reviews (post-2003)

Review of Sleep room by Creaig Dunton from Brainwashed, 7 July 2024

Alex Keller's newest album's title, as well as many of the individual song names, are direct references to the CIA's notorious mind control MKUltra project, with thematic linkage due to Keller's use of electromagnetic sounds and interference, which was also part of those experiments. While this would almost be indicative of a harsh noise endurance test, Sleep room is quite the opposite. It may be a bit raw at times, but Keller's singular approach has a massively impressive depth and complexity to it, both stimulating curiosity as to what the sounds actually are and aesthetically engaging at the same time.

Keller's employment of electromagnetic transducers takes the form of pieces extracted from other technological sources, such as old modems, network servers, LED lightbulbs, and even a bug zapper and stun gun. Manipulated in real time, rather than just processing existing recordings, means that Keller is able to truly treat these as instruments, rather than just sound sources that act as fodder for effects pedals and plug-ins.

Given the way in which these sounds were generated, it is not surprising that the tell-tale buzz of electronic interference is one unifying factor across these seven compositions. As a matter of fact, "buzz" is a word that I used far too much in my initial notes writing this review. That sound is unavoidable, as it immediately appears on the opener "LIDA device." Situated somewhere between the sound of a motor and an insect, Keller shifts, pans, and filters the sound constantly throughout, making it an extremely kinetic work.

"Blue/Art" is similar in that opening buzz and frequent volume shifts, but in this case he pairs it with a low frequency passage that gives a wet, aquatic bass rumble to the composition. While obviously utilizing a lot of the upper frequency range, Alex also employs the low end frequently, which gives an added depth due to the extreme sonic spectrum. The title piece features him using some filtered clicking interference before bringing in a massive rumble that envelops everything else. This leviathan-like swell comes and goes, giving the piece a disquieting structure.

Keller does, at times, toy with the implementation of rhythmic passages, though they are anything but consistent. "CISV" is all white noise flow at first, but throughout he adds a sputtering, erratic layer that starts and stops, never locking into anything that could truly construe a rhythm, but hints at it at least. "McGill" features a somewhat rhythmic churn throughout, with filtered noise and low rumbles paired with a murky grinding sound.

Alex Keller closes the album with the distinctly different sound of "Allan Memorial." Opening with a sustained, droning passage that sounds a lot like a vacuum cleaner (one of the "instruments" listed in the liner notes), but it is set apart due to his heavier use of reverb and electronics that are more pulsating rather than humming. The sound is comparably more restrained, and while the piece becomes a bit more dense and loop-focused towards the end, it still makes for a relatively calm conclusion.

Amidst the buzzing and static laden electronics used throughout Sleep room, Alex Keller's touch as both a performer and composer melds these generally unpleasant sounds into something that is quite enjoyable. His masterful touch perfectly layers each piece, ensuring that there is much going on without ever feeling overwhelming, and tasteful use of processing and treatment to the sounds maintains a unique, yet consistently unifying feature throughout. What could be interpreted as taking the unimportant (obsolete technology) and unintentional (electromagnetic interference) and sculpting it into something that is clearly deliberate and made with clear intent results in a mesmerizing album from an always fascinating artist.

Review of Sleep room by Frans de Waard from Vital Weekly 1440

I heard work by Alex Keller twice before, once solo (Vital Weekly 1014) and once with Sean O'Neill (Vital Weekly 1107). Long before that, he was a member of The Phonographers Union. In his recent solo work, he works with “multiple generations of transducers”, finding “new ways to interact with the electromagnetic spectrum”. It's about the sound you usually don't hear, picked up and translated by machines. The information lists them as “decommissioned computer server, vintage ECG POTS, modem/network router, non-functioning laptop, UV light insect trap, LED lights, power supplies, urban bus, commuter trains, homemade electromagnetic oscillators, stun gun, homemade Jacob's ladder, and vintage vacuum cleaner.” Of course, a vintage vacuum cleaner sounds interesting; mine, I can always hear! Keller takes these sources into the studio and works with them in real time, except in the title track. I assume there is an element of trial and error in how he works, and what we hear is not 47 minutes of work carried out. I envisage finding the right connections (pun intended) within the possibilities at hand before capturing any of these to tape. The music is a noise album and a musique concrète one, collaging various elements into one thing. There are seven pieces, all quite loud but never in the realm of harsh noise. Keller has no interest in straightforward noise walls but rather a bumpy ride of not staying too long in the same place. I wonder about the performance aspect of this if there is any? Does Keller play these machines on stage? I'd be curious to see him in action. His music connects to that of Voice Crack/Möslang & Guhl, Zbigniew Karkowski and, more recently, people like Joe Colley and Francisco Meirino, all about cracked everyday electronics and the near-end of machine life, the death rattle of electrical apparatus. I also heard influences of Arcane Device, perhaps strangely enough. I found this a most enjoyable noise album, as it is noisy but listenable; it has a concept, and yet one could choose to hear without overthinking about the concept and enjoy the sheer noisiness of the music. Keller's dynamics reach for the ultimate depth of the bass and some piercingly high-frequencies. My noise highlight of the week!

