Where there was a trickle, there is now an electronic torrent. If Keith Fullerton Whitman has seemed a little on the quiet side since that last album for Kranky, 2006’s Lisbon, 2010 has seen too many for the likes of me to keep track of. He seems to have fallen for the modular synthesizer in big way, and is exploring the near-infinite possibilities of the device(s) on an increasingly near-infinite number of releases, on a variety of formats, to a singularly high level of quality control. Cassette of the year? Whitman’s Generators on Root Strata. Best 7″? Why, that will be Keith as well, with his superb Variations for Oud and Synthesizer. Best split LP? I’d be hard-pressed to come up with anything better than his pairing with Mike Shiflet on the Amethyst Sunset label. If he is going to claim the title of King Of All Formats this year, he’ll need to come up with a blinder of an LP under his own name. And lo, here it is: Disingenuity/Disingenuousness on the excellent Pan label.
Everything about this expensive package reeks of being a labour of love. And I mean, reeks. The sleeve is housed in a lovely printed PVC sleeve which has a very distinctive smell indeed. Inside, Whitman sets out his stall by dedicating the pieces to a long list of musicians; while some of the names on this list are familiar to me, I realised that they were only familiar to me because they’d had their works reissued by Whitman’s own Creel Pone imprint. These people really are his heroes; for him to be dedicating tracks to the likes of Bernard Bonnier, Louis De Pablo, Pietro Grossi, Douglas Leedy, Jacques Lejeune, Richard Pinhas, Basil Kirchin and more, he is setting a pretty high bar for Disingenuity/Disingenuousness. And a pretty wide one too: that list covers a spectrum from abstract musique concrete to early computer music to synth-led French guitar prog and strange electronic pop music. And somehow, you can hear elements of just about all of this (well, maybe not the guitars) in Whitman’s latest magnum opus.
Disingenuity/Disingenuousness combines the modular synthesizer exploration as showcased on several of the other releases this year, combining it with tape recorder experimentation to create an extraordinary tapestry of sound. The A side “Disingenuity” is the more abstract, the human meeting the electronic, the mundane mixing with the futuristic in an absorbing collage: from within a burst of shredded noise emerges the sound of footsteps, distorted echoing tape loops being shadowed by synth pulses; later we hear chopped up samples of voices spliced into the gaps between the bleeps, muffled and ghostly. The more rhythmic “Disingenousness” on the flip side is an utterly thrilling cavalcade of electronic noise. After an intro of electrical hum, a patter of chopped noise gradually increases in intensity until it sounds like the whirr of a helicopter’s rotor slicing through the charged air. The output from his modular synth becomes ever more complex, the increasingly rich mixture of fragmented melodic sequences and fascinating textures finally resolving itself into an a cacophony of alarm signals.
In the time it has taken me to write this, some new Live Generators cassettes have been released. And Whitman’s website tells us that there are four (FOUR!) new LPs of “nice” music slated for release by Kranky soon. Such extraordinary creativity should, by any rights, come at a price. There is no evidence of it on Disingenuity/Disingenuousness. With this latest release, Keith Fullerton Whitman has written his own version of the history of electronic music, and has written himself into it. It is one of the best albums of this, or indeed any, year.