A coming to be. That begins and is beginning, and is beginning itself. With no escape. Hear then, time. Rhythms that pulse through the cadences of nonexistent things. Or at least. The memory of solidity? At last. To be absorbed in time like this is to watch the world flow by. To be. Solitary. Flow, bye. And rhythms disperse. And gather. And the phrases and the noises of all else. “Which Swarms Around It.” But the percussion recedes in the flow in the fleeting in the fleeing, toward what?

“…dead interval: the very particular silence that, to the human ear, separates two successive rhythmic groups. The silence that separates these groups is a paradoxical duration that starts with the end and is interrupted by the beginning.”

Here are a few of the times I noticed while listening to this record: How long a leaf drifts before landing, the least arduous fall there ever was; how that man over there is fidgeting with his hands, how quickly he must rehearse his anxiety so as not to keep up with it, so as to be in its wake, so as to be it, so as and so as to avoid looking fear in fear’s face your fear are the face of your fear; how however many sounds and signs and sighs and jolts and jerks, they all coalesce, and it’s not that there is a measure over which they are synthesized, for perhaps one can only hear one at once, but one is in them all, that they are all there, looming, like “Measurement Doesn’t Change the System,” but, looming. There is an urgency to escape.

“Gabriel Fauré said of music that writing it as well as hearing it led to the ‘desire for inexistent things.’ Music is the reign of the dead interval. It is the irreversible that visits. It is the past that ‘repasses.’ It is nowhere that comes here. It is the return of that which is without return. It is death in daylight. It is the aseme in language.”

“We Live in Pathetic Temporal Urgency.” One day he writes me: Description of a dream. A face appears, a face disappears. In the department stores of Tokyo, in the subterranean tunnels that extend them. A trace is found, is lost. The present is because it is solitude. It has no past, it has no future. There are no others but it and the ghosts that dissolve beneath the blue neon night shade of its shadow. Yet, a trace is found, a trace is lost. A face appears, disappears. We’ve already conquered space, but time is now being colonized without our being able to describe what is happening, for time does nothing but absorb. Yet time can shatter. From an immemorial past, from an irredeemable future. An urgency toward what? An acceleration toward what? A tumbling toward what recedes, only because there was a “toward” at all. All the while. The wash of strings, synth, bass, keys are all a blur. A wish. An overexposure. A passing away. The light blurred flow of life blurs as it all streams by, resplendent. While the rhythm gathers all together in its spray. While the rhythm tears it all apart, in its sheen. Or not life as a light stream. But perhaps a fountain. In the middle. With “Lotus Awning,” shading its cool. Its clarity.

“My fingers are empty. I cannot bear order, meaning, peace. I gather the aftereffects of time. I rip to shreds the rules of the past and the present, which I have never understood. Logos once meant ‘collection.’ I collect rubble, patches of fugitive light, ‘dead intervals,’ the intruder and the lost, the sordidissima of the cavern: night is the bottom of the worlds. Everything goes toward nonlanguage. I have attempted to bring back things that were without code, without song and without language, and that roam toward the source of the world … Being born serves no purpose and knows no end: certainly not death. There is no end because death does not finish. Death does not terminate: it interrupts.”

Time flows in from the future, which we postpone, through the ceaseless repetition of, a pushing, a way, of the past. Stadium here is an exposition of time, in this stadion, this measureless measure, or rather, time is here exposed, , , there is an inexhaustible present in a choke, in a gasp, a suspension of time, of a gasp, in a choke, where as if floating, or rather, Time is a forceful gesture, imparting the sustenance of subsistence, where as if disembodied, all of your ghosts, slip surreptitiously through, for some reason I’m thinking of, in a subterranean shopping mall, Exposes time, the, there is a time for, there is not enough time, there are too many times, of that scene in Sans soleil, as if to say, you were in all of these times at once, of that scene in, as if to say, here is when I was born, here is when I, here, is when I died, of that scene ’ ’ ‘emergence of time, and it’s miraculous that time has no borders, all of them collapse into the rupture, into the space of the, beginning is the preparing for the beginning, but why speak of the future, for rhythms are just this, Is there measure on this earth? There is none, a measureless measure, to let time pass, to let time be, and to leave time, to be time’s leave of, and to believe time, We live in too many times.

“The dead interval is the hand that time extends to us. If death interrupts, this interruption is within us … in our birth, in our cry as in our sleep. In our breath as in our thought. In our walking on two feet as in human language. The dead interval, of which we are a precarious dependency, explodes in everything. ”

For whom then are you singing?

Watch: Eli Keszler – “Lotus Awnings”

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The flute makes me mute, its round
holes, sound of morning that’s
coming.

— Maggie Nelson, The Last Winter

Eli Keszler is a percussionist and sound design artist who makes sparse, meandering, conceptual music. Here, we have a newly released video for “Lotus Awnings,” a song from his upcoming album Stadium, which is out October 12 on Shelter Press.