Review of Sleep room by Richard Allen from A Closer Listen, 29 June 2024

Sleep room is an album for anyone who has ever fallen in love with the noise of electronic equipment and appliances. As someone who misses the sound of dial-up (which made the wait bearable) and enjoys mowing lawns for the sound of the lawnmower, I'm pretty much the target audience. How large is this target audience? Let's add those who are curious about the electronic sounds normally hidden from human experience, yet audible to other species, and fans of feedback, drone and abrasion.

Don't be misled by the title, which suggests a somnambulant experience. The title refers to C.I.A. experiments that subjected mentally ill patients to electromagnetic signals. Keller's sources “include decommissioned computer server, vintage ECG POTS, modem/network router, non-functioning laptop, UV light insect trap, LED lights, power supplies, urban bus, commuter trains, homemade electromagnetic oscillators, stun gun, homemade Jacob's ladder, and vintage vacuum cleaner.” To some ears, the older equipment may prompt a rush of nostalgia, although the specific combination is unprecedented. While listening, one may either attempt to identify the sounds, or simply enjoy their interaction.

The early notes (should one call them notes?) of “LIDA device” buzz and hum, like a flickering, beckoning light. Then the thickness dissipates to reveal the sound of internal circuits. In a quiet patch, only a tendril of hiss is audible. This is the purest form of industrial music imaginable: not the robots or construction equipment, but the wires and the sparks. The opening of “CISV” blurs the line between organic and inorganic, proving that white noise can sound like the crashing of waves. Soon avid pulses and beeps begin to break through, a reminder that communications systems have their own electronic language. The Alaskan congressman who once infamously referred to the internet as “a series of tubes” wasn't completely wrong. Keller is careful to vary volumes and tones, but parts of this piece, if extended, might well be conducive to sleep.

When “McGill” comes to a complete stop, one wonders, “does it really?” The fascination of Keller's compositions is the lingering question about decibal range. One wonders, for example, if younger listeners will be able to hear more of the album than others, or if moths might fly into the speakers if the album is played outside. Everything here is “real” in some way, although the vacuum cleaner and transportation noises are the most obvious. Thanks to specially self-constructed gloves, Keller can play selected sounds like a theremin, producing waves and tide pools. It doesn't take long to acclimate; by the center of the album, when the title track arrives, one imagines being in the sleep room and finding peace rather than agitation. A late whistle even sounds like that of a tea kettle.

Sleep room may also be considered an odd offshoot of field recording, which often preserves the sounds of endangered species and biophanies. The next generation may only know the hums of vintage vacuum cleaners and modems from historical documents. In a less foreboding fashion, Keller invites listeners to celebrate the sounds of obsolete equipment alongside their current counterparts: a conversation among the inanimate, in which the recording equipment is just another voice.

Review of Sleep room from Lost in a sea of sound, 22 June 2024

Alex Keller returns to Lost in a Sea of Sound after seven years! With a few releases over the interim on other labels, this is also the return of Alex Keller to Austin's Elevator Bath. The last release was with Sean O'Neill, a mind altering heavy on vinyl with a select amount of copies still remaining. The newest edition, a few weeks away from the set release date, is on compact disc. After listening to Sleep Room many many times, I am still at a loss for the most connecting words to describe this composition. Would it be ok to just say "wow" and leave it at that? Nah, another paragraph of attempted portraiture is definitely in order.

From the opening ten seconds of LIDA device, the stage and tone are set for the barrage of anfractuous sounds crafted by Alex Keller. A rupture of thought begins and is continually fueled Keller's creative conscious and honed skills. We have fallen into an aural world that measures sound in Kelvin and by molecular anatomy. The third selection McGill completely emphasizes this. A prolonged and substantial bombardment of sound wave plasma contorting the auditory nerves. The mind turning the corner of being impervious to sponge like absorption. Alex Keller prepping listeners for the title track Sleep Room, a long escaping hiss from hidden machinery and antipodal devices. The following track Blue-Art elicits a revitalizing pulse. Deep, massive low rumble from an energy finding new venues for audible discovery. Like machinery slowly being staged or pulled into place for the next phase of the Sleep Room. The following selection, Hardell Group, begins the reprogramming sequence. A lull for the mind building near the end with weighty dollops of energy. The final and longest selection, Allan Memorial, holds moments of Alex Keller's idea of tranquility and oppositely, the most resounding aural creativity to well up on the entire composition. A true semblance of dreams gone awry and a world of most vague familiarity.

