New York-based musician and artist Eli Keszler integrates piano wire into his compositions in a way that falls between installation and improvisation. For Cold Pin, motorized beaters controlled by a generative sequence struct 14 piano strings hung across the wall of Boston's Cyclorama in 2011. Keszler then invited Ashley Paul, Greg Kelley, Reuben Son and Benjamin Nelson to play off the work, improvising alongside the randomized clunks, scraps, and bangs emanating from the wall.
His recent L-Carrier at Eyebeam complicated this format by activating the motors in tandem with a changing visual score designed by Keszler. Hosted on a dedicated website commissioned by Turbulence, these images evolved when visitors tripped up "targets" on the site that interfere with the code, modifying the pattern of the motors. On June 7, Keszler again played in a seven piece ensemble in conjunction with the installation, including musicians Ashley Paul, Anthony Coleman, Alex Waterman, C Spencer Yeh, Catherine Lamb, Geoff Mullen, and Reuben Son.
In both compositions accompanying Cold Pin and L-Carrier, the installation serves not as a simple backdrop, but a central element. On their own, the installations continue to have a commanding presence. Unlike the extended resonating tones of Ellen Fullman's Long Stringed Instrument, which meditatively fill a room, Keszler's approach to auditory space reveals his training as a percussionist, where the plucks are akin to hits - busy, feverish and complex. Taken out of an enclosed environment, such as in Collecting Basin, piano wire is not only responsive to the whims of the motor beaters but also the wind and the elements. Here, Keszler hung the wire from a large water tower, transforming an industrial space into an open air instrument.
When asked what led him to piano wire in an email interview, Keszler responded that he was trying "…to figure out ways to extend my playing and pieces without relying on electronics, effects and sound processing. I didn't want to stare at a screen or work inside a box." Given the flexibility of wire, the size of his works can be infinitely scaled up or down, allowing for a great degree of freedom. But ultimately, Keszler said that he was attracted to the raw simplicity of wire's acoustic properties. While visually understated, the pieces are thoroughly active, announcing themselves through a sharp, continuous dissonance.
Eli Keszler's double CD "Catching Net" will be released on July 6 by the Berlin-based label PAN.