Filmmaker Alan Segal shot and directed the video, which makes use of unremarkable urban landscapes (brick buildings, sidewalks, etc.) to create a stillness that matches the meditative temper of the audio. The shots are temporally ambiguous, which is to say the lighting is bluish gray, not-quite-bright, but not-quite-dark, which makes me think of morning more than evening. Paired with Keszler’s song, Segal’s video imparts an overwhelming sense of stillness, a sense of beginning.

What is morning if not stillness? Morning time, paradoxically, isn’t a time, more of a mood, less a proper designation than a measure of disposition. It’s when things haven’t begun — the shifting tide between asleep and awake, a time outside of time. As I listened to the flute pattern throughout, I couldn’t help but think: sound of morning that’s coming.

Not insignificantly, the video begins with a white letter “A” in one corner, from which a slow-moving line emerges. The line crawls across the screen for five minutes and eventually lands on a “B” toward the end. And the video is interspersed with red abstractions, specked with white dots, a void that’s not quite a void, almost dreamlike. Morning feels like that too: thinking about how to get from point A to point B in the midst of half-dreaming. Not awake, not asleep.

Lose yourself in the video and the song, maybe feel its morning-ness and its stillness.

Eli Keszler announces European tour ahead of new album Stadium; stay calm, you hooligans!

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Gotta love those drummers and their perfect senses of timing:

Ahead of releasing his new album Stadium October 12 on Shelter Press, Eli Keszler is giving the general public fair warning about an international tour that he has planned more or less simultaneously.

First, the virtuoso percussionist will join Oneohtrix Point Never for a few shows; and then, once October arrives, Keszler will venture as the headliner to various venues around Europe, where audiences will greet him with a warmth unparalleled even by a perfectly-baked, delightfully-spicy gingerbread man! And after that, and he’s also going to be playing a few shows in Poland alongside Rashad Becker, which should likewise prove pretty awesome, given their shared abilities across multiple technical/artistic areas. It’ll be two renaissance men showcasing their skills and making the rest of us feel inadequate and unaccomplished! Who else can’t wait?!

Yup; good looking, smart, and funny. Yes, that’s Zack Morr…uh, I mean, Eli Keszler! He could perform open-heart surgery with those drumsticks. And his visual work is also deserving similarly fantastical hyperbole…if only I had the time to think of some more!

Dates:

09.12.18 – Tokyo, Japan – Shibuya O-East *
09.20.18 – Berlin, Germany – Funkhaus *
09.24.18 – Paris, France – Le Centquatre *
09.26.18 – Montreal, QC – Monument-National *
10.02.18 – New York, NY – The Kitchen (album release event)
10.12.18 – Columbia, MD – Opus
10.24.18 – Los Angeles, CA – Zebulon (album release event)
10.31.18 – London, UK – Cafe Oto
11.02.18 – Dublin, Ireland – Bello Bar
11.04.18 – Vienna, Austria – Rhiz
11.07.18 – Lausanne, Switzerland – Le Bourg
11.08.18 – Bratislava, Slovakia – Fuga
11.13.18 -Aalborg, Denmark – Tape
11.14.18 – Copenhagen, Denmark – Alice
11.15.18 – Stockholm, Sweden – Fasching
11.20.18 – Brno, Czech Republic – Praha
11.22.18 -Poznan, Poland – Las &
11.23.18 – Warsaw, Poland – Mozg &
11.24.18 – Gdańsk, Poland – Kolonia Artystow

* Oneohtrix Point Never
& Rashad Becker


Eli Keszler announces new large-capacity, open-air album Stadium on Shelter Press, shares “Flying Floor For U.S. Airways”

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This just in: Avant-percussionist and visual artist Eli Keszler is BACK with some more R&R (rhythm & rhythm) with his newly-announced ninth solo album. Like all good records, it has a title (Stadium), a label (Shelter Press), and a release window (October 2018). Please look forward to enjoying it 🙂

Keszler explains the title of the album thusly: “After we moved into our East Village apartment, we found a guitar pick on the floor that read ‘Stadium.’ We looked at each other at the same time and had the same thought. It could have gone any number of ways.”

The album’s sound finds Keszler exploring “intersections of melody, restraint and rhythm” that “challenge the idea of memory, impression and space.” The new record also marks a highlight for Keszler’s already busy year, which has seen him deliver a solo exhibition, “Blue Skies,” in Bradford, UK, collaborate with Laurel Halo on her mini-LP Raw Silk Uncut Wood, and tour with Oneohtrix Point Never in support of new record Age Of. Hey, if anyone can find the time, it’s a drummer! (I’m sorry; please keep reading.)

If you can’t wait to be violently Stadium‘d, you can get a look at this baby under construction by listening to a downtempo little excerpt, “Flying Floor For U.S. Airways,” below. If you’re trying to reserve your nosebleed seats ASAP, prepare your pre-order-fingers at the Shelter Press Bandcamp. If you’re here for abstract word jumbles (hope you enjoyed the article, btw), then check out the full Stadium tracklisting below. (I promise I’m not keeping any track titles from you!) Otherwise…I don’t know, go click on a review or something.