As mentioned, soon to be released on Elevator Bath in a compact disc edition of two hundred. Sounds contained within a matte finish, full-color, six-panel digipak. And welcomed again, the use of spot glass printing by Elevator Bath. Vivid artwork and photography by Alex Keller. Copies are in the pre-order stage.

Review of Phonography Austin Volume 01 by Ed Pinsent of The Sound Projector, 12 November 2017

Alex Keller, sound artist from Texas, did the excellent Black Out record which we reviewed here. As a follow-up he sent us a copy of Phonography Austin Volume 01, a compilation featuring eight instances of field recordings by artists local to this area, including himself. In fact these practitioners call themselves the Phonography Austin Group, and their watchword is “authenticity in communication”. Besides Keller, the other name that is familiar to us is Josh Ronsen, who has in the past sent us some instances of his work as Brekekekexkoaxkoax, which is a fluid project sometimes involving other players and shading into group improvisation work.

If these eight do indeed have shared aims, it's to do with keeping things as ordinary as possible – they don't want to present “exotic” sounds that might be outside of our “customary existence” as they would call it, and instead find aesthetic pleasure and meaning in daily life. They all do this successfully, though perhaps no better instance of the plan can be found than Laura Brackney's ‘Greywalk', which is a simple sequence of urban sounds, traffic, pedestrians and such, captured as she walks from her job to a music rehearsal. Her footsteps are also part of the piece, and in its understated way this piece tells a compacted story in just seven minutes.

As part of the “authenticity” thing, it's evident that no post-processing is allowed either, so there's none of that filtering or studio trickery that some composers like to use to transform their source materials.Kevin Sample's ‘Gutter Rain' piece feels slightly distorted and at times close to a form of electronic music, but I'm prepared to believe it's completely untreated; it depends what the rain was falling on (e.g. plastic roof?) and where he placed his microphone. Another piece with a watery theme is T Putnam Hill's snapshot of ‘Cherry Cover, Catalina Island', which limns an episode from the point of view of a rowboat (or so it seems to me); it really captures the sense of the instability of the ocean, now soothing, now restless.

So much for weather and the elements. Nature and wildlife are always popular with phonographers, and Keller's ‘Green Treefrog Chorus' probably needs no description. As the “chorus” implies, it is very close to a piece of music with its repetitions and rhythms; but he's also captured something of the atmosphere of this (presumably humid) evening in Florida. Josh Ronsen presents ‘Thousands Of Bees In Box', which stands out on this comp for possessing the most energy and movement on an otherwise rather tranquil and static set; his textures here positively tickle the ears with their intricacy and complexity.

There's also Sean O'Neill's close-up picture of a train passing by, one which fails to excite as much as it could; somehow his microphone missed the weight and power of that locomotive, and the finished piece feels sketchy and unfinished. Junior Williams certainly wins the prize for shortest (less than 60 seconds) piece on the CD, and perhaps the most startling; a fragment from an Orthodox church service in Crete, where he presents a moment of real drama and spiritual conviction, followed by another moment suggestive of family togetherness. A powerful miniature, this one feels very honest. Sadly that's more than I can say for Vanessa Gelbin's ‘The Audience', which is a recording of applause in a theatre. It feels like a cliché, a conceptual one-note joke that's been somewhat overdone many times before. Even so, it's clear the Phonography Austin Group remain true to their guiding aesthetic. From 25th April 2017.

Review of Kruos by Ed Pinsent of The Sound Projector, 13 February 2018

Alex Keller is the Texan sound artist who started quite a riot here at TSP mansions in 2016 with his Black Out solo record, for me a significant benchmark showing us just what you can do with sub-bass tones resonating in an enclosed space. Bones were rattled in direct violation of all we hold dear. It projected a degree of intensity which is hard to come by. Getting much the same delicious vibe from today's slab of transparent vinyl, the LP Kruos (ELEVATOR BATH eeaoa46) which Keller realised as a duo piece with Sean O'Neill. O'Neill incidentally had a piece on the Phonography Austin Volume 1 comp which Keller sent us in 2017.

On one level Kruos fits nicely into the Elevator Bath mode – it's fair they say they love a good droner at this label, and you don't get much dronier than this item. On another level it's doing what so many sound artists are doing these days, combining field recordings with electronic music in some way (in this case magnetic oscillators and old telephony equipment), such that this LP would fit right at home with any given Jim Haynes experiment released in the last year or so. There's a few things that make Kruos pretty special though. To begin with there's a simple structure to the album – side one is “indoors”, side two is “outdoors”, and there's a plan to move the listener bodily from one place to another. We start off with facing very enclosed claustrophobic humming reverberators in a space where you can almost see the brick wall of a basement, so vivid are the recordings. This reflects the university power plant where some of it was captured (and who among us has not dreamed of harnessing the mysterious hum of a magnetic coil).

