Kevin Beasley - A View of a Landscape Music Album Reviews

Kevin Beasley - A View of a Landscape Music Album Reviews
L’Rain, Jlin, Kelsey Lu, Jason Moran, and more join the sculptor and sound artist for a meditation on the complex histories evoked by the antique cotton gin at the center of his 2018 Whitney Museum exhibition.

Kevin Beasley is barefoot in the Museum of Modern Art. He’s seated on the ground, perched over three turntables, a mixer, and a laptop connected to a stereo system that fills the museum’s atrium with disembodied voices. Specifically, they’re the voices of dead rappers from the ’90s, like the Notorious B.I.G., whose song “Long Kiss Goodnight” gives the performance piece, I Want My Spot Back, its name. Another iteration of the performance included clips from the 1962 Malcolm X speech “Who Taught You to Hate Yourself?” and the 2011 Theo Parrish track “Black Music,” as well as the voice of a witness to the 2014 murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. “Say he had his hands up and everything. Still shot him,” the voice says. “The man laying in the street, dead as a motherfucker.” 

The piece is stark and abrasive, erupting into noisy chaos that leaves the walls shaking and at least a few listeners in distress. It also asks guests to sit with complex feelings and process grief in a social setting, which some may have been unprepared for. “I wish I could have answered, ‘You should spend more time with it’; or ‘Maybe we should talk’; or ‘You should hear it again’; or something,” Beasley later said of the letters he received in response to the piece. “I feel that there is something missed in those letters. I can’t expect everyone to feel the same way, or to even have the same response.”

Beasley is a visual artist by trade, primarily producing sculptures and installations. He uses ordinary materials like T-shirts, durags, and house dresses to create pieces defined by absence, dwelling in the negative spaces his artifacts afford. This approach extends to his engagements with sound; works like I Want My Spot Back and Strange Fruit—a series of sculptures involving dangling pairs of Nike Air Jordans rigged with microphones and speakers to produce harmonic tones from the surrounding air—introduce a temporal dimension to this Cartesian relation in repose, rising and falling with an intensity rooted in each piece’s source materials.

In 2012, Beasley purchased a one-ton electric induction cotton gin motor on eBay with the intention of using it in his practice, and the artifact became the centerpiece of A View of a Landscape, his 2018 solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum. Beasley installed the fully functional motor inside a soundproof glass vitrine on the museum’s top floor, surrounding the roaring engine with microphones that piped its output into a nearby listening room. Slightly removed from the engine itself, the artist filtered the audio through a mixer and various Eurorack synth modules, sculpting the raw material into a time-based work that meditates on the violent and intertwined histories of slavery and industrialism. He also hosted a live performance series at the Whitney, inviting experimental acts like Jlin, Eli Keszler, and Taja Cheek to perform with him and the cotton gin.

Four years later, Beasley continues to explore the installation’s collaborative possibilities. His debut album, a double LP also titled A View of a Landscape, brings together artists from his initial Whitney performances, as well as a sprawling network of poets, musicians, and performers that includes L’Rain, Laurel Halo, Kelsey Lu, Moor Mother, and Jason Moran. “I wanted all the artists to consider the questions surrounding the sound of the motor, its history, and how one could generate a sonic experience with it,” he wrote in a statement. Paired with a 300-page monograph containing essays, photos, and other documentation, the multimedia project is both a retrospective look at Beasley’s career to date and a conscious effort to reframe his practice in terms of the community it’s fostered.

The album opens softly with a ringing metallic drone, followed by the voice of Fred Moten. The poet, critic, and theorist has devoted decades to writing about the lingering traumas of history, and here, Moten returns to a piece that also appeared on his 2022 jazz album with bassist Brandon López and drummer Gerald Cleaver, placing the existing poem in dialogue with Beasley’s work. “All that blood is the engine,” he says. “Is that gin a computer?” By bringing Moten/López/Cleaver’s closing track to the front of his own album, Beasley suggests a continuity between the two projects that runs deeper than thematic overlap. About two minutes in, a barren kick drum enters at the pace of a slow heartbeat as the noisy mechanical drone intensifies and rattling loops of industrial percussion fall in and out of sync. The piece sets the stage for a series of collaborations that situate Beasley’s source material in new environments, wading further into the harrowing soundscapes that define his artistic practice with rigor and grace.

Much of the album is subdued and instrumental, with soothing ambient patches punctuated by moments of focused tension. On “Resin,” the composer and producer Laurel Halo considers the textural qualities of simple synth and organ tones, uncoupling each element from the originating instrument to build an organic assemblage reminiscent of her 2018 album Raw Silk Uncut Wood. Pieces from L’Rain and Kelsey Lu layer looped keyboards over rumbling noise likely taken from Beasley’s installation, bending and pitch-shifting the audio like any other sound on the album. Toward the end of Lu’s “Lines,” thumping kicks and synth chirps are overtaken by a knotted string arrangement that leads into “Face the Rock,” the sole contribution from composer and jazz pianist Jason Moran. High-pitched noise peeks out from behind a wall of carefully arranged piano lines that take cues from Minimalism, impressionistic film composition, and free jazz. It’s a standout moment in which the churning mechanical rhythm present across the album feels not only atmospheric, but as essential as any other element.

For all of its guest collaborators, the album adopts a clear structural arc that moves from experimental performance to deconstructed dance music in the second half. Sparse electronic percussion gives way to furious outrage on “Oil Rivers,” where Moor Mother’s Camae Ayewa shouts about labor, death, and the environment. Less outwardly distressed, Eli Keszler’s “In a Landscape” is jagged and atonal, combining his kinetic drumming with strident samples that flatten into gentle soundscapes. Piercing hi-hats and siren-like synths cut through the mix in the abrupt transition to Jlin’s “Vernacular,” as the album falls back onto ringing, ambient hues that evolve into lurching Jersey club with SCRAAATCH’s “Save ur flesh, Captured Dancer.”

A View of a Landscape feels more like a mixtape than a pointed statement from a single artist: While every piece started with recordings captured from the engine, the album prioritizes the ongoing creative practices of its guests over a clear authorial gesture from Beasley. Yet from his curatorial instincts a community emerges—one that extends to the audience through their engagement with the unspeakably difficult histories the album presents. On “by,” Beasley is joined by choreographer and curator Ralph Lemon, who originally brought I Want My Spot Back to the MoMA as part of his Some sweet day performance series, and vocalist Okwui Okpokwasili, who sings about the challenges of bringing a project like this one to fruition. “Try to tell the story with terrible earnestness/Try to tell it anyway,” she says. It’s an impossible topic to speak about comprehensively, and the album ultimately isn’t interested in didactic explanations. Instead, there’s catharsis, collectivity, and a desire to build something new.

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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.
Kevin Beasley - A View of a Landscape Music Album Reviews Kevin Beasley - A View of a Landscape Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on March 17, 2023 Rating: 5


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