There are a number of problems with experimental music: Does one judge the work purely on the intentions of breaking new ground, or hope for some sliver of traditional musicality to shine its way through, giving us an appreciation for the intellectual curiosity as well as the aesthetic pleasures? When done right, these experiments can lead us to new highs as listeners, as with Tim Hecker’s exploration of the human voice on the recent Love Streams. When the experiment is rendered with a cold, clinical vibe, such as on Thomas Brinkmann’s 1000 Keys, we find our sanity and patience stretched close to their logical ends.

Each of the tracks on 1000 Keys consists of different plunks on a grand piano subsequently reduced to binary code. The result is sometimes harsh and percussive – as on the opening “PSA” – and sometimes almost melodic and pleasing – as on “SYD” – but almost always mind-numbingly punishing in its minimalistic qualities. The overall unsettling quality of the music, the way it’s almost completely absent of feeling or escape, becomes its quickest point of annoyance. Even “KGD,” which sounds like a piano being dropped from the top of a tall building, then tumbling, bumping and eventually meeting the inevitable destruction (in a good way), can’t justify its seven-minute running time or its, ahem, plainsong approach.

More than that, it sometimes becomes difficult to distinguish the compositions from each other. If that is the point, it would seem this could have been made much more quickly and with less fidgeting and fussing about the possibilities. Each of the pieces takes its name from the three-letter code assigned to airports, perhaps a casual nod to Brian Eno’s compositions for those places of take offs and landings. It’s nice, but what does it all mean?
Therein lies the problem: There’s probably already been more said here about the recording than one might glean from listening to it. It grates early and often and the hard task of following it from one end to the other becomes enough of a burden that the listener begins to feel a certain angst in the task. The listener is left wondering if repeated listens will result in some kind of musical catharsis or more of the same: an insane trudge toward futility.

Brinkmann has issued challenging, worthwhile works before, including the 2015 LP What You Hear (Is What You Hear) and the downright pop-oriented (mostly in comparison) 2010 EP Walk with Me. Both test the listener yet ultimately arrive at something that at least pleases the senses and gives us something to hope for. Here it’s all hopeless and monochromatic, inescapable but not in the way one hopes for. With the world at times already a prison, who needs to turn to music to get more of the same? Who needs to embrace the dire dirges of an idea that, although admirable, doesn’t have much heft behind it?

1000 Keys no doubt has its audience; this writer, however, is decidedly not one of its members.

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