Then on the flip we're out in a public park space with birdsong and open-air sound captures. In both cases the addition of electronic drones serves to create some truly mesmerising moments, yet the spell is constantly at risk of being broken by interruptions from the real world. Me, I would have been happy staying in the company of the power plant for the whole 35 mins (the LP opens with a chest-crushing sub-bass tone as striking as any moment on Black Out), but I dig the conceptual narrative thing that's a big part of this team-up. There's also some wordplay involved in the Kruos name, something to do with this Greek word being the root of the word “crystal” and a belief, apparently not unknown in the ancient world, that crystals were formed by extreme cold. The idea of “freezing” time evidently appealed to Keller and O'Neill, but they've relinquished the idea of controlling time and space through over-manipulated field recordings in favour of this much more direct approach of theirs.

Which brings me to another strong point of this Kruos, that is its very natural and organic feel which I count as a boon. Some phonographers are keen on adding a slightly mystical patina to their work, for instance through editing, juxtaposition, or transforming sound; in so doing they're perhaps editorialising about the world, wanting these recordings of the rain or the ocean to somehow mean more than they do. It could be a European trend; López could stand accused of doing it, for one. By contrast, Kruos is more convincing as a level-headed long hard look at reality, largely unvarnished save for these electronic interventions. Fine piece of work. From 16th June 2017.

Review of LCLX by Creaig Dunton of Brainwashed, 28 January 2018

LCLX is a rather fast follow-up to this Texas duo's other recent work, Kruos, but by no means does it seem rushed or hurried. Alex Keller and Sean O'Neill again have produced a work that is both familiar and alien, through careful use of field recordings and understated processing to capture the world around them, mixing the mundane with the uncommon to create environments that sound much more unique then they likely were in the first place.

The lengthy title piece that opens LCLX is actually a reworking of material Keller and O'Neill utilized for their first performance together in 2015. The nearly 16 minute work is based solely on recordings captured at the Charles Alan Wright Intramural field in Austin, Texas, with little or no discernible processing or treatment to the sound. A heavy droning bass and complementary buzzing noise are immediately apparent from the start, apparently capturing the field's bright lighting that is as sonically distracting as it apparently also is visually.

Alongside this somewhat abrasive sound is the recordings I would expect in this sort of location recording: passing vehicles, the occasionally disruptive motorcycle revving by, or car honking to add to the feeling of audio pollution. The same recordings also capture more pleasant moments, such as the chirping of birds and other wildlife. Somewhere in the middle of natural beauty and the sonic ugliness of industry lies the occasional snippet of conversation by passersby.

The remaining five pieces that make up this album come from less clear pedigrees, but all revolve around field recordings captured in urban and rural areas, and all manner in-between. Some of these are perversely enjoyable: I would hate to have to listen to the jackhammering captured on “Ununbium” against my will, but captured on record there is revealed an almost musical quality to it, emphasizing nuances to the sound I would have otherwise ignored.

In a more natural mood, “Ununpentium” is the classic sound of a rainstorm. The pitter-patter of raindrops both near and far from the recording device is a rather peaceful bit of wet, muggy sound. The added rumble of thunder that appears later on adds to that “enjoying nature” feel, but the passing airplane makes for an intentional distraction. The ten minute “Ununquadium” mirrors “LCLX” in its complexity, bringing in a series of sounds that are in this case not overly recognizable, but work well alongside one another. Distant rumbles and near static bursts act as the core, with the occasionally overt bit of bird chirping showing up. Later on a rhythmic clattering appears that could be studio treated with reverb and echo, or perhaps completely natural in their source. This ends up being mixed with a series of other unspecified mechanical sounds, resulting in a piece that lies in somewhere between the purity of nature and the sonic pollution of mankind.

Special note should be made of the CDs unconventional packaging. Folded within a piece of heavy paper and even heavier stamped fabric, it has that tactile, handmade quality to it that was so prevalent in the 1990s noise scene (such the G.R.O.S.S. label run by the late Akifumi Nakajima/Aube) that too many releases lack these days. Like Kruos, LCLX is another example of the intricacy and nuance possible from just using everyday field recordings. Alex Keller and Sean O'Neill are, at least superficially, just capturing the world around them as it happens, but the difference lies in their recording techniques and the final presentation. It is that use of the familiar and the unfamiliar that makes these works so engaging, and is an exemplary example of the art form.

Review of LCLX by Frans de Waard from Vital Weekly 1107.

While listening to the music on this CDR I tried figuring out what the title meant, and if this was indeed some kind of Roman number, and what it could mean. Fifty, one hundred, fifty, ten, but somehow I couldn't find an answer. Both of these musicians live in Texas, and earlier this year they had a LP on Elevator Bath (see Vital Weekly 1084), which I though was great record; a fine combination of field recordings and electric and electronic devices. Here they have the fifteen-minute title piece, as well as five more pieces. On LCLX they rework recordings they made together in 2015 for their first performance, using ‘many ambient hums of the giant lights known to blind the neighbourhood (of Charles Alan Wright Intramural Field in Austin, Texas), as well as interactions with neighbours and the space”, using acoustic and electromagnetic microphone techniques. In the other pieces they also use field recordings, urban and pastoral, which refer ‘to states of stasis and change in a rapidly changing urban environment”.