Stadium tracklisting:

01. Measurement Doesn’t Change the System At All
02. Lotus Awnings
03. We Live In Pathetic Temporal Urgency
04. Flying Floor For U.S. Airways
05. Simple Act of Inverting the Episode
06. Which Swarms Around It
07. Fifty Four To Madrid
08. French Lick
09. Was the Singing Bellowing
10. The Driver Stops
11. Fashion of Echo
12. Bell Underpinnings

Laurel Halo to soar wistfully across the U.S. and Europe (via upcoming tour)

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Not one to rest on herself, Laurel Halo has shared a veritable slew of live dates in the familiar lands of the United States and Europe for all you hardcore Halo’ers out there (and I know you’re out there). The tour, which starts TODAY (or maybe has already started; I’m not familiar with European time zones), will drop off at all your favorite coastal cities and cultural hubs and will feature several dates with NYC percussionist/composer Eli Keszler — because touring alone is a lot like dining for one at Olive Garden: really just kind of gross.

Earlier this year, Laurel Halo gifted to the world her latest album, Dust, which went quadruple-ultra-super-platinum in the eyes of some of us here at the TMT offices and landed her a richly deserved slot on our 2017 Second Quarter Favorites feature. So, look for this tour on our upcoming 2017 Fourth Quarter Favorite Tours feature (just kidding, that’s not a thing).

At any rate, if you would like to get dusted (and happen to live in one of the major markets in North America and Western Europe), check out the full list of dates, either on the very bold and colorful official tour poster, or on the drab and matter-of-fact white space below these very words. Aren’t you glad to live in the 21st century where you can have options?!

Laurel Halo dates-a-plenty (safe, monotonous version):

10.05.17 – London, UK – St. John of Hackney *
10.05.17 – London, UK – NTS X Frieze [DJ set]
10.07.17 – Dublin, UK – DBD *
10.11.17 – Krakow, Poland – Unsound Festival *
10.12.17 – Genoa, Italy – Electropark Festival *
10.13.17 – Leeds, UK – Headrow House *
10.14.17 – Sheffield, UK – No Bounds Festival *
10.15.17 – Manchester, UK – Soup Kitchen *
10.19.17 – Zagreb, Croatia – Klub Močvara
10.20.17 – Prague, Czech Republic – Lunchmeat Festival *
10.27.17 – Cologne, Germany – Week-End Festival *
10.28.17 – Bergen, Norway – Ekko Festival *
11.03.17 – Turin, Italy – Club2Club
11.10.17 – Berlin, Germany – Ableton Loop, Funkhaus Berlin *
11.11.17 – Zurich, Switzerland – RBMA Weekender *
11.18.17 – Athens, Greece – St. Paul’s Sessions *
11.24.17 – Brooklyn, NY – Elsewhere [DJ set]
11.26.17 – Philadelphia, PA – First Unitarian Church *
11.27.17 – New York, NY – The Kitchen *
11.28.17 – New York, NY – The Kitchen *
11.30.17 – Seattle, WA – Kremwerk
12.01.17 – San Francisco, CA – Grey Area *
12.03.17 – Portland, OR – Holocene *
12.04.17 – Los Angeles, CA – Zebulon *

* Duo with Eli Keszler

Feature: 2016: A Musicology Of Exhaustion

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Introduction: American Sublime

But how does one feel? Movements, ideas, events, entities. Ruptures, raptures. In their affiliation, in their coalition, in their deafening impact, it’s clear 2016 was our generation’s loudest year. This could be measured materially with some sort of world-eating decibel reader, but it can also be deduced from the simple fact that there were more humans on the planet than ever before. Amidst this increasing noise, it’s hard to ignore an insurmountable fatigue that’s settled into music-making in 2016 — a tiredness that has threaded listening with extra-meaning, meta-meaning, the throes of something beyond its noise and fury, to make something not inexhaustible, but breathing. Panting. Can we even listen to music without opening another tab or six?

Exhaustion, the dissolution of time and place and the systems we hold to, the rundown into desensitization. Together, listening alone. The United States is beating back depression like it’s The Leftovers (HBO). The sole civic participation for many of us this year — itself a sort of compromise — resulted in what felt like apocalypse, a signal that the hum of discontent and terror building for months (lifetimes) would not find relief or counter, but amplification. The attendant content production and life streams turned the marathon election process into an eternal sprint. Discourse wore into wares, and everything continued to feel too much.

To chart a musicology of exhaustion (as if it were our only option), we should consider 2016’s tension between noise and silence as a paradox that is not only proposed to us in contemporary music criticism and music journalism. Further, it’s how artists deal with exhaustion that allows us to extrapolate from the field of music a form that mirrors the tension between collective action and isolation — how this core upsets the whole of our odd humanly practices, from art to politics, from friendships to code.

It is around the question of exhaustion that crucial efforts can begin to mobilize and regain the force of our solitary and collective moment. Exhaustion happens while movements are rebranded into stories and memories, while signs model and represent it, while traditional structures give these signs meaning, while the current logics of domination continue on. To imagine a future becoming present, we should fist-fight with fire, just to recapture some affective rest stops from semio-capitalism’s endless traffic. We should try to articulate ourselves from hopelessness, against despair, and into action.

