Air Tap!, Erik Mongrain.
Low C, Erick Turnbull.
Afraid to Dance, Don Ross.
Aerial Boundaries, Michael Hedges.
Scratch, Antoine Dufour.
Ebon Coast, Andy McKee.
Timeless, Erik Mongrain.
Drifting, Andy McKee.
Thin Air, Don Ross.
TCLD, Stefano Barone.
Thank you very much for those. They are lovely. I’d never heard of my near namesake before. But judging by the film of Drifting, are you sure that it’s not Charlie Stross under a nom de guerre?
“Drifting” is just wonderful. Takes me back, especially with this rainy summer, to the days when my old man would play his 12-string to comfort us when it thundered.
Reminds me of Chapman Stick technique, but less electric. Also impressed with the stage prop on the last one: if you wear headphones in a video you can get away with playing to a backing track because it gives the impression of being part of a recording session.
Very cool. Thanks for posting those.
I especially like Andy McKee’s playing. I thought some of the other stuff got so technical that it wasn’t altogether musical though.
The Don Ross tune is lovely. Have you listened to Jack Rose at all?
Thanks for that great bunch of links!
Just a couple of one of my old faves by way of return..
(2.10 in ..)
and after he completely re-adjusted his technique due to RSI brought on by excesses as in the above:
Um, sorry – had no idea that would embed!
I’m glad people enjoyed the candy. First one’s free; after that, you pay & pay.
Andrew, on McKee & Stross: you never see them together, do you ? Ben: I haven’t heard Jack Rose, but I’ll check him out. My problem is that having listened to this stuff a lot I’ve temporarily lost my ear for simplicity. Pete: no worries, always nice to hear Kotke again. I don’t mind embedding as long as it’s vaguely on-topic. (What I hate is urls that fall out of the column. Use TinyURL, guys! You know it makes sense!)
I can understand people preferring Andy McKee’s calm lyricism. But extreme technicality always opens up new opportunities–what you can say depends on what you can do ? (Discuss.)
>>extreme technicality always opens up new opportunities–what you can say depends on what you can do ?
Generally, I agree with the sentiment, but feel inclined to play devil’s advocate in this instance. Most of these guys aren’t inventing new techniques. Rather, they’re stealing techniques typically associated with other instruments (e.g. the percussive right and left hand stuff comes from slap bass, flipping the guitar upside down and tapping is a lap steel technique, and, like Krishna said, this is all a lot like Chapman Stick playing). Applying these techniques to the acoustic is a lot like hot rodding a VW Beetle.
I guess I’m of the opinion that such extreme technicality is almost always a sign of musical immaturity because it always comes at the sacrifice of melody and harmony. And, no matter what you can do technically, I don’t know how you can say anything in music without melody.
Also, a lot of these techniques need to be employed because they’re playing solo. Percusive hand slapping compensates for the lack of a drummer, detuned low drone notes under a tapped lead compensate for for the lack of a bass player. What these guys do is slightly autistic and what they are able to say reflects that – especially in that they are saying it by themselves. Can any of that stuff be put into the context of a band? I honestly don’t know, but I’d be interested to hear how their playing changes when they’re playing with a full line up. As far as I’m concerned though, nothing special ever happens without a band because only then do you have to react to something unanticipated and unrehearsed.
Anyway, with the exception of Hedges and McKee nothing any of these guys are doing sticks in my head. There’s no music to it. But I found myself humming Drifting hours after I’d heard it for the first time.
Lastly, here’s an example of what I would consider technically superb guitar playing (great right hand work, interesting chord voicings, unusual time signature) being used unselfishly as a sort of launch for the other instruments:
If you took the guitar away from this piece, what the other instruments are saying would be almost meaningless and the song would fall apart…but you hardly notice the guitar once the full band starts playing.
For me the best counter to that argument is an analogy from another discipline. Since the 50s at least, probably for longer, bouldering (& now wall work) has driven what’s possible in terms of “real” climbing. It was one of the Woodward brothers over here in the mid 70s, I think, who said words to the effect of, “The mountains are just training for the boulders”. (Ben will know the exact quote, I bet.) The more intense your practise–the wider your vocabulary of technique, the more stocked your muscle-memory–the more flexible your praxis, because you can simply find more solutions in situ. At the very sharp end of development that means constant redefinition of what’s possible. Think of extreme slapping, for instance, or dynoing. Those enabled climbs that couldn’t be done in a less technical era.
I guess I’m making the appeal to virtuosity. Andy McKee has a track called “Practice is Perfect”, which about sums it up for me. (Also maybe the appeal to cool rather than hot; I liked “modern jazz”.)