The title piece is a very low humming affair of deep bass tones, and some far away conversation between people (the composers? other people in the area?) and what could be sounds of insects. This is a beautiful as well as radical tonal piece, which extremity is less present on the other pieces. Here it all seems to be dealing with a collage of field recordings, which are not always easy to recognize, but somehow seem to be from urban environments, wet streets, cars in the far away distance or torrential rain fall (in Texas? why not?). It is easier to recognize a massive amount of electricity in the title piece, picked up by electromagnetic microphones than the capture the changing urban environment in the five pieces that follow this one. The music is, somehow, dark and has a nocturnal feeling. I am not sure why I think this is the case, but somehow this seems to be so. I might be wrong. The music has a somewhat closed off feeling, like being locked up and you hear it from the inside, which is perhaps given the nature of these recordings. This is quite some wonderful obscure music, a bit vague but nevertheless sounding great. And a fine silkscreened package also, to top off a very fine release.

Review of Black Out by Josh Ronsen of Monk Mink Pink Punk, October 2017

Austin sound artist Alex Keller does not release much material which is a shame. For you. I get private copies of live performances and works in progress. But the eventual public releases are perfectly calibrated for playback, and calibration hints at an aura laboratory work. The one long track on Black Out rumbles through throbbing electronic drones like motors heard a distance, through several thick walls. Mixed by recording its play black through a large room, the reverb heard is actual acoustic reverb which adds to the sense of distance without being marred by digital effect artifacts. The music evolves so slowly, it seems completely static, but upon a second or third listen, the changes that do occur seem jarring, for instance, hearing the beginning again right after hearing the end. How did the music change so much? Beautifully and subtly, that's how.

Review of Kruos by Creaig Dunton of Brainwashed, 1 October 2017

Alex Keller and Sean O'Neill may have been collaborators since 2015, but Kruos is actually their debut release. That relative youth does not translate to lack of experience on the album, however, as the duo's work is a complex, nuanced work of sound art, conjured up from some rather rudimentary sources, largely just field recordings and a telephone test synthesizer. It is a bit of a difficult, unsettling experience at times, but a strong one nonetheless.

The two halves of Kruos complement each other well, with each side representing some drastically different approaches to sound. The first half begins rather simply with a big, looming bassy analog tone that slowly oscillates in pitch. Sputtering at times, it functions well as an underlying foundation for the processed field recordings to be constructed upon. The duo introduces these rather coarsely via recordings of violent, heavy reverberated knocking. There is a rhythmic quality to it, but is anything but conventional. Instead, it functions as a jarring, menacing addition to initially restrained sounds.

Keller and O'Neill are not just working with pure field recordings, of course, so after some of those loud outbursts, a bit of delay scatters the sound nicely, giving an additional sense of depth. Beyond that, some weird creaking textures and shifting of pitches balance out the open space well, bringing a nicely foreboding quality to the composition. The tones get even more varied and pushed to the forefront, building up to a dramatic, yet abrupt ending.

The second half of the record is the more subtle side to Kruos. The low frequency synthesizer hum reappears, but here blended with an ambience somewhere between white noise generator and air conditioning system. From here slow, sparse pulsations appear, representing another misuse of that telephone test equipment the duo utilizes. Sputtering, rumbling electronics appear, giving a bit more tension to the otherwise peaceful surroundings, but still staying more restrained and less confrontational than the first half.

Eventually these indistinct and mostly unidentifiable field recordings and found sounds are presented in a less treated way, consisting of far off birds and insects that again capture the vastness of nature very well. Towards the conclusion, however, the duo decides to get weird again. There is a reappearance of some of the knocking/clattering type sounds that were heard throughout the first part, building to a more disorienting, chaotic arc before coming to another abrupt conclusion.

Alex Keller and Sean O'Neill may not have used a significant amount of instrumentation to construct Kruos, but they achieve a great deal with what they have. It is difficult and challenging at times, and there is not much to grab on to as far as conventional rhythm or melody, but it excels in abstraction. In many cases the result is far removed from the source material, but the environment the two create on here is just as fascinating as any natural one that could be captured.

Review of Kruos by Textura, August 2017

A distillation of the duo's live performances, Kruos is the debut release from sound designer Alex Keller and multi-media artist Sean O'Neill as a duo. Both are currently based in Austin, Texas and bring backgrounds in phonography (Keller) and light-and-sound installation work (O'Neill) to the joint project. They've been operating together since 2015, producing performances and installation pieces using field recordings and magnetic oscillators, among other things. Described by the label as a “bracing study of an invisible landscape,” Kruos presents its two side-long parts on a gorgeous slab of clear vinyl made available in an edition of 250 copies.

