KEVIN KELLER: From imaginary movies, to real film scores.
Now in his third decade as a composer and recording artist, Kevin Keller has crafted a diverse discography – twenty releases in total – that has made him a favorite on beloved syndicated radio programs Hearts of Space and Echoes, found his music featured on the popular TV show So You Think You Can Dance, and won him two Zonies (ZMR Awards) for “Best Neo-Classical Album”. Beyond that, he regularly receives commissions from ballet companies, a considerable amount of his soundtrack work appears in documentaries shown on the History Channel, and he has recently moved into the field of film scores. Pretty good for a guy who entered the conservatory never having had even a single piano lesson.
Growing up in Northern California in a not particularly musical family, his gateway into music came when friends exposed him to the sounds of Krautrock legends Tangerine Dream, synthesizer pioneer Wendy Carlos's Switched-On Brandenburgs, and the ambient soundscapes of Harold Budd and Brian Eno. By the end of his high school years he had started playing piano, teaching himself how to read music so he could play Debussy. Keller says, "I don't really hear a big difference between Harold Budd and Claude Debussy, except that Debussy is more harmonically complex. But in terms of the aesthetic, I feel like they're similar – if you simplify Debussy, you end up with [Budd and Eno’s] Ambient 2. Or The Pearl." No surprise, then, that after Keller's second album was released, John Diliberto of Echoes called Keller's style "ambient chamber music."
After graduating from college, where he'd had the run of an electronic music studio, he had to start from scratch by saving enough money to buy some synthesizers of his own, which allowed him to create his debut album, The Mask of Memory. "If you listen to that with me," Keller admits, "I can point out, 'that's my homage to Budd and Eno there, that's me lifting a melody from [Tangerine Dream's] Rubycon.' But I remember when I was working on 'Pale Unkempt Hours of Late Grey Afternoons,' it started out sounding like Debussy, and then this melodic figure came in, and I remember that it really struck me: 'This doesn't sound like anything I've ever heard. This just sounds like...me!' I felt like I had discovered something that was purely my own that was different from all of my influences. Like soundtrack music for my own life." Hearts of Space liked The Mask of Memory enough that they played two of its tracks on one week's show, and HOS host Stephen Hill became "a mentor" to Keller.