Alex Keller
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Alex Keller

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"Review of The Four Hundred Boys"

Silence, static, grumblings, buzzings, whirring, people speaking...these are some of the myriad sounds that make up The Four Hundred Boys, a collection of seven pieces, recorded between 1995 and 2000, by Seattle-based sound artist Alex Keller. Manipulating sounds in all sorts of ways which will not be easily understood by listeners (but are detailed in the linter notes for those with a need to comprehend what's going on technically), Keller creates sonic art which is complicated in the best way--meaning it is difficult in the way that gets your brain moving in various directions, not in the way that means what's going on is too abstract to enjoy. While not filled with surface-level aesthetic pleasures of the empty sort that people listen to top-40 radio for, these pieces are layered with unique sounds and juxtapositions of sounds. The opening track, "And the walls became the world all around," delivers an intermittent but creeping wave of sound, at times metallic, at times electronic, at times almost nonexistent but not. The second, "Decades II," uses something like a chime or a gong in the background and a squirming buzz/siren in the front. Both increase in loudness, unity and pitch until they collide like a train; then the track cuts to ancient-sounding tones and eerie silence, feeling like the spooky aftermath of something (with metallic ghosts lurking). From there the track continues to build like a cloud in different ways, with various sorts of clanging going on. All of these pieces can be appreciated on numerous levels. "Decades II," for example, is awe-inspiring in one way while listening the first time, and in a completely different way after reading in the liner notes that it was an exploration of the sounds that can come from an electric guitar. That multiplicity in listener reaction is part of the appeal of these pieces; another is simply the mystery which lies behind such a breadth of sound. From "Landscape: Still Life With Bug Lamp," an ambient track with a consistent buzzing sound, to "Gun," a cut-up story where someone is speaking but nothing makes any logical sense, Keller relies on all sorts of techniques. Each technique, and each track, has a different background and sounds different from the next, yet each has the effect of getting listeners to try to figure it out on their own. Art which will likely mean something different for each listener, The Four Hundred Boys shines with a striking intricacy which should please listeners looking for something to intrigue, mystify and challenge them.
David Heaton - Erasing Clouds

"Review of The Four Hundred Boys"

Alex Keller lives in Seattle, and releases his first solo CD. Besides he is a member of Rebreather, an improvisational unit with Christopher DeLaurenti. Not that I ever heard their music... Improvisation is not something Alex is doing on his solo CD. Each track is described on the sleeve in terms of intention and what he has done to create it. One piece just uses guitar sounds, in order to create a serieus piece of electronic music, another uses piano sounds (the title piece, which unfortunally is not a great piece, as it's dabbling too much in the academic world but with lesser power) or field recordings. Keller's music work best if he works with stretched out, drone like sounds, with small events happening under the surface, such as in 'Landscape: Still Life With Bug' or 'Cosmetic'. They too are the result of sturdy processing and examining the ideas of the serious avant-garde, but at the same time result in a music that will appeal to the underground. Overall a very fine CD.
Fraans DeWaard - Vital Weekly week 39 number 292

"Review of The Four Hundred Boys"

A new name for me in the experimental music, with debut album - an always interesting and breathtaking experience. Alex Keller is Seattle based composer who has a kind of academic music education and worked with Christopher DeLaurenti. Intrinsically atonal fragments like the back side of the artificial, technological music around us, its contrast with the harmony between sound and silence in the quiet parts, careful collection of dissonantly sound events which are impossible to hear in half-ear (as much as you can't escape the sense of reality of definite sounding objects when feel its presence aurally) - to follow my description, you should imagine works in musique concrete and other abstract styles of composition. Seven pieces, mostly pretty long by duration, partly hypnotize listener with the dreamlike evolving, and partly disturb with their uncontrolled and constantly changing, breaking basis. Every piece demonstrate the perfect skills in the field recordings technique, computer software & processing, electronic treatment of acoustic instruments like piano and guitar, rhythms and even spoken word. I can't say that this album leave some sort of radical impression - it's quite typical for experimental music school, as much as appealing for the mass-culture consumers. And that's also the main reason for which I can recommend it to somebody who will be interested.
Dmitry Vasilyev - IEM Webzine

"Review of The Four Hundred Boys"