Field recordings figure heavily, so much that Kruos started out as an exercise in field recordings manipulations. The title subtly alludes to them in being an ancient Greek word meaning frozen or frost, the idea being that field recordings too once captured are frozen in time. As prominent as they are, they're not the whole story: homemade electromagnetic oscillators and vintage telecom test equipment stitch the various parts together to form gripping audioscapes that evolve at a carefully calibrated pace over the course of their eighteen-minute runs.

“Kruos I” initiates its trek with a low-pitched, reverberating hum that's soon augmented by the clatter of a warehouse-based field recording, the respective elements bleeding together to form unsettling industrial convulsions of an increasingly abstract kind. At the nine-minute mark, the noise level drops, exposing in its wake sounds that suggest an engine's quiet roar and the creak of a boat rubbing against a dock. Intensifying incrementally alongside that agitated rumble is a siren-like drone that lends the piece a ‘musical' dimension that strikingly expands its sound character. Field recordings play perhaps an even bigger part in the second piece, with sounds taken from a university power plant and lake settings combined with the hum of the electromagnetic oscillator to fashion a soundscape as commanding of one's attention as the first. During its opening minutes, a stream of textural haze merges with subterranean pulsations until oscillator percolations of various kinds dominate the sound-field. After having spent much of the time within urban settings, it's refreshing to breathe in the nature symphony produced by insects and birds, even if the sound field grows increasingly dense as the minutes pass.

Review of Kruos by Ryan Masteller from Critical Masses Media, 10 July 2017

From the interior to the exterior, inside then out, Alex Keller and Sean O'Neill wrap passages of field recordings with synthetic accompaniment, manipulating, oscillating, obfuscating. The two sound artists aim to freeze time with these passages, and even though time actually does pass while listening, from minute one to minute thirty-five, the result is a moment and a place (or places) that exist in that moment, specifically trapped on grooved vinyl for repeat experience. For study, for meditation, for nostalgic rediscovery, Kruos entertains the idea that it functions more as an image than as a sonic enquiry, a photograph of sound framed by Keller and O'Neill's accompaniment. They display a deft hand in allowing the field recordings to drive the experience, but their obvious fingerprints on the record guide the mood.

The notion of freezing time extends to the title of the record itself – I'm not just whistling Dixie like some uninformed rube here. I've read the press materials – Kruos is “frozen” or “frost” in ancient Greek, maybe like the “freezing” of time? It's also “the root of the word krustallos, or crystal,” as in, a crystallized moment in time? You get it. It's the perfect idea for the record (which comes on clear vinyl by the way – a physical manifestation of Kruos's crystalline-ness?), as you can almost hear and therefore imagine the mineral formations growing in time-lapse (if that's what you want to picture as you listen – although you're going to miss out on a lot of other good stuff if you do).

And it's that mood sustained within image that gives Kruos its power. “Kruos I” is an exploration of the internal, side A of the record shifting from test recordings to a warehouse, then a medicine cabinet on the Carnival Triumph, and before finally wrapping up with a digital synthesizer. The result is claustrophobic, even as the echoes of the spaces linger. You can envision yourself in these places, or you can let “Kruos I” trap you within your own mind, kickstarting your imagination so that these places become others, and narratives form from within, allowing you to enter into the framed sound photograph, and time there begins a separate track. It's not entirely unlike the scene in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me when Laura Palmer enters the picture of the door given to her by Mrs. Tremond that Laura has hung on her bedroom wall. Creepy!

“Kruos II” moves outside, beginning with a stop at an urban university's power plant before being overtaken by magnetic oscillators. Then we spend some time at not one but two lake scenes, finally “closing … at a point of poised stasis (or ‘Kruos').” Here there is less confinement – it's much easier to breathe in the environment. The pastoral moments especially – filled as they are with the sounds of wildlife, water, a dock (is that thunder in the distance?) – evoke sun-dappled afternoons, color drenching this unwavering landscape, picturesque in its stasis. Closing one's eyes and getting lost in the view conjured behind the eyelids is as easy as it gets.

Kruos comes in an edition of 250 from Elevator Bath, and is a great inspirational touchstone for sound scientists everywhere.

Review of Kruos by lost in a sea of sound, 28 June 2017

The droning loneliness the spirit feels when separated from those we love. Commotion, like rounds of artillery being discharged in the slowly approaching distance. In order to quell the clarity of fear the mind assembles, the place and time become oddly peaceful. As if the experience is bestowed on one participant, one listener. Billions of souls living together hear only fragments and dismiss any relevancy. An audio odyssey entwined with depth and darkness, uniquely appreciated by those generating their own tranquility.

