Keith Fullerton Whitman: Interview
The Wonderful Hermit
Whether creating music under the Hrvatski tag or simply as Keith Fullerton
Whitman, Whitman always makes music that is dedicated to craftsmanship. As a
musician and lover of the arts, I find it very honorable that he has devoted a
lot of his time to getting the word out about other musicians he loves. Owning
and operating his site,
Reckankomplex, I've always been somewhat intrigued by his high level of
passion in the music industry and wanted to find out just exactly what makes him
TMT: Keith, Thank you. It's a pleasure for TMT to have you with us
today. Your time is greatly appreciated. I'd like to do something a bit
different with this interview. If you don't mind, I'd like to mostly cover a
generalized spectrum of topics about your genre of music, rather than
specifically focusing on your individual works. Is this okay with you?
KFW: This is most agreeable really...
TMT: The first thing I'd like to discuss (but mostly compliment you
on) is your innate level of interest and passion for your music community.
You're very involved on your website and message board, and you even replied to
my request for this interview within twenty minutes. To me, this attentiveness
and care is simply unheard of with musicians of your caliber. Can you describe
why this involvement is (obviously) so important to you?
KFW: Well... I think my response to your email within said amount of
time was something of a fluke... If anything, over the last few years, I've
become something of a hermit really... extremely bad at keeping on top of my
personal relationships, especially close friends. But yes, when the coffee kicks
in I can get going... I'm quite surprised that I haven't burnt out yet. I think
it can be boiled down to the fact that I'm just immensely curious about
everything that's going on with music and music-related subculture at any given
time. The second I stop with all this effort I will officially become "old." Not
that I want to be that 55 year old guy that's standing in the back of the
youth-noise rally. But still...
TMT: I read in your bio that you have recently been asked to
participate in workshops for Harvard University to give instructions on
different types of programs/equipment in exchange for studio time. Although
access to this type of studio is unquestionably grand, is teaching others an
important aspect of your career? In other words, do you believe in the
philosophy of sharing information whenever you can as a way of contributing to
the betterment of your craft?
KFW: In late 2002 I did a concert and a workshop with Martin & Drew from
Matmos, made a few friends in the HUSEAC (Harvard University Studio for
Electro-Acoustic Composition). I asked about the possibility of coming in on a
regular basis during the spring and summer of 2003 to work on a large-scale
multi-channel piece on their Serge Modular prototype and was somewhat shocked
when they asked me to teach grad-level computer-music workshops in exchange for
studio time. I mean this is Harvard... I barely graduated from Berklee
(notorious post-high school 4-year summer camp for rockers). The people there
were very open-minded and all had very specific ideas about what sort of
projects they wanted to work on so it wasn't as if I was going in there with a
blank slate. I'm certainly a champion of free information... there's so much
mystique / mythmaking surrounding certain avenues of computer based music (see:
Autechre, Fennesz, etc...) when there should really just be fact and practice. I
have no qualms about laying bare my own working methods in the same way that
someone like Thurston Moore would be more than glad to run down the various
tunings that he uses to concoct his teen-angst anthems.
TMT: As an extension of my last question, I'm interested in knowing
what your plans are in the future to further enhance your ability to influence
the progression of experimental music.
KFW: Oof... not sure if I should tackle that one head on. I'm certainly
not in a place to influence anything, at least not consciously. That's a whole 'nuther
tree of self-analysis that I just don't need to bark up. Surprisingly, perhaps,
I don't spend all that much time scheming. Most times when I start working in a
new avenue its simply out of a deep love for that particular style and/or a
small amount of "whafuck" or "what if?." I don't think of the music I'm making
at any given point as being part of any one thing... an album or single for
instance. I just work and work and come up with new ideas, combinations, etc...
Then when it comes time to release something, I reach into the grab bag and pull
out a few like-minded pieces that are successful on some level. In actuality
it's a little more complicated but that's the gist of it. I've been known to be
quite harsh on otherwise valid artistic statements that just happen, whether
conscious to their creator or not, to walk down previously well-trodden paths.
Let's be frank... the only things that divide good from bad experimental music
are shock and awe... either a completely new angle or a very specific and well
executed take on an element (or elements) from the past. Much of what I'm
receiving in demo/cdr form at the house here is simply glad to be 'part' of
something greater. Whereas, for me at least, the things that come out of
nowhere, or the ones where the composer/executor clearly spent thousand of
man-hours perfecting them, those are the ones that I end up humming on the
"Any references to the "experimental
music industry" should be laughed at post haste."
