Music

Keith Fullerton Whitman: Lisbon

A single live document of the latest -- unabashedly noisier -- developments in Keith Fullerton Whitman's Playthroughs drone project.


Keith Fullerton Whitman

Lisbon

Label: Kranky
US Release Date: 2006-04-03
UK Release Date: 2006-03-20
Amazon affiliate
Amazon
iTunes

A little over three years have passed since Keith Fullerton Whitman first diverged from his break-powered Hrvatski moniker to introduce the world to his groundbreaking "Playthroughs" system via his Kranky debut of the same name. A sprawling exploration of processed acoustic and electric guitar via carefully chained effects, the pieces earned critical (and even popular) acclaim, and formed a continuously evolving backbone of Whitman's live performances. Since then, endless fine-tuning, reworking, and expanding of the live formula, as well as experience gained in producing subsequent recorded work, has allowed Whitman to display endless new iterations to his audiences. And now, two of the latest, captured as a single 40-minute work live in Lisbon, Portugal last October, are to be offered as a document.

Without getting too technical, it is worth taking a moment to describe the deceptively simple "Playthroughs" setup. Whitman typically plays single guitar notes, feeding them into his laptop to be paired automatically with identical synthetic tones. These smooth electronic notes, which match the slightly unpredictable pitches of the source guitar, are the primary sonic ingredient of a "Playthroughs" piece. Next they are fed into a tape delay unit, with four slightly different delay intervals, allowing a single note to be drawn out and broken up, gradually moving in and out of phase with itself in a dynamic, unpredictable murmur. By carefully overlaying multiple guitar notes in this way, Whitman creates slow-building waves of guitar. Finally, that sound can be run through a variety of other processors to continually reshape the results, allowing it to ebb and flow, splinter and reform. In essence, "Playthroughs" is the science of creating live ambient washes from various non-electronic sources.

It is in this manner, simply building up layer upon glistening layer of notes, that Lisbon opens. It's a gradual process, and a familiar part of Whitman's arsenal, but effective nonetheless. By the seventh minute, the mood has begun to shift as deeper, more dissonant sounds creep in and the primary harmonic sheen begins to break up into splinters of noise. Soon a consistent bass rumble is in place, eventually to submerge the entire track before the whole builds, still at glacial pace, into a buzzing wall of feedback. Whitman claims to be, at last, embracing "traditional 'loud guitar' concepts", a statement that seems most substantiated by this stretch of feedback, and by the faster electric guitar segment that immediately follows to close the first of the two pieces. Thankfully, even at its noisiest, the sounds never seem to lose the complexity and resolution that characterizes this work. On the second, much less typical piece, Whitman brings together a variety of processed and unprocessed field records, sounding for a while as if he is simply banging around on stage with his equipment. These component clatters and bangs gradually coalesce into pools of noise and emergent guitar tones, building into a glorious crescendo once again.

Lisbon's single two-part track is in many ways an impressive musical statement, and an interesting one to any who have been following Whitman's developing technique. The sounds are dense but clear, and reveal exciting new facets of the "Playthroughs" system's potential. Even so, such a gradual, unbroken 40-minute piece is an imposing listening experience for most, and where such a composition can be highly compelling live, when it is still unpredictable, the subtlety of the variations here allows them to fade into the background on subsequent listens once the larger shifts are no longer surprising. In this way, the shorter, more focused pieces in past "Playthroughs" work may be preferable for casual listening. Even so, Lisbon is exactly what it claims to be: a pristinely captured live snapshot of one step in an ever-shifting progression. And as such, should be of interest to anyone seeking more insight Keith Fullerton Whitman's ongoing experiments.

5

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image