Playthroughs by Keith Fullerton Whitman was a refined study in warm digital jitter and haze, an archetypal product of early-noughties laptop-produced glitch ambient perfectly suited to its home on Kranky. Whitman has now famously abandoned computers, bored of their rigid binary structuring principles and unengaging pre-determined ‘performance’ limitations – in favour of the chaotic gurgles and hand-on-wire physicality of modular synthesis. The two long pieces on Disingenuity b/w Disingenuousness offer a thrilling argument for this approach, harking back to the dark and mysterious electronic experiments of lab-coated academic composers and radio workshop employees while simultaneously soaring blindly into a (retro-)future of space exploration, cosmonauts and nuclear dread.
Opening with shots of shrill noise and flickering bursts of static, “Disingenuity” is the harsher, less ordered work, spots and streaks of grainy noise splattered like globules of thick paint, haphazardly flicked from the tin of an action painter. These blobs enlarge and collapse, ebb and flow, covered in webs of reverb, flitting across the stereo field, interacting like cells under a microscope. This piece more closely recalls the work of pioneers like Morton Subotnik and Stockhausen, but the rapid-fire activity and emphasis on effects like echo and panning owe a strong debt to Dub, and rubs shoulders with the Space improv of Rafael Toral.
It’s difficult not to read the throbbing acidic burble of ‘Disingenuousness’ alongside contemporaneous driving synthesiser tracks by the likes of Oneohtrix Point Never and Emeralds, but again Whitman steps out into less charted territory. Where the hypnagogics delight in the transcendence that comes from the subtle filtering of repetitive arpeggios, motorikally drifting off into the sunset, Whitman revels in disrupting the flow entirely with often brutal disturbances. Consequently, there’s less of the passive head-bobbing pleasure to be found all over Rifts, but more often than not Whitman’s risks pay off. Strange high tones flutter in like golden butterflies, which then burst into flame and vanish. A gruff buzz envelops the lower end, soon overwhelming all rhythmic drive before opening out into a vista of crystalline chimes. That it concludes with an ugly drill-like drone only emphasises Whitman’s commitment to chance, and offers a fittingly gritty finale to such a breathtaking piece of music.