Boomkat Product Review:
Genius-level, fractal re-arrangement from Keith Fullerton Whitman on his first vinyl release in what feels like years, here blessing Japan’s NAKID label with a new instalment in his forever-evolving ‘Generators' project, arcing from bleeping post-Kosmische sounds into completely unexpected drum mutations in footwork and grime modes. It’s properly head melting gear that links the algorithmic mindgames of Laurie Spiegel with the floor-bending rhythmic experimentation of Mark Fell, Rian Treanor or Jana Rush, and the first in a three part series that offers some of the strongest gear we’ve heard from one of the very best in the game.
Modular synth scientist, critic and historian Keith Fullerton Whitman first debuted his ‘Generators' set in 2009, using a modular setup to create non-repeating melodic patterns that basically came close to generating themselves. Over the course of hundreds of live shows (and a handful of releases on Root Strata, Editions Mego and other labels), Whitman glacially honed his process and allowed the concept to slither down different avenues, mutating as it picked energy from the various venues it was situated in. His rigorous method meant ‘Generators' was never played out the same way twice, veering from psychedelic Kosmische experimentation to obliterated, off-grid Techno.
In 2019, on the tenth anniversary of the project, Whitman was invited by the GRM in Paris to set up in Studio C, where he avoided the arsenal of pristine, museum-worthy modular synthesizers and instead reprogrammed his classic ‘Generators' patch. Recorded in a single take using luxe analog-to-digital convertors, the result is a 45-minute durational piece, split into two distinct sides for this release.
"Very little manual interaction happened," Whitman explains. The music is, as its title suggests, generative, and at this point basically sounds as if it reached its most advanced, final form. The first few minutes of the opening side mine the original theme, with clocked LFO shapes triggering oscillator blips in mind-expanding non-looping patterns. Soon, percussion enters the matrix, at first wrong-footing us with a 4/4 fake-out - possibly nodding to the piece's 2010 Root Strata iteration - before splitting into staccato polyrhythmic abstractions of the most loose-limbed and deadly variety.
General MIDI drums can sound almost hilariously boxed-in, but handled by Whitman they show off a plastic cultural sheen to piercing effect, deployed in a way that re-draws the rhythmic bass music of someone like Jlin while nodding to Mark Fell and Rian Treanor's quasi-generative dance explorations. These comparisons take on even more weight on the second side, where Whitman opens up his filters to allow the synth bleeps to sing even more loudly, introducing that all-important clap/hat interplay that dialogues with Atlanta and Chicago simultaneously.
KFW is without question one of the greatest contemporary artists to prize electronic music for electronic music’s sake, addressing its fundamentals and relishing its capacity to generate peculiar forms and trigger hard-to-place feelings. ‘Generators (GRM)’ is an ideal case in point, providing essential brainfloss for anyone who appreciates the concept, but ultimately connects to the visceral, fluid energy of anything from Parmegiani to Autechre to DJ Nate.