In 2016 and in the music of 2016, the question of noise and silence was approached by deafening swarms of musical micro-flows that pivoted angrily and capriciously around our wholly transitional present. Music in 2016 was impatient and brutal. A refusal of musical authority and power, and a refusal of the political and vocal privilege that has allowed musicians to speak abstractly on behalf of others; our new music was unstable, vicious, bitter, insular. Yet, noticeably, 2016’s music was also composed of particular frailty, failure, error, and ultimately vulnerability. It’s impossible to produce an overarching narrative, a singularly transcendent album, a beautiful sense-making system of records that captures the collective spirit of a clear avant-garde for music production. Rather, if anything, we remember how music in 2016 revealed its bare life. It exposed an exhaustion inherent to how infinitely disparate and repetitive music’s forms truly are, forever oscillating between the magnetic poles of noise and silence.


Playing One-On-No-One
Kanye West at Madison Square Garden

Silence is ill-gained nowadays. Isolation is an indulgence, but it’s the only one we must afford ourselves now. This is a moment of humdrum mass hysteria and ambient trauma that calls for collective movements and direct action. It is not time to retreat or compromise, though the affective overload of rn demands retreat if it is truly to be weathered and resisted. How does one stand to behold the sublime?

In a conversation with Boris Klushnikov, Boris Groys says, “[L]oneliness — truly radical loneliness — engenders the possibility and desire to address the whole.” Perhaps the greatest risk for the empathetic machines of our avatars is overstimulation, waiting around every click. When you grow weary of the ways of the world, to withdraw is more than convenience; it is prerequisite for psychic survival. To stay attached, we must remind ourselves of our sensual connection to the world, not merely as a part of it, while at the same time recognizing there are outsides and gaps to the mythologized omnipresence of power structures. The alternative is hyperactivity and endless exhaustion.

No one else this year (except maybe his Presidential foil) could embody this mutation of noise and isolation into exhaustion like Kanye West. In the manifold fracture of subjectivity, Kanye’s theater was traumatizing (his “Famous” video), and his trauma was made theater (in the dehumanizing reactions to his hospitalization, Kim’s attack). The simultaneous release of The Life of Pablo and the Yeezy Season 3 clothing line at Madison Square Garden was a moment of sublime isolation. A portal to a vacant space where the spirit can be replenished, Kanye played the album off his laptop, passing the aux as the afternoon wore on. This was Kanye’s space, an installation of controlled intimacy, one of the few public times and places he could feel comfortable in 2016. Somewhere safe in his Holy War. This invention of familiarity afforded Kanye a stage to share what was decidedly not a party album, but one of the year’s most challenging in its polarities: feedback and praises, self-effacement and carelessness. Pablo’s opener is marked by silence, reintroducing the spectacle of the whole event with a whisper, this prayer. After calling out NIKE’s lack of faith in him, Kanye told his audience they still had to respect Michael Jordan, before adding, “People do come to Madison Square Garden to see me play one-on-no-one.” Kanye addressed the whole with his every gesture.

The Life of Pablo’s re-released, re-mastered versions radically approached 0, the unreleased, unmastered collage “album” that still exists only in service of streaming sites (its updates and reiterations no longer even catalogued in the tactile database of What.cd, one of 2016 and physicality’s losses). The following singles and videos were exploded versions, truncated versions, expanded versions, soundtrack versions: its songs took the shape of their latest release, always a part from the original. Like, Garden of Delete, it would be every one. The album was marked by hyperactivity, the confluence of producers and performers, the spaz in the news of Kanye. A polyphony that resolved into biography, but not of one artist or figure: Which one?

The space of Madison Square Garden became a bed of exhaustion: the face and pose worn by every model, still standing, or sitting down, doing nothing to their present. It wasn’t till the stalemate of the album’s first listen (and final listen in that form, unless you’ve been rewatching the show compulsively like we have) was finished that the fashion models began to resemble active people: Their facades crumbled against the weight of Rihanna’s “Work,” when they felt able to party again. It wasn’t Pablo that scored the afterparty, but songs from the Old Kanye, and from the radio — the artists really one with the people (Beyoncé, Drake, Young Thug). The canopy collected their breath. Plurality without pluralism.

In a well-known 2006 article for The New Yorker on Morton Feldman, Alex Ross spoke at length of Feldman’s immensity, his oeuvre on the verge of forming into what was referred to in our review of The Life of Pablo as a topology of monstrosity. In the work of Feldman, perhaps the Kanye of his time (lol), that monstrosity creeps up in the intense vulnerability of his music, in the manner in which his compositions fall apart in front of our eyes, only to reveal their insular and softly subversive core. Ross stated that this is “the often noted paradox [of] this immense, verbose man [who] wrote music that seldom rose above a whisper. In the noisiest century in history, Feldman chose to be glacially slow and snowily soft.” For one, Feldman’s music presents itself as ecstatically exhausted, reverberating with the scream of a collective epiphany; yet it was starkly alone, introverted, still. In the same breath, Feldman spat a well-known remark: “Polyphony sucks.”