TMT: I've become abnormally addicted to the Internet over the last few
years as a way of connecting myself to music. I can remember a time when it was
near impossible to find music that would truly affect me in a more profound way.
As more people find the need to become involved in researching new/old music, do
you feel the internet will take an even more intricate role in sharing this
knowledge? If so, what would you like to see done to bring people and music
KFW: I'm an internet addict as well (as goes without saying). It's a
fantastic equalizer... any music, in fact any sort of artistic statement can
become timeless, devoid of genre or place, disembodied. Look on something like
Suprnova, which I'm doing right now... the first few torrents in today's music
list are: Yes "Tormato," Ice-T "Gang Culture," Les Baxter "Dunwich Horror,"
Mahler "Symphony #2," Sir "Moon Safari," Jimi Hendrix "BBC Sessions"... This is
a far cry from what's on the Billboard charts, which would be the previous
model's barometer of what a random cross-section of people were listening to and
fervent about at any given time. As long as people are creating fan-sites and
non-commerce oriented resources things will progress very nicely. I've already
got some younger people that I keep running into around town that went from Nü-Metal
to Faith no More to Mr. Bungle to John Zorn to Maurizio Kagel to Herbert Eimert
to ... you get the idea, all from following links. These sort of leaps used to
take a few months, now they take a few minutes. There's no one on their P2P
networks telling them that they HAVE to listen to Linkin Park or whatever,
they're not being sold at. Everyone's free to make up their own mind. This fact
alone makes up for any amount of record sale profit loss. It's a greater good.
TMT: It was once said of Jean-Michel Basquiat's work that, at the
height of his career, his audience hadn't even been born yet. As an
experimentalist whose music is not particularly made for the masses, do you
sometimes feel that way about your own music; that listeners may not fully
understand it until some years down the road?
KFW: I feel that way about music from the past (truth be told the
majority of what I'm feeling, musically, at any given time is on average 20
years old). As for my own music, realistically, I don't think there's much of a
lifespan for it, no. Which is an artifact of the time we live in. Most culture
is temporary. Sure, there are little pockets of enthusiasts here & there that go
from idea to idea until they feel they've got a good grasp on things. And don't
forget all that rampant revivalism that's been plaguing us more & more each
year. But otherwise...
TMT: Your name is starting to spread rapidly in the experimental music
world. Although you've been working now for quite some time, are you becoming
more comfortable (and confident) with your position in the industry?
KFW: Only if my place is as a "complete outsider." Any references to the
"experimental music industry" should be laughed at post haste.
TMT: At a fairly young age, you've had the honor of working with quite
a few influential artists; a number of them have even been some of the most
important of this generation. Of those, have there been any, in particular, that
have completely changed your paradigms of music style and/or philosophy?
KFW: I haven't worked directly with that many people actually, as I said
I'm kind of a hermit. I've made plans to work with a bunch of people, even more
combinations have been thrown at me, but they rarely happen. In this past year
I've been asked to work on projects with Faust, David Grubbs, Crescent,
Leafcutter John, Sole, etc... Other than a concert or two with David, a
fantastic sound-capturing session with John, and the Sole/Hrvatski In the
Fishtank thing (which may or may not happen over the summer), none of them
have actually transpired in any meaningful way. My all-time favorite collab
would have to be the "Hrvatski" set @ the Cooler Shutdown Weekend in 2001...
Which was a quartet of Lary 7, Michael Karoli, Malcolm Mooney, and myself. Hog
TMT: So far, in this interview, I've been speaking a lot about
experimental music; but what is your opinion on the state of what most people
consider "mainstream" pop music these days?
KFW: Now that mainstream music isn't shoved down our throats in the way
it was even a few years ago, actually, more that it's been easier to tune out
the constant lifestyle-branding (which is pointing its finger less and less at
me each year thank God), I've been paying attention more and more. I don't
listen to commercial radio any more (no car). My only input; the 7-12 MTV/VH1
channels we get out here in the sticks. Of which there's always the remote when
something isn't up to snuff. I've been listening to Jay-Z's Black Album,
under a microscope. Contemporary Hip-Hop & Today's Hottest Music™
sound-production is a vital art-form once again (whereas a few years ago...). I
don't have that many friends to play off of when it comes to mainstream music,
so in a way it's just as mysterious as poring through the RRR catalogue.
