It’s short walk around a Casio keyboard but Leighton Craig knows of more than a few hidden paths and hideouts tucked into his. His first collection on the always-interesting label Room 40, is called 11 Easy Pieces, and it offers a variety of mostly short works that are satisfyingly complete and emotionally diverse.
There is plenty of pleasing simplicity here as well as humor, particularly on the audio cartoon of Self-portrait, Underwater. Another similarly illustrative piece is Vertical Lines Descending, which sounds like streamers of cascading notes overlapping and racing down their scales. The careful balance in the ordering of all these pieces ensures that, no matter the length, each one stands on its own and none overshadows any other, not unlike the qualities of uniformity, lightness and solidity associated with Agnes Martin’s work, a noted inspiration for Craig.
Eno’s influence is ever present here, and in some ways this disc is like a companion piece to his Music For Films in that both offer brief, evocative essays in the form of song. But where Eno strives to use the studio as an instrument, Craig is content to stick with his keyboards, mining them for a myriad of sounds as if he were a medium for their inner lives. Appropriately enough, Threnody, which was recorded during the initial invasion of Iraq, is an extended, rumbling drone that near the halfway point reveals a keening, high-pitched harmony that seems to come unbidden from the keyboard itself. In Memoriam heralds its arrival from the ether with a processed trumpet call, sounding as if it was somehow recorded centuries ago, while retaining the contemporary feel of a numberless transmission from the eerie Conet Project.
On his myspace page, Craig says that, “when the sun goes down, he likes nothing more than to sit at the kitchen table with his four track and record fuzzy keyboard miniatures.” Listening to this, it’s easy to imagine him warming his hands at the pulsing hearts of his beloved Casios while playing them for all they’re worth.