This is Keller's first album, combining pieces composed between 1995 and 2000. He was educated in music theory at Huston, and his theoretical background is evident in the extensive liner notes and the methods and objectives they outline. And I love liner notes: I think it is great sometimes to get an angle on what the composer is intending - the Sound Drifting set is great for that too. And it also helps to place Keller in an electroacoustic part of my mind - it can be quite confusing if you put on what you expect to be drifting ambient and out comes gestural precision.
On 'And the walls became the world around us' he uses a 'limited sound palette' - a rising and falling tone, squarly buzzing noise, organ tones, pops and crackles - and creates a subtle, quiet sound world that lives in the silences between sounds and the solo and overlapped components. Quite restrained compared to 'Decades II', an exploration of the guitar sound, which shifts dramatically between noisy buzzing tones, gentle shimmers, rhythmic choppy mechanical edgy parts and more as we swing between recognisable guitar and more treated and bent versions.
The title work is a strange conceptual piece, written by taking a piano part and playing it backwards, modulating it, rewriting and more: the reality is a fascinating twisted tonality of odd notes in unexpected progressions, electronic hummings and pulsing scrapes and scratches which is oddly entrancing - and has some affinity with 'Decades II' in its tonality. A more sensuous mood envelops 'Landscape: still life with bug lamp', which is constructed from 12 layers, and for the listener is a shifting soundscape of deep resonances, shimmering chimes and bells, much closer to ambience.
The long 'Cosmetic (soundtrack)' encapsulates and extends the album: it is a sequence of short segments, all created on the computer, which span a continent of moods: quite gentle tonal works; mechanical industrial rhythms with descending notes; cut up and sequestered coices, probably from television; edgy harsh buzzing and squals; and more. A searching demanding piece which is quite intriguing. Which segues well into 'All of these things' which is intriguing in different ways: created from field recordings both natural and in an echoing bunker, together with read texts, Keller processed them in a variety of ways - stretching, convolution and more - and has created a soundscape which hovers at the edge of familiarity, sounds which are almost comprehensible, shivering and swaying at the edge of our auditory cortex. And the final disorientation - 'Gun' in which a text of a dream is read, but the text was previously put through some cut-up techniques, and again, reality seems just a confused thought process away: almost understandable, a powerful conclusion.
My experience with musiqueconcrete/electroacoustic is not broad, so I can't say how this album fits within the genre: but I can say that I find it intriguing, entertaining and stimulating, in the same way the Empreintes Digitales disks I looked at a few issues ago were. If you enjoy music composed and constructed in this way, I think that this album would appeal.
Jeremy Keens - Ampersand Etcetera

"Review of The Phonographers Union: Live on Sonarchy Radio"

"Presented in its entirety, their set on Sonarchy Radio, a weekly hour-long show devoted to new a work of gentle concentration. The resultant interplay between the various 'captures' displays an agreeable subtlety and sensitivity in its shifts of focus and range. Impossible to reduce to any kind of linear development or narrative, it reveals a bustling acoustic realm existing just outside our senses that deserves to be attended to."
Ken Hollings - The Wire

"Review of The Phonographers Union: Live on Sonarchy Radio"

More free-form and easy-flowing than musique concr?te, much more concrete than experimental electronica, this music speaks to the mind and the soul, as some of these sounds are very familiar, but their combinations evoke surreal situations. Since there are too many details, too many events to possibly absorb and remember everything in one sitting, each listen provides a different experience. And even people usually closed to avant-garde music will be able to sense the poetry and the immediacy of this album. Highly recommended as a key statement in the development of "field recording" or "phonography" as a form of sound art.
Fran?ois Couture - the All Music Guide

"Review of Searching for the Inverse Square"

Music from Meri von Kleinsmid and Alex Keller have been reviewed before (343 and 292 resp.) but those were solo projects. Here the two offer a CD of four concerts they recorded together, in which they loosely improvise with toys, radios and bent-circuits. Important however is that they are moving through the space in which they perform. The four recordings here are all done using a microphone (but I'm sure can never capture the event if you didn't witness them). In the opening piece 'Phar Lap' they move about using a modified Texas Instruments 'speak 'n math' and five toy parrots recording it while moving through the space. This is I think the best piece of the CD and would have loved to seen this live (maybe a DVD in the future). The other three tracks are twice as long as 'Phar Lap' and unfortunally can't capture my attention through out. The distorted radio waves and amplified toys take a lot of time and do not necessarily go anywhere. Here the lack of visuals is most sad, because it would have made more sense.
Frans DeWaard - Vital Weekly

"Review of Searching for the Inverse Square"