TMT: Is it such a farce that you don't even pay attention anymore (and
only focus on what you're doing), or does it negatively affect you that
organizations like major record companies and the RIAA are not embracing the
fact that there are artists out there that should be getting more attention than
they're getting, simply because of their idiotic fear of not making millions of
dollars off the artist?
KFW: I don't think the RIAA even remotely figures in to what I'm doing.
The only recording I've ever released that even had a barcode in the artwork was
the first Kranky CD. "Flying under RADAR."
TMT: On that note, it also seems like everything in Hollywood is
rapidly digressing as far as the arts are concerned. Movies, for the most part,
are even becoming an embarrassment because of the undoubted pressure from
executives to only push what is "marketable." With the exception of only a
handful of directors, there doesn't seem to be much integrity left in
film-making. Do you think this is slowly pushing people to a higher level of
curiosity to explore independent artists of both film and music?
KFW: To digress a little bit... I saw the first of what will undoubtedly
become a swath of Hollywood anti-file-sharing PSA's the other night. Which is
understandable given the film-industry's status as effective "cultural exchange"
between the US and everywhere else. I imagine money-making in the film world is
considerably more of a concern as... To make a comparison to music... Anyone
with $2k can buy an old PC, a sound-card, some mic's and record an album of very
high caliber in their living room over the weekend. Whereas, even with recent
developments in dv-cam price-points, it would cost maybe 100 times that to fully
execute a feature film. Now, we saw a marked increase in interest in the
underground(s) in the early to mid-90s, right when mainstream music and film
were at an all-time low, content-wise. Yes, in a way, I WANT things to get more
insipid, etc... But who's to say that the music and film industries haven't
learned their lessons?.. gotten wiser and better and the whole wool-pulling-over
TMT: A lot of people, while familiar with your work, may not know that
you run your own online music shop. Again, this is very intriguing to me that
you take this amount of respect for your passion and put it to use in the form
of helping get other's music out for people to hear. What made you want to do
this, and what would you like to accomplish with it in the future?
KFW: It started out as an experiment in php/mysql programming, nothing
more, nothing less. In attempts to augment the fantastically large amount of
money I pool from being a globe-hopping experimental superstar go-getter, I
wanted to start a very small shop in the house (the Reckankomplex) that mainly
sold books and magazines, some records from the people that are always staying
here, some of my own records, some things that I'm always recommending to folks
that are very hard to find. Its become uncomfortably popular actually... I do
everything in my power to trim it down but it keeps on growing and growing. Its
at the point now where I have to have Jim (Siegel, Hrvatski and Cul De Sac
session drummer) come in once a week to help out with the dirty work (packing
boxes, going to the PO, etc...). My goals with it have long since been met. If
anything, I'll slim it down a little and just focus of keeping the classics in
stock, stop carrying new releases entirely...
TMT: You're obviously influenced by
music, but what other forms of art has influenced you over your life? Any
favorite painters, directors, TV shows, architect, etc.?
KFW: I'm a huge experimental film and contemporary art fan. Music school
may have made me slightly jaded about certain music movements but luckily I have
no formal training in any of the visual arts. There I can remain a sweaty,
nervous fan. Favorites... hmm... right now I'm kind of a Adolf Wolfli / Louis
Wain phase... that whole Jean Dubuffet Art Brut thing. Plus all the Fluxus
stuff, even though in the last few years one too many folks have been
namechecking that whole axis without yielding the implications of doing so. For
directors I'd have to say Bruce Conner, Nic Roeg, Peter Kubelka, Robert Downey
(Sr.), Jud Yalkut, Martin Arnold, etc... Not a big TV fan but we all end up
watching a lot of Law & Order at the house here... We've turned it into a
frat-level drinking game... anytime a cast member says "exculpatory," bottoms
"...for me at least, the things that
come out of nowhere, or the ones where the composer/executor clearly spent
thousand of man-hours perfecting them, those are the ones that I end up humming
on the subway..."
TMT: Now comes the fun part
of the interview. Interviews always seem so drilling, so I like to play a
preferences game to get an idea of where you're at on day-to-day things. Of the
following, which do you prefer?
KFW: I will do my best to answer truthfully.
