Keeril Makan

(b. 1972)

mode 257



mode 257 Keeril MAKAN: Afterglow – Mercury Songbirds, Husk, Afterglow, Becoming Unknown, Mu, After Forgetting – International Contemporary Ensemble,  Adam Sliwinski & Erik Carlson, conductors

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Mercury Songbirds  (2008)  11:59
for alto flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano & percussion
International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE]
Adam Sliwinski, conductor

Husk  (2006)  4:31
for flute, oboe & harp
International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE]

Afterglow  (2007)  13:43
for piano solo
Cory Smythe, piano

Becoming Unknown  (2010)  10:36
for flute/bass flute, clarinet/bass clarinet, trumpet & double bass
International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE]
Erik Carlson, conductor

Mu  (2007)  3:10
for violin solo
Erik Carlson, violin

After Forgetting  (2009)  16:26
for clarinet, piano, percussion, violin & cello
International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE]
Adam Sliwinski, conductor


“I pick up an instrument and poke at it a bit,
hoping it might tell me something useful —
a squawk, a cry, anything.”
— Keeril Makan


Keeril Makan composes without assumed expectations of an instrument’s sound or a performer’s capabilities, but by exploring the possible, by discovering the beautiful in the unexpected and following where that beauty leads. Makan’s relationship to the world of sounds has its connection to the work of Edgard Varèse and John Cage and by a broad American experimental tradition, with touchstones in the work of some of the European modernists.

Afterglow is the outcome of hours spent listening to the harmonic resonance of specific notes and chords, and to the durations of the resonances. The simplicity of the materials beguiles the listener into hearing beyond the immediate gesture to become aware of its “afterglow,” the sympathetic vibrations of the unplayed strings within the piano.

In Mu for prepared violin, Makan experimented with the placement of paper clips in the strings about an inch and two inches in front of the bridge, in the area normally traversed by the bow, and in the score asks the violinist to explore further the different sounds made possible by adjusting the bow relative to the clips.

Liner notes by Robert Kirzinger.


Keeril Makan is a young-ish fellow (b. 1972) from New Jersey and seeing he’s on the faculty of MIT, I must tip my critic’s hat to the eggheads and chrome-domes of that august establishment. Makan’s style is not an easy one to summarize—some of this music is thorny, but it’s not overtly (or self-consciously) disconcerting—a pal o’ mine once described Elliott Carter’s music as “sweetly atonal” and that fits here. There are elements of minimalism (Glass, Reich, etc.) but it’s not really minimalist, and some of it possesses a muted American grandeur and bristly yearning not unlike Carl Ruggles and/or John Adams. Some of this set is eerily cinematic, a la Bernard Herrmann, and some of it lets judicious space/silence do the talking, evoking the finely detailed later works of Morton Feldman. This is music for contemplation but there is mos def a visceral quality to it—the title piece (for solo piano) will entice you into a reverie but “crack” same every now ‘n’ again. The performances here by the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) will have you wondering how the assorted instrumental combinations are making that sound. Afterglow is so absorbing, the 60-minute runtime passes like half that. (6 tracks, 60:37)

— Mark Keresman, Icon, January 2014



Keeril  MAKAN profile
International Contemporary Ensemble [ICE] profile
Erik CARLSON profile
Adam SLIWINSKI profile
Cory SMYTHE profile