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Keith Fullerton Whitman

A self-described electronic music obsessive, Keith Fullerton Whitman's sprawling output encompasses a considerable variety of (essentially non-dance-oriented) electronic forms and sounds, with releases ranging from meticulously constructed ambient minimalism to frenetic drill'n'bass (the primary milieu of his Hrvåtski alias), academically minded compositional explorations of electronic music history, and highly abstract live laptop improvisation. Not only as a performing and recording musician, but also as a writer, educator, and entrepreneur, he has been an active and visible proponent of vintage and contemporary experimental and electronic music of all sorts. Born in 1973, Whitman grew up in northern New Jersey frequenting record-collecting fairs, where he was exposed to all manner of "out" and esoteric 20th century music -- prog rock, psychedelia, free jazz improvisation, postwar classical composers, and early experimental electronica -- thereby forming the basis of interests that have continued to play out throughout his life. He attended Boston's Berklee College of Music to study computer music, forming various short-lived, conceptual rock-inflected outfits during his time there, and received a Bachelor in Music Synthesis degree in 1996 despite some apparent controversy over his thesis, a three-hour piece consisting of various kinds of machine malfunctions. Around the same time, he began creating his own avant-garde electronic tracks, ascribed to a series of pseudonyms and invented personas, that reflected both his academic interests and his unalloyed infatuation with sound itself. He released the best of them in 1998 as a faux "compilation" entitled Attention: Cats on the record label Reckankreuzungsklankewerkzeuge (RKK), which he started for just that reason (his Somerville apartment/studio/headquarters is dubbed the Reckankomplex), sending copies out to his heroes and influences worldwide. The following year saw a breakthrough of sorts, with Whitman's first full-length under the Hrvåtski moniker, Oiseaux '96-'98, attracting notice in the wider electronic music community and beyond for its virtuosic deconstructions and recombinations of drum'n'bass/jungle's mainstay, the Amen break. From that point on, his recording, touring, collaborating, remixing, and critical/musicological activities proliferated steadily, becoming increasingly difficult to keep track of -- in 2001 he left his day job at the prominent experimental music distributor Forced Exposure (where he wrote capsule descriptions for numerous releases) in order to focus on music full-time. Whitman's next two full-length releases -- the spastic and eclectic Hrvåtski platter Swarm and Dither (released on Mike Paradinas' Planet Mu label) and the breathtakingly gorgeous minimalist drones of his "solo" debut, Playthroughs (on Kranky) -- both appeared in October of 2002, somewhat delayed due to his tendency for perfectionism and endless revisions, and received an unprecedented level of attention and acclaim from many observers. The same year also saw the inception of his entirely self-operated mail-order music retail operation, Mimaroglu Music Sales, as well as the opportunity to join likeminded electronic duo Matmos for a week of lectures, concerts, and recording sessions at Harvard University, which generated a large portion of the material for the Matmos album The Civil War. Whitman was invited to return to Harvard the next year for an extended residency, teaching workshops in exchange for access to the university's collection of rare and unique early electronic instruments (including a prototype of the Serge modular synthesizer from the 1970s and several Buchla Music Boxes from the 1960s), which resulted in several of the compositions that would make up his second proper Kranky full-length. It took another several years before Multiples was released in 2005 (when it became yet another critical favorite, lauded for both its beauty and accessibility and its conceptual richness), but a pair of limited-edition, vinyl-only offerings of archival material, Antithesis and Schöner Flußengel, kept his fans sated and reputation buoyant in the interim. Despite occasional bouts of illness and hiatuses to focus on his myriad music-related projects, Whitman has continued to perform extensively, as he has throughout his career -- first primarily as Hrvåtski, but eventually, after the turn of the century, mainly under his given name -- using a system he devised (and continues to modify and add to incrementally) based around the Max-MSP software he studied at Berklee, which allows him considerable real-time control over various attributes of the music. Numerous releases document different aspects of his live performance explorations: Yearlong features selected improvisations alongside frequent collaborator Greg Davis; Irrevocably Overdriven Beat Freakout Megamix captures the increasingly elusive Hrvåtski in action (it was also the inaugural release on Whitman's Entschuldigen label); and Recorded in Lisbon consists of a single long-form piece performed using a modified version of the Playthroughs setup, but with considerably broader dynamic range.
© K. Ross Hoffman /TiVo
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