When you see the word Tapes in a label name, it’s fair to wonder, will they do right by vinyl? A well-made record is a beautiful thing, but man, they’re easy to fuck up. Starting with the outside and working our way in, NNA did just fine with the sleeve, and even better with its colorful inner counterpart. Both feature a side of complex images, computer-generated I suppose, by percussionist Eli Keszler that contrast strikingly with the use of clear text and empty space on the other side. If holding and staring at sleeves is your thing, they’ve got your back.
And the record? A few pops aside, the black vinyl sounds clean, and the mastering job renders the music with marvelous fidelity. This is especially important because each sound Keszler selects is so important that the slightest distortion would feel like an insult. Keszler’s side is called “Mired,” but there’s nothing stuck-sounding about it. It’s a primer, or maybe a manifesto, summing up just what the man does. If, like me, you’d written him off after an encounter with his ESP release, the clarity with which he articulates his sense of proportion here might change your mind like it did mine. If he strikes one drum or strokes one cymbal, the enormity of sound within that single act unfolds; if he sets a system in motion, its various rapidly moving components all work together with addling precision. He’s all about the careful marshaling and arrangement of complex information. It’s music as brain food, and it’s mighty tasty.
Electronic musician Keith Fullerton Whitman is no stranger to complicated systems, and in recent years he’s used a couple as frameworks for a series of live performances. Keszler’s playing inspired a new one, and you can hear its first realization here. Fullerton watched Keszler play, and determined to devise an analog synth patch that would use randomly generated sounds to set in motion a sequence of digitally managed interventions that would attain a similar level of event density and rhythmic elaboration. Simply put, he tried to make his synths and computer act like a free jazz drummer. If Keszler’s specificity and simultaneity are the standards he was aiming for, he succeeded. This version of “Occlusion” is so simpatico with Keszler’s playing that you can, if you have either two records or access to a webpage set up for the occasion (as Whitman has done at his Mimaroglu Music Sales site), play them together. But it’s pretty swell on its own, too. If you’re eager to see how it varies, Whitman’s already released two more versions on another LP, but that’s a story for another review. (http://www.nnatapes.com)