Electronic musician Kevin Kennedy feels his way back through the dark

Kennedy, who records and performs as FBK, will debut a new work informed in part by recent health struggles when he performs at the Fuse Factory on Friday, April 1

Andy Downing
Columbus Alive
FBK photographed in 2019

Last fall, electronic musician Kevin Kennedy, who records and performs under the name FBK, temporarily lost his vision to diabetic neuropathy and a pair of detached retinas, a condition that kept him home from work for two months.

Unable to use his usual recording equipment during this time, since he couldn’t view anything on a computer screen, he turned to a 1992 electronic piano, inherited in October from his partner’s aunt, drawn in by the instrument's more tactile nature, which quite literally allowed him to feel his way through the music. 

“So, I started playing the piano every day,” said Kennedy, who described himself as a "horrible" pianist despite being classically trained. “And one of the things about playing piano, is that a piano, even an electric one, is a mechanical device. And so, there is a tactile feel, where you can feel each note and feel the resonance from each sound.

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Kennedy said the piano produced a tone that was dark “without being minor,” a sound he credited with helping him capture the ominous feeling conjured by the challenges of the last two years, including the pandemic and his unfolding health crisis, which he said was linked to diabetes and high blood pressure and will necessitate a kidney transplant in the near future. As he toyed with the instrument, Kennedy gradually moved from recreating favorite compositions, including Philip Glass’ Solo Piano, to composing his own deeply personal, four-part musical suite, “I Woke Up and I Was Blind,” which he will premiere at Fuse Factory on Friday, April 1, as part of Frequency Friday.

More:The Fuse Factory finds a new home at the Columbus Cultural Arts Center

“The pandemic started for me coming off of a flight from New York City after playing a show, having one of the most productive times of my life in terms of performing. So, going from that to zero was very strange. I kind of ended up in a bit of a funk, and I don’t know if I’ve come out of it,” said Kennedy, who currently spends a few mornings a week seated in a dialysis chair for hours at a time. "And then my health took a nosedive.”

In May, Kennedy’s legs swelled to the point where he was having trouble walking, leading to his hospitalization, and upon release doctors placed him on a three-day-a-week dialysis schedule, pending a kidney replacement. In the months since, Kennedy has adjusted his diet, kept up with dialysis and embraced a refreshed mindset he traced both to his brush with death and the ongoing reverberations of the pandemic.

“I found myself making peace with some things from the past that maybe I hadn’t,” Kennedy said. “One of the things that almost dying teaches you is that you absolutely have to tell people how you feel about them before you go. Though I don’t feel like I’m going anywhere quite yet, I will continue to be honest with people and tell them how I feel.”

Through these months of personal and societal upheaval, Kennedy said his devotion to music never waned — “Music is the only woman that’s never left me,” he said, and laughed. And he still embraces the sense of mystery possible in building these sonic worlds, whether he’s crafting dance-floor anthems solo as FBK or alongside musical comrade James Johnson in the Fallen, or working within the more insular, reflective, exploratory realm of “I Woke Up and I Was Blind.”

"The first time I finished the composition, I thought to myself that it doesn’t really have a resolution,” said Kennedy, who described the piece as being about "feeling your way around in the dark." "And there was a part of me that didn’t care that it didn't. And now there’s a part of me that says it’s not for me to decipher how people interpret the piece. It’s kind of like grief or anything else in your life: No one else gets to decide how you deal with it except you.”