GUIDED BY SOUND: Kevin Keller's Paradigm-shifting "Shimmer"
Over the course of his quarter-century career, composer Kevin Keller has been known to switch things up from album to album, but this year he took things a step further. In order to challenge himself and bring fresh ideas to his music, he used social media to crowdsource an entire album in 28 days. "I started with no narrative concept, no title, no idea really of what this music would be," Keller explains. Breaking the patterns of his previous twelve albums, he asked his fans for directions and ideas, and then designed new sounds to guide his studio improvisations.
The result of this experiment is his forthcoming full-length album Shimmer, his first album to be released on both CD and vinyl. Working in a new studio with new gear (including a Moog Grandmother semi-modular synthesizer), Keller created the album entirely within the month of February, in response to the annual RPM Challenge. During the album's creation, Keller shared two minutes of new music every day on his blog, and asked fans to comment and make suggestions for the following day.
That said, there is one constant to Keller’s sound, and that is piano (in almost every case a virtual one), which features strongly on Shimmer. Keller is able to incorporate the piano into so many styles because of the instrument’s versatility, capable of offering harmonies, delivering melodies, even acting as percussion. The piano fills all those roles, sometimes simultaneously, on Shimmer. Keller counterpoints piano with a wider range of synth (and guitar) textures than usual, stimulated by the suggestions gleaned from his social media followers.
Shimmer contains some of Keller’s most propulsive tracks, bubbling with analog beats while also deploying a multitude of motifs that mesh like clockwork. The opening “Orchards” demonstrates this style immediately with a piano intro that could be Steve Reich remixed for the dance floor. In contrast, “Bridges” recalls the timeless sound of Cluster. The more meditative moments, such as “Ithaca” and the closing “Delta,” show off his compositional knack for beautiful melodies and lush textures. The title track and its sister track “Riverbend” combine all of these streams and, like all Keller’s music, evolve their sound, never standing still even when they seem to float weightlessly. Even the most contemplative track, “Inverness,” acquires a gentle rhythm partway through.
Shimmer may be the most seamless mix of Keller’s classical, atmospheric, and Berlin School electronic stylings yet.
Kevin Keller is an American composer who has worked in the spaces between neo-classical, ambient, and electronic music for over 25 years. Combining acoustic piano, strings, and woodwinds with electronic instruments and effects, his style has come to be called ambient chamber music.
Keller has released a dozen albums, worked with musicians David Darling and Russel Walder, co-produced live concerts with Steve Roach and Robert Rich, and has even rubbed elbows with Brian Eno in his long career. His music has been awarded two Zonies (ZMR Awards) for “Best Neo-Classical Album”, and has also been heard on the popular Fox show “So You Think You Can Dance”, as well as original scores for film, television, and contemporary dance.