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Keith Patchel, 65, musician, avant-garde composer

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Keith Patchel, whose music career spanned from punk guitarist to avant-garde composer, recently died at his building on the Lower East Side. He was 65.

Clayton Patterson, the Lower East Side photographer and documentarian, said Patchel was found on his rooftop last weekend. Patchel lived on the six-story Ludlow St. tenement’s top floor.

“He was sitting in a chair,” he said. “I think he probably went up there to smoke. Someone saw him on the roof during the thunderstorm.”

Patterson said he assumes Patchel was declared dead at the scene.

“He was smoking a lot,” he said. “When I first met him, he was calibrating his cigarettes, four or five a day. I was told, during COVID, that he would sit outside and just smoke cigarette after cigarette after cigarette, sitting on Ludlow St. on a bench. I think it was maybe a heart attack from the cigarettes. … He was clean. He was an A.A. guy, he was open about that.”

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

Keith Patchel doing the music for Clayton Emmart’s Mars show at the Hayden Planetarium. (Photo by Clayton Patterson)

A veteran of Downtown’s rock and punk scene, Patchel was involved in “Field of Fire,” the 1986 second solo album by Richard Lloyd, the former lead guitarist of the seminal band Television. Patchel played guitar on the disc, did some background vocals, assisted with production and also teamed with Lloyd to co-write one of its songs. Patterson said Patchel had been in Sweden at the time and got Lloyd to come over and they cut the album there. Patchel then joined Lloyd on the album tour.

Patchel composed the music for the Emmy-nominated 2010 HBO documentary “Finishing Heaven,” a biopic of singer/actress Ruby Lynn Reyner, featuring Andy Warhol superstars Holly Woodlawn, Ondine and Francesco Scavullo.

Among Patchel’s 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.

Patchel also headed the MARSBAND, whose music, live and recorded, accompanied the Hayden Planetarium’s Mars show by Carter Emmart, the director of astrovisualization at the American Museum of Natural History.

In 2016, Patchel produced his chamber opera “Plain of Jars,” about the U.S. bombing of Laos during the Vietnam War, at the Medicine Show Theater and also in New York University’s Black Box Theater as part of the Impact Festival.

Keith Patchel, far left, at a Mars show performance at the Hayden Planetarium, with Anthony Haden-Guest, second from left, MARSBAND members and Carter Emmart, far right. (Photo by Clayton Patterson)

Patchel was the composer in residence at the MusEdLab, a N.Y.U. music education software development initiative.

The documentarian noted that Patchel was an NY Acker Award winner and also once performed with Bob Holman at the HOWL! Festival in the East Village, doing a slide show as the poet read. Patchel also played guitar before some of the NY Acker Awards events, including once each with the MARSBAND and Gryphon Rue.

A music scholar, Patchel contributed an insightful article to Patterson’s New York Tattoo history book, writing about the avant-garde music of Richard Tyler a.k.a. Rev R. O. Tyler. Comparing Tyler to John Cage, Patchel was the first to profile the late mystic, musician, tattoo artist and artist in this way.

Patchel had a music recording studio on Ludlow St.

For years Patchel had a roommate named Chris, but he was not living there at the time of the composer’s death, according to Patterson.

Patchel was cremated.

“He was a quiet, private person, so not many people got into his world,” Patterson said. “But he knew a tremendous amount about avant-garde music, rock and roll, punk, and he was classically trained at Buffalo and Juilliard.”

He said Patchel also was “a big part” of Jump Into the Light, a virtual-reality arcade and studio on Orchard St., noting, “he did performances there, music there. He was a member of Ludlow House,” he added, referring to Soho House’s private members club on the Lower East Side.

Patchel was also proud of a software system he created called Plinkout, a tool to help young music students learn music through colors and patterns.

This obituary incorporates much information from Clayton Patterson’s April 7, 2020, profile of Keith Patchel in The Village Sun.

9 Comments

  1. Jane Doe Jane Doe August 14, 2021

    Awww sad. Keith was a very kind person whose constant presence helped me on my journey.

  2. robert kasper robert kasper August 15, 2021

    I am not saddened by his passing….I am better off for his having been here….for we all will pass…most not with the same legacy as him….we are not sad…we are grateful for the time you gave us.

  3. Bob Holman Bob Holman August 16, 2021

    Shocked and saddened, oh Keith!

    He and I were working on another collaboration, this one based on poems I’ve written for Van Gogh. Our previous collab, “The Cutouts (Matisse)” wound up being performed at The Anderson Collection at Stanford, HOWL, and the Bowery Poetry Club, with Molissa Fenley choreographing an extraordinary solo to Keith’s music and my reading the poems. Truly genre-busting, one of Keith’s fortes.

    A true artist, a Downtown spirit, sorely missed.
    Love you, buddy.

    Bob

  4. David Phillips David Phillips August 16, 2021

    Keith was a piece of true New York. Countless times he saved my ass. I’ll miss you, buddy.

  5. Mehdi Matin Mehdi Matin August 16, 2021

    Keith was a unique person with a brilliant mind. He had the ability to make bold work, art that broke ground. He surprised me continuously. His passing was no exception.

    Thanks for the good showing, Keith. Your work is honored — may it continue to nourish and find receptivity.

    Your presence will be missed.

  6. Michael Rectenwald Michael Rectenwald August 18, 2021

    Keith was a great guy who helped both me and my son and whom I’d sincerely hoped to see again. Our paths crossed in several ways, including in his involvement with Ginsberg’s poetry but in more important ways than that as well. Godspeed, Keith!

  7. A. J. A. J. August 19, 2021

    Keith’s absence will be felt by so many in the Downtown AA community. He always kept it 100% real and never avoided sharing the lowest moments while telling stories of his time as an active addict (although he was clean and sober for decades). He had done the work to heal himself and his family relationships, always staying authentic in the process of recovery. I will remember his brave, kind and generous spirit. His friendship cut through convention and would often surprise me.

    I had the pleasure of working with him briefly at his home studio (he let me play his beloved Les Paul!), recording some demos, while developing a sound for an eventual recording of my own. Keith was lovely, supportive and visionary to work with. A true original.
    Thanks for being you, Keith.

  8. Stan Baker Stan Baker August 22, 2021

    Missing Keith already. A sweet guy and good friend for over 30 years. What a loss. — With love, Stan Baker

  9. Pedro Arenas Pedro Arenas September 10, 2021

    Keith, my brother from another planet. Quintessential, consequential, bright guiding light. Your indelible kindness will always stand tall. I, and the many souls you touched will carry your charming mark. Talk about being infinite, you certainly carried through. Thank you for being my friend and mentor. CBGB’s, Sine and your SOLAR powers stand as part of my collective memories. Starman, your music lives on. Go on, travel through, keep on shining, forevermore.

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