In what seems like 2016’s collective polyphonic nightmare, the sheer immense noise of music’s cumulative voicing didn’t reveal dissonance or harmony between the spaces of their production. Rather, there was merely another release, another music, another source, another output. Critical, analytic listeners could perhaps see shapes on the 2016 release plateau to make out micro-tonal conglomerates of tonality: a small scene here, a trend there, a new tool, a granular synthesis technique, an obscure message, etc. Yet still, for us staring onward, our gaze could only make out a cataclysmic, reverberating pit of musics crawling with tired life; we listened not with ears tuned for meaning, but for a plateauing of its collective form into something like Kanye’s and Feldman’s ecstatic exhaustions. This year, our social movements, our punk culture, our dystopian imagination foreshadowed in many ways the mutation we are now hearing, a mutation where the polyphonic exhaustion of our music was a question not of the 0-to-100 meter between noise and silence — loneliness and collective meaning — but of the gradients, shades, and undertones that exist between the individual body and the collective body in a game of “One-On-No-One.”

We saw this in the subtlety of 2016’s magnificent releases, where music like Lolina’s Live in Paris, Lorenzo Senni’s Persona, Frank Ocean’s Endless,James Ferraro’s Human Story 3 , Sam Kidel’s Disruptive Muzack, and The Caretaker’s Everywhere at the end of time didn’t necessarily proclaim a clear output for critique, but instead functioned as misshapen growths out of forms that these artists have been experimenting with for decades, or at least what feels like decades. Somewhere from Senni and Ferraro’s genius yet beautifully naive experiments with trance and modern classical, to the worn image breakdowns of Lolina and Frank Ocean, to the aching ambient tedium of Kidel’s Muzak-systems, the dealership of exhaustion was clear and served as the basis for our collective shade: Market Collapse, Voyeurship, Relaxx, Disruption. As Feldman notes, reflecting on how progress and vitality end and begin with solitude: “Earlier in my life there seemed to be unlimited possibilities, but my mind was closed. Now, years later and with an open mind, possibilities no longer interest me. I seem content to be continually rearranging the same furniture in the same room. My concern at times is nothing more than establishing a series of practical conditions that will enable me to work. For years I said if I could only find a comfortable chair I would rival Mozart.”

How then to find a comfortable chair and cultivate a Madison Square Garden in our heart?


Resting Face: Avatar OST
Cover art for The Caretaker’s Everywhere at the end of time

The 21+ swarm of millennials is the last generation to have a childhood outside the virtual, only to find ourselves connected now at every intersection. Identity and social media gripped us. What we still sometimes pretend to be intentional has dissolved into a mess of self-disclosure and ambient fraud: you text nothing like you look, your tweets are scaring me, you are logging off. Permanent performance with only malware really paying attention. While Twitter is useful for organizing and consciousness-raising in collectivizing impulses, the semiocapitalist demands of Facebook create an affective treadmill, and the work of our avatars breaks down in the face of what we share. It’s exhausting, and even our musical avatars could use a break. Or, they are actively breaking apart before us.

Compared to the aesthetic overdetermination of PC Music or the headlining ecstasy of Kanye, artists like The Caretaker admits the defeat of connectivity and comprehension in its disintegration loops, the convalescence of memory and dreamspace that threatens at every moment to give way to nothing. This faltering collection of ancient sound is The Caretaker’s manipulation of contemporarily disjointed signs, a radical curation of predetermined music that individuates the character in our imaginations as a symptom of time, as a projection of our listening self. We are The Caretaker, we’ve always been The Caretaker. The performative death of the moniker is the project’s swan song, Everywhere at the end of time, a slowly deteriorating memoir over the course of three years in a regularly expanding six-part release. The release troubles the celebration of degeneration and the process of rearranging the furniture in a single room, revealing a mortal heart to the impression of timelessness conjured by the music. The isolating affect of the looped ballroom music and its timed descent is an architectural rejoinder to the infinitely expanding content landscape that we share and auto-cultivate well into sleeplessness. Our avatars have expiration dates.

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This degeneration also sung a death knell in 2016 to those avatars we took solace in, those we listened to in order to subjectivate ourselves into their quests for rupture/rapture. Throughout the 20th century, music looked to futuristic, surreal, functional avant-gardes — movements whose imagination of precarity established musical avatars that seemed to have been peeled off one-by-one in the exhausted death pulse of 2016. In the 20th century, these avatars developed a frail psychosphere, a punchy counterculture with wide, vital imaginations that could eat and spit out oncoming apocalypse. Armed with an aesthetic of excess, uncertainty, randomness, evocation, escape, and power, these avatars were our solace and our peace — our shield against the coming exhaustion.

Their art was a glorious attempt to mitigate social pain with the magical forces of what seems like an ancient time. Prince, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Pauline Oliveros, Phife Dawg, Tony Conard : this was a profound canon whose absence is felt as a cold, incised cut in the side of the brilliant underground. It’s as Franco “Bifo” Berardi said, “the terms denunciation and engagement are no longer meaningful when you are a fish reaching the point of being cooked.” Likewise, the death of our avatars who used precarity to craft rhapsodic, focused practices seems easier to take when that precarity became the OST to all our musical activity — not only in its source, but its incessant output, resounding without referent.

