In nmperign and Heathen Shame, Greg Kelley uses the trumpet to find answers to his aesthetic and intellectual inquiries. His solo work, however, uses a different approach altogether. Aside from a couple works (2000's Trumpet being the premiere example), Kelley's solo albums offer little glimpse into his astounding trumpet skills -- an instrument he chose randomly in grade school but studied formally at a music conservatory -- opting instead to experiment with everything from musique-concrete (I Don't Want to Live Forever) to drone (If I Never Meet You...) to electronics (Despair Is Sin). They're all superb representations of their respective musical modes, but they certainly don't exhibit his prodigious trumpet-playing.
This is why Self-Hate Index's mode is especially notable. The album features Kelley solely on trumpet, most of it played in real-time and occasionally manipulated through pedals and editing. But if you're expecting scale exercises and tonal workouts, you're probably unfamiliar with his music-making approach: Kelley plays with the valves, tuning slide, water key, and mouthpiece of the trumpet almost as much as he blows air through it. When he does blow, the sound is breathy, throaty, noisy. For example:
While Self-Hate Index was recorded in a "proper" studio, Kelley isn't one to emphasize clarity, so any perceived eloquence is usually offset by fuzzier production, due to what Semata describes as "manipulation of the recording medium" and "awkward placement of mics, close-micing, the leaving on of an air conditioner, etc." The quality, then, fluctuates, most notably on tracks like "Vessal" and "Accumulating Errors" (the latter of which features the air conditioner). Indeed, his experiments with recording and editing are as significant as his eccentric trumpet playing, with both threatening to derail your sense of time at any moment.
And Kelley's experiments do confront time, head-on. His style boasts a circular breathing technique that occasionally makes his playing sound looped, and like nmperign's music, the tracks often subvert typical musical narratives, with sounds entering and short-circuiting in seemingly random spots. It's as if Kelley is unknowingly channeling the qualities of tape music through real-time performance. Furthermore, Kelley has a keen sense of pacing, and his delineation between sound and silence has reached utmost maturity, particularly noteworthy given his experience in more maximalist contexts. He'll pummel you at times, but not exhaustingly so.
For the past couple years, I've been pretty bummed out on a lot of the experimental musics I used to love. It's partly due to the anti-intellectualism and surprising lack of humor pervading key artists, and partly because of my insatiable desire to constantly redefine for myself what constitutes "experimental." And it doesn't help that my involvement has lately become an outsider-looking-in sorta thing, one dominated unfortunately by distanced contemplation. Throughout, however, Kelley has remained vital to sustaining my interest in this realm of experimental music. He's truly a singular talent amid a community built on excess -- and you should see him stage dive! To those of you interested in experiencing Kelley's incisive attacks, Self-Hate Index is a solid entry point -- those of you already familiar with Kelley probably already have this album or are a few clicks away from ordering it.
1. Stimulus Check
2. These Are Distractions
3. Shearing Husks
4. Accumulating Errors (What Is Peripheral?)
6. Anxious Drift
7. Visiting Microphones