Alex Keller and Sean O'Neill combine consciousnesses, delivering unfamiliar energy in an all consuming harmonious surge. Together, mining the currents of cosmic singularities. The final sounds escaping gravitational slide, as both everything and nothing are compressed into unknown space. Kruos requires your attention! Once this condition is met, your thoughts will be embraced by an undiscovered beauty. In this unilluminated aural space, the listener is granted an understanding of polarity. The end is also the origination. Pressure and darkness at ocean depths creates its own wondrous world. Kruos has achieved this in sonic stature. Gone so far into remoteness and unveiled sounds entirely new. The last bit of the composition reels back the exploration. The cumbersome clanging of the slow recoil. Eventually back to the world we know.

Kruos is released by the excellent label Elevator Bath from Austin Texas. On clear vinyl and in an edition of two hundred and fifty. The artwork in vibrant gray scale on heavy jackets. Posters included while supplies are there. Every detail for this Elevator Bath heavy is meticulously crafted with love for sound. The tones within are reflections of this.

Review of Kruos by Frans de Waard from Vital Weekly 1084.

Already as early as in Vital Weekly 292 I reviewed a CD by Alex Keller, who lived back in Seattle, but working with field recordings. Over the years I reviewed more of his work, and his latest solo work was reviewed in Vital Weekly 1014. Sean O'Neill had a solo release in Vital Weekly 553, and worked with Sarah Hennies and Clay Odom doing ‘electronics and design' on ‘Clots', reviewed in Vital Weekly 1000. In the short CV that Elevator Bath gives for both musicians lists both of them as multi-media artists and sound designers and both are from Texas. Since 2015 they play together and they use field recordings, vintage telephone test equipment and magnetic oscillators ‘among other tools' (which is of course a thing that makes me curious; what are those?) and they play concerts and installations with these. ‘Kruos' is an ancient Greek word meaning ‘frozen' or ‘frost', crystal being created by the cold, and this duo believes that “field recordings exist in a similar kind of crystallized stasis – frozen in time”. The two pieces this results in show us how that works, while not being entirely a complete standstill, certainly on ‘Kruos 1', with its falling of metal objects inside an old factory place with little bits of old machinery still on their last breath. Mostly drone from heavily treated field recordings (‘among other things' perhaps ‘laptops'?) all rolled up to form a heavy mass of dark sound, with those metal plates soloing on top. Don't expect much action, but it works very well. The other side sees them going outside, put up a microphone in the middle of a field and see if there is not much action, but as Cage thought us, ‘there is no such thing as silence', and some remarkable low sound action takes; there might be thunder, rain, insects, birds but just as easily they fool us, and we hear the sound of telephone testing equipment and magnetic oscillators producing some static crackles, although surely towards the end of the piece there is a rowing boat and birds and we move away from the drone action that starts of ‘Kruos II”. These are quite beautiful pieces of music, that cleverly combine field recordings and ancient technology merging together in a great way. Perhaps not as something you haven't heard before, but still a very fine release.

Review of Black Out by Frans de Waard from Vital Weekly 1014..

A very long time I reviewed a CD by The Phonographers Union (Vital Weekly 423) and it listed among its members one Alex Keller. I am not sure if that is the same one as this one (but it shows that I sometimes investigates these things, and not always write: here's someone I never heard off, and it turns out I already reviewed a bunch of things). This Alex Keller is an audio artist, sound designer, curator and teacher, who has interest in architecture, language, abstraction and music. In the piece ‘Black Out' he used the empty theater at Salvage Vanguard Theater in Austin and recorded his analogue synthesizers, humming in low frequencies through this space, picking it up and re-transmitting them as they travel again through this space. Think Alvin Lucier's “I'm Sitting In A Room”, but less about the concept of decay. This piece rumbles through the space and sounds very good. There is not a lot of variation in each section; it quickly arrives at what it is and then stays there for the entire duration of a section, which is usually aboutsix minutes. The low-end frequencies are very suitable for playback at a low volume and still make a strong presence in your own space. Each of the five sections starts with a few breaths, like some exhaling. It ends on the lowest note with everything vibrating and shaking, buried under that heavy weight of low, oscillating humming sounds. This release comes in a great risographic cover, silver on black. With a label name like that you could hardly expect something else. Excellent release.

Review of Black Out by Ed Pinsent from The Sound Projector, 29 December 2015.

A splendid piece of droney process-art from Alex Keller…his Black Out (MIMEOMEME MIMEO 012) was produced using analogue synths, used to create recordings of various low-level tones, layered and overdubbed, which he then played back in an empty theatre in Austin. The idea was to make the walls “rustle, vibrate and wheeze in sympathy”, and ultimately to make the room come alive as a breathing entity of some sort. The underpinning concept is to do with the natural rhythms of breathing.

