In a statement accompanying the album, Keith Fullerton Whitman says of Occlusions that it is “a companion piece to Generators in that they share the same tool-set … however, it is the FREE JAZZ yang to Generator’s MINIMALIST yin. It is not recommended to those seeking meter, melody, cleanliness, or a clearly outlined organizational sense.” Generators is Whitman’s latest album, out on Editions Mego earlier this year and featuring live improvised electronic process-oriented music. It is a difficult listen at points, making Whitman’s FREE JAZZ/MINIMALIST comparison read for some listeners like a “Keep Out” sign nailed outside of an already distressingly dangerous-looking property.
However, for those other listeners (those not “seeking meter, melody, cleanliness, or a clearly outlined organizational sense”), this comparison reads rather like an invitation. Whitman is an academic musician, having lectured at Harvard, Dartmouth, and Johns Hopkins Universities; having played with Tony Conrad, Charlemagne Palestine, and Terry Riley; and having performed the works of Rhys Chatham and Phill Niblock. Fans of any of the above musicians are most likely unfazed by the near-20 minute run times of the tracks on Generators or Occlusions, and look at a stated lack of meter, melody, cleanliness or sense as a promise to be kept rather than a fair warning. Though for the record, Whitman confesses that there may be some divisible rhythms included, as “mistakes are occasionally made.”
Occlusions, like Generators, consists of two “realizations” of a piece based the same setup of hardware modular synthesis equipment, in this case at festivals in France and the Netherlands in February 2012. True to Whitman’s comparison, though, where Generators‘ tracks build into layers of burbling synth patterns that seem, a la Maryanne Amacher, to come from the listener’s own head, Occlusions is disjointed, with the layers at odds with one another. It lacks the mesmeric quality of Generators, but then, that’s the point. Without resorting to any awkward rhetorical attempts at ekphrasis, it’s simplest to say that the whole experience is disorienting in its onrush of sound– there is truly no sense to be made here, and no way of predicting second to second what will happen next. But that isn’t to say there is no fun to be had.
For any readers uninterested in free jazz or experimental or process-based music that have somehow read this far, take this moment as proof beyond anything I can say as to the exhilarating nature of this recording: with about two minutes left in “Occlusion (Rue de Bitche),” during a brief pause, there comes an enthusiastic “Whoo!” from the back of the audience, spontaneous and unironic. For those readers familiar with Whitman, rest assured that this record only strengthens his hold on the contemporary experimental electronic scene.