Apple or PC?
I use apple computers but I have to say that, as a company, they are quite
elitist when you get down to it. Blitter (my brother, Brian) gave me my first PC
since the family's old DOS Sanyo, but I've yet to get it up and running. It was
just going to be a SoulSeek machine, but then I got Nicotine running under X11
in OS X and so I haven't really had a solid reason to set it up yet...
Beaches or Mountains?
Beaches. The end of the earth...
Blondes or Brunettes?
My cat Wilbur has fur the most amazing shade of Grey, so that's probably my
favorite at the moment. As far humans go, I'd rather make a distinction between
length (the shorter the better. Not in a "hair is dirt" kind of way, I just
think it looks good. Maybe I have a neck fetish...) and/or choice of style than
color, which these days is arbitrary anyways...
Busses or Trains?
I took a bus from Boston to NYC just about every 2 weeks between 1999 and 2002.
Then I started renting cars and boy was that great. And then my license expired
and I never renewed it. So trains.
Cartoons or Reality TV?
Cartoons, definitely. I can't fathom adding another level of reality to my life,
albeit a voyeuristic one. I'll take Kevin Sorbo over 'Haemophiliac Husband' any
Coke or Pepsi?
The former (not going to fall for the name-brand plug there nnnnope).
Interpol or Jane's Addiction?
Jane's were rad in my high school years, never was too much of a fan. Interpol
I've never heard. That was a conscious choice...
Jazz or Blues?
Jazz. I love the earnest, raw power of early rural blues sides. Which isn't to
say that contemporary Jazz is anything to roast marshmallows over (literally,
Nightmares or Dreams?
Dreams, wishfully (nothing but nightmares recently... this has more to do with
my extremely erratic sleeping / eating schedule than anything serious).
Road Rules or The Real World [MTV shows]?
Spin or Rolling Stone?
Rolling Stone. ca. 1973. As much as I love the Guccione family and all of the
contributions to society they've made...
Summer or Winter?
You know I was a winter man for years (a brooder) but the last few years I've
done the full hedonistic romp throughout Europe from May to August and summer
ain't all that bad really..."
Taco Bell or McDonalds?
The latter (see above).
Vinyl or CD?
Vinyl, without question. CDs will never be more than cheap data-carriers to
TMT: Of all your albums, which did you have the most fun making and
why? Is it your favorite album you've made?
KFW: The Räume single on Tonschacht. Mainly because I didn't have any
incapacitating artistic concerns during its creation (a more recent albatross),
everything went smoothly from request to conception to finish in a matter of
weeks without too much jerry-rigging. And I do love the outcome...
TMT: Lately, what five albums have really been moving you?
Greg Davis "Curling Pond Woods." Which has everything to do with knowing Greg to
be a gentle spirit. Honesty in sound.
Organum "AEO b/w Shining Star." Which has everything to do with the object
itself, nice to listen to though...
Req "Fantasy Roc." His newer stuff lifted itself out of the dumpster a little
too much for my tastes but this is solid.
Charlambides "Union." I saw them eons ago opening for the Dead C and just hated
them but over the last few years I've been mesmerized, a deer in those 30Âº
swiveling headlights that the new super-cars have.
Pierre Henry "Orhpée." Not Voile de Orphee... the 1953 rough version w/Maurice
TMT: Are there any artists that you feel should receive more
recognition than they're currently receiving?
KFW: Yes, many. A short list would include:
Double Leopards. But then again they're already plateaux-ing thanks to that
Williamsburg address / Printed Matter employee-ID card.
Felix Kubin. Who's been around for ages and ages and just keeps slaying us with
Leafcutter John. Making some of the most vital and humanistic yet
academic-leaning computer music of this or any time really.
Noxagt. Who I missed on their US tour but caught in Norway a few months back and
pulled an intensely layered set out of thin air.
both Red Transistor and the Blue Humans (I could make some comment about
post-punk revivalism looking in all of the wrong places but I won't)
Doug Theriault. Esp. his duo stuff w/ Ed Chang (as Dual).
TMT: With the exception of a possible girlfriend/wife, who, in your
opinion, is the sexiest woman alive?
KFW: I refuse to answer on the grounds that it may incriminate me on a
later date. Oh wait, she just gave me the go-ahead to name two living female
actresses. Hmm... Let's see... Ashley Judd... and... Gretchen Mol.