Keith Fullerton Whitman – Lisbon

Keith Fullerton Whitman is a man whose music is generally regarded in the highest esteem by those fond of the academic exploration of electronic noise. While last year’s Multiples made the majority of critics’ year-end lists, Whitman composes in a style of music that will probably never make him a household name. There is something to be said for toiling away in obscurity; it enables one to work unfettered by concerns with public perception of the art produced in such a vacuum.

Work is something Keith Fullerton Whitman may be all too familiar with. In just under five years, he has been on tour constantly both under his own name and using the moniker Hrvatski for his more beat-oriented work. He has produced two outstanding full-lengths, the aforementioned Multiples and 2001’s equally astounding Playthroughs, as well as several limited-pressing vinyl-only LPs such as Antithesis and Schöner Flußengel. He has toured with electro-acoustic guitarist and laptop compatriot Greg Davis with whom he also recorded the Yearlong album. He ran his own label, Reckankreuzungsklankewerkzeuge (try even pronouncing that), and has a new label called Entschuldigen. As if all of this isn’t enough to thoroughly impress most people, Whitman has also spent the past few years lecturing at Harvard in exchange for use of the school’s in-house studio and rare instruments, such as the Serge Modular Prototype used on several tracks on Multiples.

After a recent interview with Whitman, it became apparently clear to me that he is a man who takes his work seriously. Both Multiples and Playthroughs were recorded, mixed, and edited meticulously over the course of several years. Perhaps this knowledge is what makes his newest release Lisbon so refreshing; it was recorded live and remains one of the few raw, untouched recordings in Whitman’s catalog.

Lisbon is a one-track, roughly 42-minute juggernaut of epic proportions. It starts off with minimal sine waves that build toward a climactic overflow of melodic white noise. Definite melodies are encapsulated in the droning, processed signals and washed-out, treated guitars, making it a captivating listening experience. Whitman introduces several themes during the course of the performance and uses his skills to manipulate them at will within the room’s mic setup to create the equivalent of a spark leading to a barrel of gunpowder with the piece’s detonating apex. It is this building tension and eventual release that make Lisbon perhaps even more listenable than anything he has previously done despite the length of the composition.

In the genre of electronic music, Keith Fullerton Whitman has always stood out to me as one of the few musicians whose recordings portray a high level of evident emotional investment in his work. With time, all things are subject to change, and staying relevant without succumbing to sterility is a major concern for many artists in Whitman’s field. Lisbon will go a long way towards proving that emotion can be exhibited in various styles of music and not just the disaffected garbage so eagerly endorsed by Hot Topic, Alternative Press, or SPIN magazine.