And they're off with the familiar start for "Phar Lap." Recorded live at Vital 5 Gallery in Seattle, musician/educator/curator Alex Keller and composer Meri von KleinSmid team up to create something eloquent and off-putting. By modifying electronic toys, these two have truly affected the sound effects of a racetrack circa 2010, when all live action will be replaced by free-form animation. With the radio dial spinning, a family is caught while playing hide-n-seek in and around a Seattle gas tank. These unintended collaborators make for a foil to the serious toll of AM radio preaching of illiteracy, AIDS and all things Driving Miss Daisy. DATs and mics gone wild! Actually, this is quite grounded, but the radio broadcasts do get to me, even as a creative AM (ab)user myself. But in these nineteen minutes the family's laughter just winds through frugally as the echoes of the static frequencies serve as the base. I recommend that Keller and KleinSmid attend a Negativland show near them, they are "almost" there on this track, it just lacks the inherent humor in the tongue-in-cheek self-appointed authoritarian language of the media. More like a radio-thon, "The Best Station Is No Station" certainly makes it point self-evident. The knob-centric "Focused on the Conflict at Hand" finds them in the basement of a local Community College sampling the resident Ataris. So let the games begin as the track captures the tempo of excitement. It's great to hear these old-fashioned gaming sounds, where you would certainly mistake them for perhaps the warp of say, a Theremin. "Message from Bunker 23" is aided in part by its outdoor surroundings with geese and other flying craft, mixed with found cassette starts and stops atop Magnuson Park in Seattle. The voiceovers discussing prostate cancer prevention and disease are contorted through crude physical manipulations. A dada threat is made loud, and unclear. In its ambiguity, the end result of ""Searching for the Inverse Square" is something that would make Kurt Schwitters smile a mile.
TJ Norris - Igloo Magazine

"Review of Recreating the Domain"

Still haven't been to the Domain, that not-so-radical experiment in New Urbanism beckoning from Northwest Austin? Still need a reason to use the gas to drive there – assuming you're not one of the few residents of the rental units above or around the outdoor shopping mall? Here's a rationale for visiting the controversial district envisioned as a second downtown without losing your cred in Austin's first Downtown.

It starts at, where six artists have created walking tours of the Domain. Download the files, put them on a portable music player, use that gas to get to the magical melding of residential and commercial units, and press play.

Alex Keller, the curator of this experiment in audio art, comes from a background of sound design and co-hosts KOOP Radio's aptly named experimental music show, Commercial Suicide, making him uniquely qualified to wrangle the disparate offerings of the Recreating the Domain project. "I wanted it to be a smart examination of ... whatever this is," Keller says, summarizing the impetus behind collecting these ongoing artworks. "I used to walk around here during lunch, and I always wanted to see the cracks, looking for the cast-only doors." It's that Disney-fication that fuels the surreal nature of the Domain and what these pieces hope to bring into focus.

The tours range from performance art, where you're told to be the performer, to avant musical musings using the white noise of the Domain itself as a jumping-off point. Sometimes the audio tours call attention to themselves, asking participants to listen to the produced audio more intently. What ties them all together, however, is a common aim to make listeners look more closely at their surroundings. When the narrator of Brent Fariss' Dominion: a walking tour says to cross the street illegally, only then is it apparent that the Domain is designed to prohibit jaywalking. Keller's Curator's Notes points out the speakers on the light poles and how strange a canned soundtrack would be in any other "neighborhood." Other pieces merely flavor the experience of walking the Domain. Tan Bodies, by Bill Bridges, combines jumbled buzzwords, ad speak, and other language for an end product of creepy poetry. Similarly, Vanessa Rossetto's ambient soundscape combines field recordings with violin tones, making J. Crew bargain shopping eerier than ever before, as if seeing the cops on three-wheeled Segways wasn't enough.

James Renovitch - Austin Chronicle


Indian Lake
Three Augusts
free improvised electronics (as rebreather)
The Phonographers Union: Live on Sonarchy Radio (group release)
Searching for the inverse square (with Meri von KleinSmid)
Sonicabal 2 (compilation)
The four hundred boys
rebreather (as rebreather)
Sonicabal 1999 (compilation)
Le Train Fantome (compilation)
Psychic twins network
Cosmetic (soundtrack to the film)
Daddy Scary Robot
Sleeping Beauty (soundtrack to the film)
Born to Run
Five bullets



Alex Keller is an audio artist, sound designer, curator and teacher based in Austin, Texas. His work is in the media of performance, installation, and CD release, and reflects his interests in architecture, language, abstraction and music. He is an active audio production professional, has taught classes in media production at the Art Institute of Austin, Shoreline College, the Art Institute of Seattle, and has won awards for his creative work from the City of Seattle, Puget Sound Transit, and Jack Straw Productions.

Alex received a BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1995 and an MLA from St. Edward's University in 2005. He is a founding member of the Mimeograph Collective and the Sonicabal, an active member of the Austin New Music Co-op, and is a volunteer/ programmer on Austin's KOOP Radio, hosting Commercial Suicide, central Texas' longest-running experimental radio show, every other week.

Recent projects include curating the sound art exhibition Recreating the Domain, finishing Indian Lake, a new CD release, and performing his own compositions.