The play’s the thing

The audial oddities of Blevin Blectum
By RICHARD BECK  |  June 30, 2008

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SOUND MIND: Kelley works with unnerving fluency, as though every sound in the known world were at her disposal.

“I like rhythmic structure,” Bevin Kelley says on the phone from Providence, where she lives. “I lose interest if there’s not anything going on rhythmically in music. I want other people to enjoy it too.” An appeal to audience enjoyment is not the kind of thing you usually hear from obscure electronic musicians.

I’ve just asked her about steady beats. As Blevin Blectum, Kelley has been making experimental music since 1998, when she teamed up with her once and future musical partner Kristin Erickson (who performs as Kevin Blechdom) to form the mighty duo Blectum from Blechdom at Oakland’s Mills College. Whether she’s worked in a duo or on her own, Kelley has generated strange, playful sonic worlds of endless complexity. All of her work, however, is grounded by a steady beat, some looped rhythmic pattern that keeps her crazy train from flying completely off the tracks.

On her new Gular Flutter (AAGOO), Kelly operates, as always, with unnerving fluency, as though every sound in the known world were at her disposal. On “Mine,” synthesized gurgles, processed vocal loops, and bird chirps all weave in and out of one another while shimmering, Terry Riley–inspired arpeggio bleeps fade in and out of nowhere and everywhere. These sounds are not at all like one another, and yet together they make up a complete sound world — albeit one on the verge of collapse. It’s this fluency that allows Kelley’s sophisticated sonic landscapes to avoid academic hair splitting or neurotic knob twiddling. Her music does not sound as if it had taken great pains to find the most accurate or specific word; it simply speaks in full sentences that bewilder and delight at every turn.

Kelley works primarily with a sampler and a drum machine — a kind of glee creeps into her voice when she discusses her equipment, all those acronyms and model numbers. And when it comes to sampling, she’s omnivorous. She cites Jim Copp & Ed Brown’s 1960s records for children — East of Flumdiddle, Gumdrop Follies, that kind of thing — as major influences. “Kind of dark stories for kids. I see a lot of them in what Blectum from Blechdom was and is.” Jack Flanders radio plays, the works of electronic-musician William Orbit, a Zelda video game (sampled on Gular Flutter’s long sigh of a closing track, “Avian Enamel”) — these are all, according to Kelley, “fair game.”

So, does she ever bother to sample “normal” pop songs. “I do,” she replies briskly. “There’s a Men at Work sample.” She doesn’t say it like a joke, but that’s funny. Right? Maybe she’s happy keeping her jokes private. How else could she talk about the “magical” ease of collaborating with Erickson, whose own solo work is characterized by outrageous permutations of vulgarity and irony? How else could she be an integral part of an album called Bitches Without Britches, or a track called “Boob-A-Q”?

No, there’s humor in there somewhere. It’s in her album titles: Talon Slalom, Magic Maple, Gular Flutter. And it’s on her album covers — Talon Slalom has a gleaming, expensively outfitted snow-bunny type who’s shocked to discover that a bird of prey has latched onto her neck.

“It’s all sort of playing around,” she answers when I ask how she composes. Uninhibited by grand schemes or academic fussiness, Kelley’s music is open to surprise, to unconnected sounds, rhythms, and ideas that carom into one another and throw off sparks.

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