Digital Wizardry - Keller Williams Magic Is No Slight Of Hand

report filed 4/02/01, 9:21 am PST - The first time I saw Keller Williams was a few years ago. Caught the one man jamband tour-de-force at a weekend music & camping festival back East. That was well before Keller got into the 'loop and sample' technology that's now such a big part of his current sound. Armed with nothing more than an acoustic ten string, his laid back, dreamy voice, and a creative fire bright enough to shed light on the deepest, darkest mysteries of the ages, Keller blew the crowd away. And believe it or not, he gets better every time I see him.

Surrounded by five tables of flickering white candles, an electric bass to his right, an electric guitar to his left, both mounted on mic. stands in perfect playing position, and a couple hundred people in front of him, the Belly Up was buzzin' when Keller took the stage.

Sporting a freshly scrubbed, clean cut look, the loop guru dazzled the crowd whether he was shredding his acoustic guitar with a blur of can-you-believe-what-this-guy-is-doing?!?, pick and strum techniques, or building layers of 'looped and sampled' grooves one on top of the other to coalesce into a virtual Keller and the Klones big band.

Here's a quote from an interview I did with Keller for a recent article in Relix magazine that describes the 'loop and sample' process: "With the technology being as it is today," says Williams, "Iím able to organically create a band sound using live phrase sampling and live looping. I say 'organic,' because nothing is prerecorded or planned out. Iím working on a delay unit type of thing, where everything thatís being looped around, is something that I just played."

"In laymanís terms hereís how you do it. You set the switches to where they need to go. You hit the button, you play something in time, and then at the right time, you hit the button again, and it Ďloops.í Everything that you just played in that time frame, plays again, over and over and over, until you clear it. Then you hit the same button to layer on top of that. It definitely takes some practice and some time, but it really only works if you have some kind internal metronome. If youíve got rhythm and a sense of timing, you can do this."

Forget about an internal metronome, Keller's got an internal gyroscope. At one point he had so much goin' on, with both hands playing the acoustic guitar strapped around his neck and his feet happily tapping time to the looped grooves swirling frenetically around the room, that he bent over the control board situated to his right, and used his nose to work the knobs and dials, much to the crowd's delight. Face it, Keller is a flat out entertainer. Not just musically, but with his irrepressible vibe. Who else could mix a little juggling into their show, of three bowling pins no less, without missing a beat?

During the course of his action packed, two set performance, Keller treated the crowd to a wide assortment of his audio creations. One of the highlights included a particularly scorching jam of percussion loops that gradually built intensity one cowbell, police whistle, and hand drum at a time, only to climax with the exotic, mango & rum soaked tones of a steel drum, sending the mesmerized, dancing crowd into a sweaty and smiling communal eargasm.... whew!

Careful not to overdo the techno stuff though, there was a very potent dose of acoustic guitar throughout the night as well. The result - great dynamics! Nobody does it quite like Keller. If you haven't seen Keller Williams live, and the opportunity presents itself - DO NOT pass it up! 'Til then, buy the guy's CDs.

Meanwhile back at the word farm... I'm very proud to announce that I've been asked to emcee the upcoming Area 51 Soundtest, in Indian Springs (about an hour or so northwest of Las Vegas), the weekend of 4/20 thru 4/22. Sponsored by the kind folks at the Las Vegas Jamband Society, the Soundtest will feature a bunch of bands that I've had the pleasure of writing articles about over the past few years, including: Wise Monkey Orchestra, Juggling Suns, The Ominous Seapods, Psydecar, Copperpot, Gov't Grown, and Scotty Rhiner's Moanin' Blacksnakes, among others. Should be a blast!

There'll likely be another update to the website before the Area 51 Soundtest, but due to our official involvement in that 'locationally sensitive' event, we've been placed under strict orders to keep all announcements on a hush-hush, 'need to know' basis, and can neither confirm nor deny what will, or won't, be posted, when our adventure in music journalism continues...