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Keith Fullerton Whitman - Schöner Flußengel

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Artist: Keith Fullerton Whitman

Album: Schöner Flußengel

Label: Kranky

Review date: Oct. 31, 2004

Like Antithesis six months before it, Schöner Flußengel is a vinyl-only Keith Fullerton Whitman LP with a limited edition of 1000 copies. I won’t pretend I’ve been able to keep up with all the amazing music Whitman has made (and released under a number of pseudonyms) recently, but I can tell you I haven’t yet heard anything he’s made that didn’t seem really well done, including this album.

Schöner Flußengel also doesn’t sound anything like Whitman’s best-known music, such as his glitchy, hyper electronics as Hrvatski or the guitar drones of 2003’s Playthroughs, released under his own name. What Schöner Flußengel often sounds like, instead, is haunting, late-night psychedelia, even if there's little of the guitar-centrism that term often suggests. In the opening “Lixus (Version Analogique),” for example, Whitman captures the loose, improvisational feel of much psych by allowing his drumming to dance around droning analog electronics, establishing a pulse without using obvious patterns. At 33 minutes long, Schöner Flußengel isn’t what most listeners would call expansive, but it often seems that way. Whitman seems much more concerned with enjoying the sounds he’s making than going in any particular direction with them.

Like Playthroughs, Schöner Flußengel is often covered with drones; unlike Playthroughs, there are usually other things going on as well. “El Seny i La Rauxa,” for example, also features an armchair techno texture. Both versions of “Lixus” (the aforementioned “Version Analogique” and the later “Version Numerique”) include acoustic guitar patterns that sound buried in the music, even though acoustic guitars often seem to stand out when they’re exposed to electronic textures.

The other major point of reference for Schöner Flußengel is early electronic music, and not just for obvious reasons (“Analogique”?). Parts of the record include so much echo that the sounds seem to leave trails behind them the way they often do on old pieces of musique concréte. Also, the first minute of “Gravicembalo col Piano e Forte” consists of plucked piano strings whose pitches are rapidly changed using electronics. The etude-like quality of this section recalls Otto Luening and Vladimir Ussachevsky’s 1950s experiments with electronic tape, which also featured samples of acoustic instruments that were altered by changing tape speeds.

Even though Schöner Flußengel takes cues from music from the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s, though, it’s a very contemporary-sounding record, thanks in part to Whitman’s usual excellent production. Schöner Flußengel was, for me, a nice introduction to yet another side of Whitman’s music.

By Charlie Wilmoth

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