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Eli Keszler - Icons Music Album Reviews

Eli Keszler - Icons Music Album Reviews
The composer and percussionist’s latest work is intricate and eerie, drawing attention to the small sounds that slip unnoticed in the chorus of a busy day.

In the early 2010s, the avant-garde percussionist and composer Eli Keszler created a series of audiovisual installations involving lengths of piano wire hung from massive structures: gallery rafters, the Manhattan Bridge, a water tower in Louisiana. The wires, combined with a network of motorized beaters that strike them according to fluidly shifting patterns, create a quasi-autonomous musical instrument, generating huge masses of pointillistic sound. Sometimes, these installations perform solo; sometimes, they are joined by Keszler and other collaborators. The sounds of the wires are so complex as to be essentially unpredictable, making it difficult for performers to accompany them in conventionally musical ways. For Keszler, the machines’ indifference is part of the point. “There’s just the random information that the installation spits at the piece, which is one of the best parts: you get all these contradictions,” he told NPR Music in an interview about Archway, the Manhattan Bridge piece. “You try to do something, the installation doesn’t care.... It doesn’t respond to the way you’re feeling.”

My initial approaches to Icons, an album Keszler created during a year spent quarantined in Manhattan, put me in the mind of those installations. The music situates his marvelously intricate playing, on a drum set and an array of pitched percussion, within electroacoustic settings that can seem icily disengaged from his feats of expressive humanity. He has said the album was inspired in part by wandering through the sudden stillness of the city in 2020, the way it drew his attention to small sounds that might otherwise slip unnoticed into the chorus of a busy day. The music bears that out in ways that can almost feel literally representative. A drum fill clatters like change on a bodega countertop. A melody behind it loops quietly but insistently, just at the threshold of perception, like the tolling of a church bell newly audible from several blocks away. Uncanny field recordings arrive from nowhere. Monolithic harmonies loom at the edges, empty but illuminated. Like the city itself, this music will happily churn on without you if you fall behind.

Keszler's profile has been on the upswing in recent years. He’s appeared on several Daniel Lopatin projects, including the score for Uncut Gems. His 2018 album Stadium was excellent, and far more approachable than much of his previous work, draping his dizzying rhythms in silky jazz chords and arranging them into miniatures that sometimes resembled instrumental hip-hop. Icons arrives via the dancefloor-friendly UK label LuckyMe; two weeks before its release, the percussionist logged an unlikely collaboration with Skrillex. If Keszler faced any temptation to capitalize on this momentum, tweaking his approach for larger audiences, he resisted it. Icons is a considerably more challenging album than its predecessor. The microscopic funk breaks of Stadium appear occasionally, but more often, the tempo is slow and the atmosphere is eerie. Most of the tracks aren’t calibrated for individual listening, but the album as a whole also resists any linear narrative. Beginnings and endings are difficult to discern. A composition might lurch to what seems like its close, linger in silence for a second or two, then shake itself back to life.

Keszler’s signature as a drummer involves incredible densities of strikes in impossibly tiny temporal spaces, carefully and quietly arranged. He favors a closed hi-hat and tightly tuned snare drum, pinpricks that go silent almost as soon as your ears register them. Even when he rolls across toms and open cymbals, the effect is far from bombastic; more like the patter of soft rain. His mixture of delicacy and abandon, the defining sensibility of Stadium and 2016’s Last Signs of Speed, recedes a bit on Icons. During the most immediately ravishing passages, on tracks like “Civil Sunset” and “The Accident,” he brings his ability on the kit to the fore. Elsewhere, the action is more elusive: barely audible bell tones skittering like skipped pebbles across the void of “God Over Money;” a persistent creaking deep in the background of “Dawn,” which might be a virtuoso performance on the world’s smallest percussion instrument, or just a recording of an old door. Appreciating Icons involves adopting an attitude similar to Keszler’s: actively refusing to tune out these diminutive sounds, paying close attention to their infinite variation, daring to hear them as music.

On my first few listens, I found the album’s layers of contradictory sound distracting and confusing. I wanted to hear Keszler’s playing in an environment with less clutter. Eventually, I started to feel the rhythmic connection between, say, the percussive freakout at the end of “Static Doesn’t Exist” and the looped chatter of the field recording that accompanies it. If I had to guess, I’d say that the musicality of these relationships is deeply intuitive for Keszler. But he might be plotting them according to some elaborate design. A blurred boundary between composition and improvisation is a recurring feature in his work. The wire installations were partially about a John Cage-ish openness to the possibilities of chance, but the sounds they made were not purely random. They were happening according to the rules of a system that Keszler engineered, presumably with great care. Similarly, by feeling or by logic, by intention or by accident, Icons coheres into something strangely wonderful. Listen closely and its stoic surfaces start to open up, seeming less like an abandoned city, or those indifferent wire installations, and more like a living place.
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Eli Keszler - Icons Music Album Reviews Eli Keszler - Icons Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Friday, July 02, 2021 Rating: 5

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