- In the liner notes for A 1000 Keys, Thomas Brinkmann includes a dedication to Conlon Nancarrow, but he really didn't need to. The influence of the pioneering 20th century composer, whose most famous works were performed on automated player piano because they were too complex for humans, is clear throughout the album's 18 tracks. Repetitive piano chords bang away as if on a mechanized assembly line, following a process described as "translating the timbre of a grande piano into binary codes, thus rebuilding its corpus with 0 and 1s."
The result might be the harshest record in Brinkmann's discography. A 1000 Keys isn't exactly noisy, but there's a relentless brutality to all the pounding piano. Many tracks slam away for lengthy stretches, as if Brinkmann designed them as endurance tests (or even torture techniques). In many of his projects, he's seemed interested in removing human elements from his music. The cold, robotic aura of A 1000 Keys fits that mission, sometimes crossing the line from inhuman to inhumane.
As ruthless as it can be, the music is a fascinating demonstration of what repetition can do when left unattended, as if the creator has exited the room. There are some interesting variations in Brinkmann's attack, but many are so small they feel like illusions conjured by all the numbing monotony. On "SYD" (each track is named after an international airport code), Brinkmann's rolling chords crest with free-jazz abandon. On "KGD," a blindingly fast piano spawns rumbling overtones, like a Steve Reich piece played in a hall of mirrors.
Parts of A 1000 Keys deviate from Brinkmann's dominant mode, leaning more toward the atmospheric. "SFO" and "HEL" are brief electronic sketches that bubble playfully, and "TLV" is like a drone created by an algorithm. But many of his non-piano pieces are aggressive and provoking—particularly the closer "KIX," an incessant series of demolition blasts. The piece is exhausting, but it's a fitting way to close such an unyielding record.