Alien Meditations: Keith Fullerton Whitman Makes Noise at BuHo

keith fullerton whitman

The term “electronic artist” seems to mean more and more, or less and less, within the music world. In my mind, it’s as pointless a classification as “alternative” or “contemporary.” Keith Fullerton Whitman’s concert on Thursday night made that more clear than ever. I went in to the concert anticipating drone/ambient music, perhaps a Philip-Glass-via-Moog type of sound. From recordings I’d listened to—I highly recommend Generator 1—I had a certain set of expectations about what this music was going to be. Needless to say, all of those were thrown out the window very quickly.

Whitman, who mostly makes music with an analog modular synthesizer (a big ol’ box of knobs and interconnecting wires), began his set with no introduction and set right in to his noise-making. The atonal, arrhythmic sounds that emerged from the speakers sounded less like “music” than the anxious transmissions from an alien satellite. There were moments when it began to sound as if the pieces were building up to something, and then all of a sudden, all sense of semblance would drop off. Sporadic silences were followed caustic explosions of noise. For a more accurate portrayal of the music Whitman played, check out this recording of a recent show in Cambridge, Mass:

The space made for a wonderful exploration of sound, darkness with a single flickering colored lamp, and bodies sprawled across the carpeted floor of the meditation room. More often than not, concerts at Wesleyan are plagued by noisy chatter, awkward proximities, and other typical late-night distractions, all challenging the ability to actually take in the music. None of this was present in Whitman’s concert at Buddhist House.

Audience members sat, and laid, in silence, staring attentively, and perhaps confusedly, at Whitman and his synthesizer. Although these electronic noise improvisations only lasted half-an-hour, they provided a wonderful opportunity for aural exploration. Whether or not those in the audience actually comprehended these sounds or not, they certainly left with a new window into the world of experimental music.

Additional images by Josh Sharp ’09