The exhausting death of our heros and heroines is but one tone in the deafening polyphony, the frigid silence of the Avatar OST. Although our new music uses the last century’s lexicon — Oliveros’s deep listening in Eli Keszler and Sean McCann, of course Prince (so much Prince) in every pop-ish upstart who traces the mutation of globalized technology and media, Bowie in every musician with gleaming eyes and an extraterrestrial vision. Yet there’s so much more than this glib frame. One listen to the complexly mutant and resounding sounds of Carly Rae, Jenny Hval, Crying, or Arca and the dead seem to be eaten whole into a new living, vital flesh.

It’s not that 2016’s artists are exhausted hacks who can’t show the kind of energy or vitality specific to these fallen icons of a previous time; rather, it’s that their movement has become subsumed by the Avatar OST — by the attempt to find equilibrium between irony and cynicism, noise and silence, the signified and the automatic — all forming the skin that wraps into an exhausted living Avatar-body of human (American?) culture in 2016.


Endless Time: Atomic Clock
Screencap from Frank Ocean’s Endless visual album

We are in a live anachronism. The year’s most celebrated soundtrack is a nostalgic throwback (via ~2012’s vapor-distillation of its musical themes) to an iconic film era during which many of its listeners weren’t alive. The hyperdrive of press releases and Event albums have become rapid to the point of simultaneity, frantically into stillness. The quiet of overexertion. Time has been accelerated and decelerated to the point where tiny music releases become hideouts for time, places where we can measure its (non-)motion, where we can register its shape as real. Of course, we can see the way time is sculpted by the ecstatic manipulation of physical sound (Rashad Becker’s Traditional Music of Notional Species Vol. II, Yearning Kru’s Copper Vale), in Kanye’s album-freezing and renanimative release-rollout, in its cataclysmic vision (Elysia Crampton’s Dissolution of The Sovereign). Yet, still, if time is our most common good, our most common language — which of course in 2016 has become the very core of music production — one must bear in mind that our endless, exhausted time is and will always be wider than our common perceptions of it.

The Life of Pablo can become a territory of anticipation, perpetually unfinished and so unrealized in the collective imagination; it never found physical release (and Kanye promised it never will, or, for that matter, be for sale). The ongoing additions and subtractions to the tracklisting and mix mark a disruption of release schedules and an event that troubles our self-production around this sort of market history. The Life of Pablo could never be a classic album, but it escaped any sort of comprehension and managed to become timeless, not by existing out-of-time but by inhabiting its own future as an object. The needlessly transparent (or calculated hype-generating) movements of its title tell a story. The release couldn’t be Swish; it was too hard-fought, graceless, and delayed. And it couldn’t be Waves, whose cyclical crashes and reformations are a reflecting pool for Kanye, but seem pastoral and distant from his distance to the world he addresses. The title had to express a celebrity lifetime, which is the recording of becoming in public, of being subject to a million exhausting cultural knowledges. As a salve for the fatalism that accompanies massive political upsets, Kanye’s sprawling collage-release was something that couldn’t come to pass.

What seemed like it might never come to pass, even as we watched the process, was the black-and-white realtime stream of Frank Ocean’s Endless workshop: a blank projection screen. It was a testament to reclusiveness, the quiet process of solo work that becomes a composite of personalities, drives, persistence. In the promise of the slow and steady, Frank still shifted from “rushing for a wait” to “waiting for a rush,” working in tandem, without recognizing the coalition that had become of himself. The montage of periods and song scraps turned the never-ending into release, but one that was reduced to a herald. And so his music became Everywhere at the end of time.

Within this expanded time, our music then becomes an atomic clock for making sense of its effects on our exasperated socius. The atomic clock, which uses a “electronic transition frequency in the microwave, optical, or ultraviolet region of the electromagnetic spectrum of atoms as a frequency standard for its timekeeping element,” is the meter that keeps tabs on the uninterrupted circuit of music-flows, collective synergy, affective plurality, and that production of subjectivity that is exhaustively boundless. Yet it is within the unintelligible whole, this mass of time-less music, that exists the power of our multitude and our solitary listening.

In the mix of our critical listening, our “keeping up” with music, our collective associations, our capacity to bond these units in time, we see a capacity for the invention of new desires and new beliefs — new associations, endlessly.


Split Ends: Estranged Apocalypse

Blinking and blank. The end’s split, an experiment within a shared reservoir where exhaustion is the premise rather than the affect. The year’s most cynical release in this regard was its most omnipresent: “Closer” by The Chainsmokers (ft. Halsey). The landscape is poverty, its refrain: “We ain’t never getting older.” The mattress that she stole and the backseat of her Rover are as human as the “I, I, I, I, I,” and “you” that the voices are singing to and from, an empty hall of mirrors. When they repeat “I can’t stop” — and what can’t they stop? — it’s sung from a place of complete ambivalence, admitting the exhaustion of connectivity and exposing the compulsory movement forward, ever forward, but somehow carried on without value judgment, without protest. Despite the disjointed lyrics, the repetition of the chorus and pre-chorus morphs the song into ambience, a pacifying chant against the demands of work and love. The song stays young, and we, we are old.

