Keith Fullerton Whitman
Thursday, July 3, Keith Fullerton Whitman will perform live on the Rare Frequency radio show on WZBC. For the last decade or so, Keith has been one the most consistently innovative figures in American electronic music. His discography is as variegated as it is voluminous. For years he dished out a righteously furious mix of breakbeats and esoteric cut-up experiments under the moniker Hrvatski (the one pseudonym that stuck out of a gaggle of many that he used on 1998’s wonderful (and hellaciously eclectic) Attention: Cats! LP). Eventually, though, he all but abandoned the breaks for more abstract terrain and began releasing records under his given name exploring a broad range of styles and techniques from ambient guitar drone to musique concrete, krautrock to early electronics. In recent years, his work—at least in the live context— has centered increasingly around modular analog synthesizers with often extraordinary results. He also runs a wonderful online record shop named for one of his musical idols, Mimaroglu Music Sales.
Prior to his appearance on the program, Keith was kind enough to answer a few questions by email.
It’s been a couple of years now since the release of Recorded in Lisbon, which (correct me if I’m wrong) was your last full-length, do you have any records nearing completion at this point?
Recorded in Lisbon was more of a live E.P. than an album per se, so it’s really been about 3 years since Multiples. I have a few records nearing completion at the moment, but I’m keeping everything under wraps until the timing is right.
Could you talk a bit about the Playthroughs system of live guitar and computer synthesis that you used in the live performance captured on Recorded in Lisbon?
It started out as a modular, mainly computer-based system of sound capturing, processing, and “freezing” back in 1999 or so. Since then it’s seen a few major revisions and is currently being re-configured to focus more on controlling (essentially, “playing”) an analogue modular synthesizer and listening/responding to its output.
You’ve been working for a while now with a Doepfer modular synthesizer. What is the relationship between your current set up and your Playthroughs work? From the live sets that I’ve seen you do over the couple of years, it seems like there was a crossover period where you employed both systems.
The Doepfer is something I’ve been slowly building since about 2002 or so. I first started getting into modular synths purely for sound-design reasons, but the more I worked with it, the more comfortable I became with using it as a live-performance solution. Making and performing music has never been about fitting in to any kind of preconceived notion/system/scene for me. Frankly, I was glad to give up the 10 years of working strictly with computers and get back into a more tactile, hands-on approach. There’s something that’s just so digital (in the “with your hands” sense) about working with the synthesizer. Making listenable music with it has been a real challenge; it’s been pushing me much harder to think several moves ahead and use completely different patches/systems every time I play out. There’s a much higher sense of risk at work. I guess this is ultimately what makes it so attractive. I feel that if I’m not failing in regular intervals, I’m not trying hard enough.
You mentioned that you’d upgraded your synth recently, what kind of set-up will you be using in your set this Thursday?
Just three of the “portable” modular cabinets filled with modules. I’m thinking of playing a series of short vignettes with patch-adjustments made between pieces…
Every once in a while I hear vague rumors of a possible new Hrvatski record — do you have any plans to resurrect your most famous alter ego?
I’ve recorded and shelved about 3 albumsworth of new Hrvatski material since 2003 or so (not to mention the rest of the music I made/recorded from Hrvatski’s inception in 1996 through Swarm & Dither — probably about 4 times as much as what was released); but every time a label approaches me about releasing some of it, I wince at the thought of the “adult” Hrvatski travelling the globe promoting it with laptop in hand, going through the same-old motions. I’d much rather move forward and keep my love of making music alive than continually drag-out my extended-adolescence. The only way I’d possibly consider “releasing” any of the Hrvatski work at the moment would be via a nice, fat old vinyl-on-demand style lp box; something that has “loss-leader” written all over it, something that couldn’t possibly be promoted or even break-even. Needless to say, I haven’t had any nibbles from labels thusfar.
Could you talk a bit about the origin of Mimaroglu Music Sales? How do explain its success, given the dire situation for so much of music retail?
Well, the origins were simply in the fact that I had retired from Forced Exposure, but wanted to keep some kind of small record “distro” going, mainly to help out my friends running labels and releasing records that no one else wanted to touch. I’ve always thought of a love of music and a love of records as two completely separate things; the parts of my brain that react to a great concert vs. a surprising/lovely LP aren’t even in the same quadrant.
I keep MMS going strong by limiting the titles I stock to titles and labels and people that I can stand behind 100%; it’s as easy as that. As long as I can wake up in the morning and still be excited about these little pockets of creative music going on in the world that have crossed my path, I’ll be excited to come into the office here and help them out in any way I can. I don’t have any real insight to the “dire situation” at hand. From where I’m sitting, every month I see more and more records come in through the door of the MMS offices and more and more copies of them go out to more and more people. new labels are started every week and the ones that have been going for years seem to be doing just fine. I like to use the restaurant analogy when talking about the state of things in the music industry right now; i.e. the “convenience” of downloading music = the “convenience” of walking into Mcdonalds and ordering a Big Mac. In the long run I don’t see the industry of labels and artists realizing their work in well-considered, tangible editions in any more danger than the industry of restaurants and chefs offering their wares in well-considered/lit establishments.
Given your voracious consumption of new music, are there any artists, labels, etc. that you’re currently especially excited about?
Literally every day I discover something new to be excited about; I wouldn’t be doing my job otherwise! This week, I’m really enjoying Joe Grimm’s new album Brain Cloud and a batch of new releases from Eli Keszler and Ashley Paul. The synth-trio Emeralds were completely devastating @ No-Fun. They’ve just sent over a huge batch of small-run tapes and cdrs that are all excellent, plus Aaron Dilloway has just done an LP/CD of theirs on Hanson. As it’s the summer, the heat has me letting down my “avant” guard a little bit. I’ve really been enjoying those two compilations of Jean-Pierre Massiera’s “experimental disco” productions; perfect for that highway drive up to the north shore.
What other projects do you currently have in the works?
I’m building a VLF receiver from a kit that Nasa sent over. As soon as it’s finished, I plan on recording a new version of Alvin Lucier’s “Sferics.” Hopefully I can get his blessing to release it. Also, I’m working on a small-run double LP consisting of room recordings of four separate, unedited solo modular synthesizer concerts, all recorded @ PA’s Lounge in Somerville. It’s going off to the plant this week. I’m just about done with a few experimental, cassette-only releases, mostly synthesizer-based. I find these sort of small-run releases very liberating as I get to try out new ideas & frame them in a completely different context from my regular, marketed/promoted output. It’s akin to starting from scratch, something I’ve been trying to do for years. The timing is just right.
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