Many musical practices found in club environments have nothing to do with the club as an institution. Instead, these practices merely suggest a kind of monumentality that prioritizes the three-dimensionality of the sound system in general — the aims of those artists who build structures that celebrate a sound system’s sculptural opportunity. Noticeably, as an instrumentalist and composer, Eli Keszler’s playing appears tuned to the simultaneous inactivity and entropy found in the environmental becoming that a sound system brings to our relationship with sound — the way our instruments, techniques, and apparatuses are mediated into a more geologic timescale, a scale much larger than the human hand that crafts it, much larger than our rituals that confine it.
On Last Signs of Speed, Kezsler’s first solo release since 2012’s Catching Net on PAN and the debut vinyl release of Berlin-based publishing platform Empty Editions, it’s difficult to ignore the visuality of Kezsler’s sculptural interaction with object. Quick virtuosic movements highlight a human hand that speedily arranges the impact between materials; wood, rocks, gravel all flicker against each other in quick succession, mapping a chaotic, relentless entropy — a “gradual unfolding of dub-influenced rhythmic constellations.” The album’s essential frame — the drum kit — is the mediation of the human hand and these objects, functioning as the site for its construction of a 3D percussion installation/maelstrom. Kezsler has described the record as his response to playing in club environments over the last few years, “an attempt to negotiate a delicate balance between the materiality of his acoustic instrument and the hyper-mediated sonic ecosystem of the club sound system.”
The negotiation exaggerates the plight of any instrumentalist who confronts their practice against the possibilities sound system music affords, an expansive material environment where sound can operate on new timescales. In this space, the finite percussive surfaces of the drum kit itself are subject to an infinite interpretation of percussive/tonal structures and surfaces. The album’s flattened surfaces and percussive “sparks” communicate freely between instrument and this dubbed space, allowing Kezler’s hand movements and playing to become a literal hideout for time, as the compositional space is brought out of the often singular and expressive narrative of instrumental improvisation. Granular sound components and quotidian impacts between glass, metal, and wood fragments develop large spans of time, detailed by the infinite surfaces that resonate within them.
This is heightened by tonal instruments such as Kezsler’s playing of Fender Rhodes, Mellotron, and celleste, as well as cellist Leila Bordreuil’s wide-bowed textures on “The immense endless belt of faces.” The fluctuation and illusory manipulation of speed and permanence, acceleration and sculptural organization, is clear on album opener “Sudden laughter, laughter without reason,” as the tactile drum surfaces pop with a trance-like velocity while bells and synths slow the percussive bricolage into an illusion of stability. In the same way, this stability is exaggerated and brought to the scale of sheer immensity on a piece like “Holes, parts missing,” where the tectonic grating of sounds is detailed endlessly with sonic movement, richness.
Last Signs of Speed casts the musicians out of this environmental space where the sounds are rarified into sharp, complex happenings. The virtuosity of Keszler and his collaborators’ playing (and any narrative their playing suggests) falls away to an intricately detailed structure that’s simultaneously modest and immense, stable and entropic, sculptural and a phenomenon in constant becoming. The album’s fluctuation between a sound system’s meta-stasis and this constant motion demonstrates an all-too-rare union between instrument and sound system, a union usually reserved for bass or, in the case of dub music, the assemblage of bass with dubbed sound. Here, Kezsler roots the instrumental role of percussion firmly within this space.
The album’s broad tonal atmospheres surround the percussion’s raw volatility; they leak into its erratic structure to establish further compositional depth. It’s Keszler’s careful attention to speed, velocity, and percussion’s registry of time that helps gloriously develop the wide geologic scale that epitomizes dub music. In this way, Last Signs of Speed also recalls the three-dimensional compositions of Iannis Xenakis, bringing Keszler’s playing into an environmental zone arranged with stark materialist imagery: particulate matter, plate tectonics, swathes of rock marked with acidic wear: the entropic energy drain and acceleration of movement possible in architecturally designed sound. The club environment as a hyper-mediated ecosystem for instrumental possibility isn’t a given, yet it’s Kezsler’s detailed approach to installing his instrument in this space that emphasizes its accelerative potential. The result is a spatialization of his obvious musicianly speed presented as one of the most concise and riveting instrumental attempts of 2016.