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Composer Keith Patchel: From Ludlow St. basement to the stars

BY CLAYTON PATTERSON | I first met Keith Patchel in the ’90s. He had a recording studio next door to a coke bodega on Ludlow between Stanton and Rivington Sts. With my camera, I did some documentation of the bodega after the cops busted it, and was curious about what was happening in the basement next door. 

I saw the sidewalk vault’s metal doors were open. Keith was coming up out of the hatch. We got into a conversation. He told me he was a musician and composer and had a recording studio in this basement. 

Keith Patchel at work with his MarsBand. (Photo by Clayton Patterson)

It turned out this was Keith’s last day at this studio. Curious, I carefully made my way down the steep wooden steps to take a look around inside the space. During this period, there were a number of recording studios hidden away in Ludlow St. basements.  

Later, I got to know Keith more as an accomplished musician. I documented him a number of times playing with his MarsBand at the American Museum of Natural History’s Hayden Planetarium under the stewardship of Carter Emmart. 

Keith produced his chamber opera “Plain of Jars,” at the Medicine Show Theater, and also in New York University’s Black Box Theater as part of the Impact Festival. I made the poster. 

Keith Patchel and cast at a performance of “Plain of Jars.” (Photo by Clayton Patterson)

For “Plain of Jars,” Keith received the 2017 Acker Award for Composer/Producer of the Year. 

We have collaborated on a number of projects. When I had Jerry Pagane’s art show at my Clayton Gallery and Outlaw Art Museum, Keith did an in-depth interview with Jerry. It will be published in The Village Sun. 

For my New York Tattoo history book, Keith wrote an insightful article on the avant-garde music of Richard Tyler a.k.a. Rev R. O. Tyler, drawing the comparison to John Cage. Keith is the first to do such an article on the late mystic, musician, tattoo artist and artist Rev R. O. Tyler.

Keith Patchel, far left, with Carter Emmart, far right, and MarsBand members, along with writer Anthony Haden-Guest, second from left, at the Hayden Planetarium. (Photo by Clayton Patterson)

The New York Tattoo book is an anthology, and I’m working to finish it. If anyone is interested in tattoo history and wants to help out, contact me. There’s no payment. 

Among Keith’s many other accomplishments, in 2015 he composed the “Pluto Symphony” for the Hayden Planetarium, which was an official selection for the nomination of the Pulitzer Prize for Music that year.

He is also the composer in residence at the MusEdLab, an N.Y.U. music education software development initiative.

Keith Patchel, left, with Cody Simons of 8 Ball Radio when Patchel was on Clayton Patterson’s radio show. Elsa Rensaa is at rear right. (Photo by Clayton Patterson)

In 2014, he composed a score and performed with Barbara Vann, a founding member of The Open Theater, for “Don Juan in Hell,” at the Medicine Show Theatre. 

Keith was the composer for the Emmy-nominated 2010 HBO documentary “Finishing Heaven,” a biopic of Ruby Lynn Reyner, featuring Andy Warhol superstars Holly Woodlawn, Ondine and Francesco Scavullo.

He won the Best Composer award for the film “Crumble” at the 2011 Manhattan Film Festival and the 2010 New York International Film Festival. 

Keith trained at Juilliard and has a master’s degree in composition from CUNY Queens/ Mannes School of Music. He has a bachelor’s of fine arts degree in music from SUNY Buffalo, where he was magna cum laude and participated in seminars with John Cage, Lucas Foss and Morton Feldman.

Keith Patchel, left, playing with Gryphon Rue at the NY ACKER Awards. (Photo by Clayton Patterson)

A veteran of the New York City rock and punk scene, he was involved in the “Field of Fire” album with Richard Lloyd, formerly of Television. Keith played guitar, did some background vocals, assisted with production and also co-wrote a song with Lloyd on the disc.

Among Patchel’s nonmusical claims to fame, in 1985 he found himself the roommate of a recent Columbia graduate — none other than the country’s future president, Barack Obama.

Keith played at the 5th Annual NY ACKER Awards with members from his “Plain of Jars” production, held at Theater 80. 

At the 6th Annual NY ACKERs, held at Theater for the New City, he played with Gryphon Rue, a well-respected avant-garde musician.

Keith is currently giving music lessons on ZOOM.  

For an article on Patchel’s chamber opera “Plain of Jars,” click here.

For a visual rendering set to the “Pluto Symphony: The Unknown Surface, 2nd Movement, Version 2,” done using the Open Space software that Carter Emmart developed for the Hayden Planetarium, click here. 

For a MarsBand performance that Keith Patchel and Carter Emmart did on Zoom on Mon., April 6, click here


  1. Ragz Ragz October 13, 2021

    Rest in peace my dear friend

  2. Pedro Arenas Pedro Arenas April 23, 2020

    This is so, so, so cool. Pluto Symphony & Solar R My truest deep blue picks.

  3. Randy p Randy p April 10, 2020

    Dang that is very impressive my colorful and illustrious brother

  4. One-Sun aka Medi Matin One-Sun aka Medi Matin April 10, 2020

    I have experienced Keith’s work which has great mental depth mixed with the charge of emotion. Thanks for the window Clayton, forever keeping us nourished!

  5. Kevin F Kevin F April 9, 2020

    Yo Keith! Been way too long. Congrats on this great profile. Stay safe and I’ll see you on the other side of all this.

  6. Debbie (Moultrup) Popp 1974 cchs Debbie (Moultrup) Popp 1974 cchs April 9, 2020

    Hi Keith you are amazing and we are all so happy for you!

  7. Gregg Gregg April 8, 2020

    Hi Keith, keep up the good work. Nice overview of the past 20 years or so!

  8. Keith Patchel Keith Patchel April 8, 2020

    Thanks so much for your support. Stay safe everyone !!

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