Interview: Eli Keszler


What makes Boston’s Cyclorama an appropriate venue for the Cold Pin installation? 

The massive size of the space allowed me to make the piece at the scale I imagined it to be.  It’s an incredibly high dome, so the sound is very special in there.  There was so much reverberation that I had to scale back the amount of material to allow the space to speak for itself.

How difficult was it to realise your intentions for the installation? Did the practicality of setting up the installation pose any issues during the process?

There were tons of problems that needed to be worked through, but that’s to be expected when building any mechanical system.  It’s been a strange transition getting used to the pace of this type of work.  I do a lot of visual projects, both drawings and prints in addition to writing scores for performances, so I’ve gotten used to putting in tons of work without any feedback or immediate response.  This is a whole other level of waiting for information from the project because of the amount of time it takes to even make one sound happen.  The mechanical component was tricky to get working perfectly, and then figuring out how to reinforce and tune the strings so that they don’t snap a wall in two.   The distance between an idea and realization gets spelled out clearly for you when working on this type of project.

How did you decide upon factors such as rhythm/duration/sequence of the motor activity, or the width/length/tension of the strings?

For Cold Pin in particular I had to really be aware of the location.  It is such an extraordinary room acoustically that I wanted to make sure to allow enough time and space for the decay.  For me, the decay of strings or reverberation is the most interesting part of it to begin with.  I thought I had factored this in, but when getting in the space I ultimately had to leave even more.  I tried to come up with and use string lengths and gauges that would work with the room, and also would visually be organized how I want. Sonically, my process for coming up with the order is often in my head, imagining what I want it to be, then I’ll write it on paper, translate that into code and get feedback from a micro controller with small LED lights that help give me a sense of the attack patterns.  Then I adjust the code further in the space to tweak it just right.

How have people reacted to the installation? What sorts of emotional responses has it elicited from attendees?

It’s been very positive in my experience.  One thing that I haven’t expected is the amount of people wanting to lie down and talk or hang around the installation as it goes on.  The installation is constantly reordering its own material so it has a never ending or cadencing structure.   In the case of one installation in Shreveport, another installation I did involved strings that were over 200 feet long going over two empty water basins, people were pretty surprised at the way strings that long sound.

Was it always your intention to compose a piece of music alongside the installation? 

Yes, I imagined them together. I’m interested in blurring lines and I like the conflict between the vertical structure of installation and the horizontal nature of music.  I’lI imagine them together and apart, and had to figure out material that would work in both contexts.   The idea of creating a haze around what the ‘object’ of the project is, is what most interests me.  When the make up of the material reaches such a large scale, like in the case of my Collecting Basin installation, with strings as long as 200 feet, an interesting transition occurs where the line between instrument and environment becomes blurred.

Was this piece intended to slot inside the existing atmosphere of the installation, or place the installation within a new atmospheric context? 

The complication that I was after makes me say yes to both of those questions, but one difference in my thinking is that the music is not inside or in addition to the installation. I think of the installation as a frame in which the music sits inside both visually in performance and sonically as well, but the frame has different meaning and an integrity of its own when it has something in it then without it.  The installation is in a sense the vertical architecture of the piece, because of its vertical pull, and the music controls its left to right motion.  It tugs at the music to a stand still.  I’m interested in slicing the architecture of the space with the string. Dividing the room into lines visually as the music and installation divides the space sonically.

What qualities do the additional musicians featured on the record possess that made them appropriate collaborators for the composition version of Cold Pin?

With this particular group I can really use a short hand style of direction, which is really appealing.  I don’t need to explain or write too much down, because they know what I’m after so I can simply do notation at home for my own thinking, and then dictate through language what I’m after.  The level of musicianship is so high with all of them that if I did need to write it down they could all read and do all of that perfectly. They understand the language, which allows it to flow freely.   If I’m working with classical oriented musicians I really have to write things down and explain everything in a certain way – adjust my writing to get the effect I’m after, because we haven’t discussed enough what the design or the idea really is.  It’s all about translating ideas specific for the group your working with so that everyone gets it and can let the material speak for itself.

Do you consider there to be an optimum environment or setup for listening to the Cold Pin composition?

Well, the best environment is in the space with the installation hearing the ensemble composition and then spending sometime in the environment with the installation running on its own. The record is a documentation of two performances with the piece and has a different life on its own, and I’m happy with that.  We are in an interesting time for dealing with the environment around musical objects.  People consume most of their music through the computer, the same means that they consume all other data, and information in their life good and bad. By having a non-static form around a project it breaks this pattern down, and confuses what the object is, giving it more physicality and less all at once, turning it into an idea.

What’s next for yourself and your music? 

I’m working on a few new projects, a larger scale installation that will be up at the Issue Project Room (Brooklyn) in June, which is through the Turbulence Commission.  It’s going to use a network and be integrated with a remote site projecting material to multiple installation sites.  I’m researching some new mechanical devices that I’m planning to use, and I’m writing a large ensemble score that will be performed and recorded as part of the project.  There are going to be some prints and drawings involved in the project as well.  In addition to this I’m looking into venues to do a installation using extremely long strings.  I’ve researched some piano wire that goes as long as 2000 feet and would love to do a mechanical piece off a building or across an outdoor park that uses this type of scale, if I can find a spot to work on it.

What can be expected from your performance at the Pan Festival later this month?

I’m going to be playing a new piece I’ve been working on for drums, bowed crotales and a new mechanical setup.

Eli Keszler’s website –

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