There wasn’t a more fitting musical statement to 2016’s gripping exhaustion than Sam Kidel’s Disruptive Muzak. Kidel’s record was special; the piece came about during a research project into Muzak in 2015 from which Kidel composed a series of pieces that shared a similar sound palette to Muzak, but with a “less familiar, less predictable and more disruptive structure.” He tested the compositions by calling up government offices that use Muzak in their telephone queues and played them down the phone instead of his voice. The officials’ responses were recorded and assembled. They established a liminal space where their vocal interruptions and Kidel’s frosty, “disruptive” synth music are indeterminately and independently functioning as disruptions into their own separate, split ambient zones. The dropped calls and the incessant interruptive presentation of the voice/synth split confuse and estrange their intended space. Together, their communication forms an ambient echo-chamber that distills the core of a contemporary exhaustion. Somehow, amidst the superficially annoying timbre of the piece, the music literally disrupts its attempts at fragmentation by redeeming itself into a special ambient sublimity — a sad, broken, ascending, but brilliant place.

Somehow within this sadness is a scenic territory for those who find the world staggeringly heartbroken, a musicology of exhaustion: something not inexhaustible, but breathing. Panting.


Desubjectivation, Reactivation

2016 is a year we can’t cry away, drink away, work away, or get away from. And so we can’t speak summarily, but continue to wander into no-one’s land, hang on to each other, and fight. Online and in moments of depression, communality falls way to the soul eraser of enclosure, invented isolation from the violent-ambient. We must learn to articulate from zero, perform dreadlessness, listen with all our might that we can resist desensitization. We must believe that opening a window in winter does not just make the room cold. Bare earth, bare night.

The wind makes it too hard to hear. The snow is falling, and the streets are full of cries. There is no choice but to listen. If you listen closely, you’ll hear the whisper of the heart: a mutant plea of loneliness that bears self-relation into relationality into “what’s next is.” Re-generation, from zero. Neuroplasticity exercises, breathing exercises. In the endless scroll of media, we become out of touch and out of tune, conditional but ahistoric, a part, deadened, when we could become:

Isolation takes time for self-knowledge to counter the knowledge production that traps us in kind. There are only so many voices that can be played simultaneously without loss. Listening from an exhausted place, there we might reconfigure our imaginations, our beliefs, the shared precarity of our labor and our lives, our becoming-void of compossibilities beyond this world at the end of time. This sounds exhausting, and exhaustion in 2016 sounds like chance, like syntony, like sculptures made of ash. Excessive, activist, sensitive, sensible, sympathetic.

Don’t suffer in silence. Don’t suffer asceticism. Don’t suffer “only suffering can result in great art.” If 2016 can be more than the end of time, if in its terror a learning treasure, if in its death a building year, it is the year in which we must place the utmost faith in umbral sensuality, in the power of emotional elaboration that defaces screentime and screenshots, in the resilience of escape. Be seated at the piano, an incubator for mutation. Music can be the occasion and vehicle for developing counter-rhythms of being in the everyday wash-rinse cycle of news. From permanent noise into the silence of creative imagining, toward refrain. We came from never and must become everywhere more feeling, with closer listening. Our place is endless; the sun is rising.

Poet, be seated at the piano.
Play the present, its hoo-hoo-hoo,
Its shoo-shoo-shoo, its ric-a-nic,
Its envious cachinnation.

If they throw stones upon the roof
While you practice arpeggios,
It is because they carry down the stairs
A body in rags.
Be seated at the piano.

That lucid souvenir of the past,
The divertimento;
That airy dream of the future,
The unclouded concerto …
The snow is falling.
Strike the piercing chord.

Be thou the voice,
Not you. Be thou, be thou
The voice of angry fear,
The voice of this besieging pain.

Be thou that wintry sound
As of a great wind howling,
By which sorrow is released,
Dismissed, absolved
In a starry placating.

We may return to Mozart.
He was young, and we, we are old.
The snow is falling
And the streets are full of cries.
Be seated, thou.

“Mozart, 1935”
– Wallace Stevens

Music Review: Eli Keszler – Last Signs of Speed

This post was originally published on this site

Eli Keszler

Last Signs of Speed

[Empty Editions; 2016]

Rating: 4/5

Many musical practices found in club environments have nothing to do with the club as an institution. Instead, these practices merely suggest a kind of monumentality that prioritizes the three-dimensionality of the sound system in general — the aims of those artists who build structures that celebrate a sound system’s sculptural opportunity. Noticeably, as an instrumentalist and composer, Eli Keszler’s playing appears tuned to the simultaneous inactivity and entropy found in the environmental becoming that a sound system brings to our relationship with sound — the way our instruments, techniques, and apparatuses are mediated into a more geologic timescale, a scale much larger than the human hand that crafts it, much larger than our rituals that confine it.