We have heard a number of records and projects which try to do this sort of thing, i.e. exploiting the natural tone and acoustics of a performance space – one that springs to mind is Venison Whirled, also of Texas as it happens, where Lisa Cameron made her miked-up drums drone until the sound bounced off the walls of the venue. But few have made such a deep impression as this evil droner…Alex Keller is determined to explore a single powerful effect as far as he can take it, and document the journey. He seems delighted with the way he made the light fittings tremble with his playbacks; evidence of the true power of the subsonic taking its toll. It feels like a sinister horror movie, bringing a terrible unwanted presence into the room. Title and all-black cover suggests strongly it should place in total darkness. I don't suppose it would work as well if the theatre was occupied (too many human bodies might muffle the effect, perhaps), so I wonder if he's every tried performing Black Out for an audience. Chances are the venue owner wouldn't ask him back if he did, not after he received a bill for 100 replacement light bulbs next day.

As to the rhythm of breathing, we always invoke the name of the Deep Listening Queen Pauline Oliveros at this point, and although I suppose other musicians influenced by Tai Chi or Buddhism might make similar claims, La Oliveros is the one who has turned it into a compositional philosophy, and lived by it. Keller's Black Out does open with the sound of an intake of breath, a sound which appears twice more I think, punctuating the length of the piece, and reminds us of the conceptual integrity of what he's doing here. In ways which are not explicitly described here, I assume he also mapped the rhythm into the structure of the piece and its playback; certainly it feels organically “just right”, there's a recognisable human dimension to the piece, as opposed to one of those monumental minimalist pieces which passes all reasonable limits of human endurance in the name of art. At less than 30 minutes of playback, we could never accuse Black Out of that.

Keller is an active sound artist, performance artist, installation artist and teacher of media production in Austin and Seattle, and his work contains ideas about “architecture, language, and abstraction”. Very happy to have Black Out as an addition to our collection of “room” records; even the simple cover design is very attractive.

Review of Black Out from Muad'Dib at KJFC

Room-filling low drone tones from Austin knob twister Alex Keller. He recorded this single 20 minute track and then played it at high volume in an empty dark amphitheater in Texas. This is a recording of that performance, we primarily hear the drones but accompanied by subtle rattles and thrums from various equipment in the space. Limited edition EP is long on concept, meditative, stately and grand.

Recreating the Domain: Eerie soundtracks for our ‘second downtown' from The Austin Chronicle by James Renovitch

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.

Review of Three Augusts from Monk Mink Pink Punk

Keller, known for his work in the Seattle collabaration Rebreather with Christopher DeLaurenti, moved to Austin in 2003 and has established himself as an electro-acoustic performer and installation artist in a town sorely lacking in installation art. He has mainly worked solo, but has performed with various ensembles of Rick Reed (now eschewing the Abrasion Ensemble name) and participating in Austin New Music Co-Op events. The three Augusts in the title refer to three pieces performed or recorded in the Augusts of 2004, 2005 and 2006. August 2004 found Keller diffusing the ultra minimal “bonneville” to Bill Thompson and Brent Fariss's Loft concert series. Three repeated elements – low tones, a digital sample of a waverly chord, and a faint, high-pitched crackle – cycle through an unknown pattern, hypnotic and meditative. The denser “Comes Marching” – debuted at the AMODA performance series in 2005 – employs extreme time-strecthing techniques to create layers of ghostly tones. “oleander (foreign)” completes the tryptich with a quiet droney opening that abruptly tranisitions to a grittier, crumbling ending. All three pieces exhibit a restrained approach to sound, almost if the sounds are meant to slowly creep through an architectural space. Or nervous system. Josh Ronsen

Review of John Cage's Songbooks by David Mead from Austin 360

The Austin New Music Co-op's presentation of John Cage's experimental “Song Books” Saturday evening led spectators to wonder: What exactly is a song? And if, in such a context, the idea of a “song” becomes something cosmically all-embracing, is there something for a critic to review?

The short answer is “yes,” particularly if you're going to charge people money to come in and share the room with you. Theoretically, you could present yourself saying, “I am standing here doing nothing, and this is my song.” But do you expect an audience to hang around for that? Happily, none of the presentations got that irritating.

Brandon Young, one of the vocalists and the artistic organizer of the event, placed five vocalists paired with five electronic musicians around a good-sized but ugly and uncomfortable concrete room at the AMLI Downtown apartments. All five teams worked simultaneously. In the most interesting presentations, considerable creativity and artistry were displayed.

Young was entertaining as he seemed to be singing in French, but was rapidly switching between amusing high-and low-pitched character voices and postures. A second young man sang a melody setting Thoreau's famous quotation, “The best government is no government at all,” but also later played a delicate percussion duet with his electronics partner. My favorite pair selected 36 songs, photocopied them, with an enlarged line portrait of Thoreau distributed on the backs of the sheets, and pasted them on the wall. Each of the men rolled a die, and the numbers that came up determined which of the 36 songs on the wall would be turned over and performed. Sadly, there isn't room to describe some of the clever and fascinating “songs” that they devised. Theirs was a John Cage performance well worth seeing.