On Last Signs of Speed, Kezsler’s first solo release since 2012’s Catching Net on PAN and the debut vinyl release of Berlin-based publishing platform Empty Editions, it’s difficult to ignore the visuality of Kezsler’s sculptural interaction with object. Quick virtuosic movements highlight a human hand that speedily arranges the impact between materials; wood, rocks, gravel all flicker against each other in quick succession, mapping a chaotic, relentless entropy — a “gradual unfolding of dub-influenced rhythmic constellations.” The album’s essential frame — the drum kit — is the mediation of the human hand and these objects, functioning as the site for its construction of a 3D percussion installation/maelstrom. Kezsler has described the record as his response to playing in club environments over the last few years, “an attempt to negotiate a delicate balance between the materiality of his acoustic instrument and the hyper-mediated sonic ecosystem of the club sound system.”

The negotiation exaggerates the plight of any instrumentalist who confronts their practice against the possibilities sound system music affords, an expansive material environment where sound can operate on new timescales. In this space, the finite percussive surfaces of the drum kit itself are subject to an infinite interpretation of percussive/tonal structures and surfaces. The album’s flattened surfaces and percussive “sparks” communicate freely between instrument and this dubbed space, allowing Kezler’s hand movements and playing to become a literal hideout for time, as the compositional space is brought out of the often singular and expressive narrative of instrumental improvisation. Granular sound components and quotidian impacts between glass, metal, and wood fragments develop large spans of time, detailed by the infinite surfaces that resonate within them.

This is heightened by tonal instruments such as Kezsler’s playing of Fender Rhodes, Mellotron, and celleste, as well as cellist Leila Bordreuil’s wide-bowed textures on “The immense endless belt of faces.” The fluctuation and illusory manipulation of speed and permanence, acceleration and sculptural organization, is clear on album opener “Sudden laughter, laughter without reason,” as the tactile drum surfaces pop with a trance-like velocity while bells and synths slow the percussive bricolage into an illusion of stability. In the same way, this stability is exaggerated and brought to the scale of sheer immensity on a piece like “Holes, parts missing,” where the tectonic grating of sounds is detailed endlessly with sonic movement, richness.

Last Signs of Speed casts the musicians out of this environmental space where the sounds are rarified into sharp, complex happenings. The virtuosity of Keszler and his collaborators’ playing (and any narrative their playing suggests) falls away to an intricately detailed structure that’s simultaneously modest and immense, stable and entropic, sculptural and a phenomenon in constant becoming. The album’s fluctuation between a sound system’s meta-stasis and this constant motion demonstrates an all-too-rare union between instrument and sound system, a union usually reserved for bass or, in the case of dub music, the assemblage of bass with dubbed sound. Here, Kezsler roots the instrumental role of percussion firmly within this space.

The album’s broad tonal atmospheres surround the percussion’s raw volatility; they leak into its erratic structure to establish further compositional depth. It’s Keszler’s careful attention to speed, velocity, and percussion’s registry of time that helps gloriously develop the wide geologic scale that epitomizes dub music. In this way, Last Signs of Speed also recalls the three-dimensional compositions of Iannis Xenakis, bringing Keszler’s playing into an environmental zone arranged with stark materialist imagery: particulate matter, plate tectonics, swathes of rock marked with acidic wear: the entropic energy drain and acceleration of movement possible in architecturally designed sound. The club environment as a hyper-mediated ecosystem for instrumental possibility isn’t a given, yet it’s Kezsler’s detailed approach to installing his instrument in this space that emphasizes its accelerative potential. The result is a spatialization of his obvious musicianly speed presented as one of the most concise and riveting instrumental attempts of 2016.

Eli Keszler recollects club life on upcoming 2xLP Last Signs of Speed

This post was originally published on this site

There’s an occasional discord that happens when an artist’s music doesn’t easily coalesce with the venue in which he or she is performing, and just as you might not expect a pale-faced choral outfit to hit up the underground rap clubs on the wrong side of 8 Mile, you might not expect Eli Keszler and his typically improvised percussion exports to find their way into a venue that otherwise plays to the rambunctiousness of weekend nights. It’s not necessarily an unfamiliar environment for Keszler though, and made noteworthy by him and a press release is the fact many of these clubs have speakers set up to potentially vibrate internal organs from points 360 degrees. There’s “an attempt to negotiate a delicate balance between the materiality of his acoustic instruments and the hyper-mediated sonic ecosystem of the club sound system,” and if it works, I have to imagine it sounds genuinely amazing.

Keszler’s upcoming 2xLP Last Signs of Speed is partly a reference to his various club experiences, and it’s also his first solo release since the PAN venture Catching Net, which was borne of the “selected installations” that might be considered the natural habitat of abstract acoustic adventures. The new Berlin-based label Empty Editions (from The Empty Gallery, Hong Kong) is sponsoring Last Signs of Speed, so presumably they’re cool with joining Keszler on the unpredictable frontier of the Serengeti. Watch out for carnivorous fist-pumpers!

Pre-order the new one, out November 17, on a webpage that doesn’t exist yet.

Last Signs of Speed tracklisting:

A1. sudden laughter
A2. corresponding probably to quanta
A3. streaming down. streaming down.
B1. the immense endless belt of faces
B2. no iodine, no breeze
C1. breaches breaches
C2. the next day, in the afternoon
C3. i, practically nothing
D1. is strategist, is stage director
D2. holes, parts missing
D3. willing to be open
D4. fusillade of colors