I can’t argue with the appeal to selfishness, because I don’t get it. I just want to say, “& your point is ?” Some performers perform solo.
Same for the idea that this is “only” a solution to playing solo–that seems both reductive & circular. I mean, yes, they’re playing on their own, so anything they do is going to be a set of solutions to playing on their own… & classical guitar has done that forever. It’s a live tradition.
I do take the point, generally. & I’m aware that my own position is a bit contrarian, deliberately opposing itself to the idea of “soul”, which I grew to loathe in the late 60s from spending too much time in Ladbroke Grove. I agree too that McKee is probably the musician here (check out Ross & Dufour with their bands though, not to say McKee & Ross duetting). His problem, for me, is that he’s sometimes a shade too lyrical & melodic, & can veer towards the sugary.
Stealing? Doesn’t invention always have an act of transference in the beginning of it? (The origin of my question-invention above is the concept of cross-modal transfer.)
Stealing, transference… Which ever it is, it is the same thing whether you get caught or not.
Stravinsky makes the implied point that it is stealing only if you make it your own, i.e., if there is an actual transfer of ownership (ordinary artists borrow, whereas the great ones steal).
A related surprisingly little known fact is that the whole of Beethoven’s famous first movement of his “Moonlight Sonata” is a shamelessly straightforward pillaging of an episode from Mozart’s “Don Giovanni”. It used to be one of those seemingly utterly original pieces that I could only marvel at because they seemed to have grown out of a void. But it is basically a bit from Don Giovanni slowed down and ingeniously expanded. The original in Don Giovanni is of course interesting and so on and so forth, but it’s not something that makes you wonder how on earth the composer came up with it.
Unrelated… I don’t know how much technique this will be perceived to have, but it has literature in it:
It isn’t very unusual in the realm of classical music, but seems to me to have a kind of and, even, degree of expressiveness (the singing) rarely found in popular music.
Dave: not to disagree *as such* but having spent a lot of time playing music which is either solo or that moves the emphasis away from melody, I find it difficult to get behind the assertions that music is something that occurs when two or more are gathered, or that melody and music are synonymous. The latter probably being a gross exagerration of yr statement.
Having said this: in my old age I appreciate more having someone to share musical space with, if only that their presence on stage draws attention away from me, and I am developing a mawkish delight in lyrical and sugary melody.
As for technique: I’m generally in favour of it. If nothing else it saves us from the art school postures that punk invited thirty years ago that too many rock journalists still consider to be vital.
I think it would be great if this discussion got more wind beneath its wings.
Perhaps the obvious needs to be said before the revelations. So… Both in music and literature, the more you have technique the more you can play with nuances (replace ‘play’ with the word of your choice); also, the wider the possible range of expression (partly related, partly unrelated to nuance).
What? Someone has a preoccupation with technique? I say more technique to cure the preoccupation with technique. Being occupied with technique means you are still learning it. Everything is exaggerated during the process of assimilation. (I learned that when I studied phonetics. See if you can apply it. I just did.) Technique means being able to do what you want, but it also affects what you want to do. It’s like fire, dangerous in the wrong hands, or the right hands.
Technique can be a way of turning something beautiful but ordinary into something beautiful and interesting:
That has three parts playing simultaneously: the bass, the melody, and the figurations between those two. You could replace the figurations with chords, but the effect of the music would be diminished immeasurably.
That was the piece used in the freefall scene in Solaris, wasn’t it? Nice arrangement.
I absolutely agree with this:
>>The more intense your practise–the wider your vocabulary of technique, the more stocked your muscle-memory–the more flexible your praxis, because you can simply find more solutions in situ. At the very sharp end of development that means constant redefinition of what’s possible. Think of extreme slapping, for instance, or dynoing. Those enabled climbs that couldn’t be done in a less technical era.
Likewise, I don’t find much to argue with when it comes to most of the points you’re making. And I’m not doing so to be particularly contrarian myself. It’s just that, despite being floored by some of the links in your original post, there’s also a part of me that just kind of rolls my eyes when I see Don Ross doing “Afraid to Dance” (for some reason while watching that clip I free associate the phrase “spastic gophers”). Maybe, no matter how much I agree with “what you can say depends on what you can do”, it all boils down personal judgments regarding how useful or interesting or worthwhile what you can do is? Worse yet, judgments about why you do what you do. Hopefully that makes sense, I feel like I’m articulating my point poorly. And I’m certainly not unappreciative of the playing ability of any of those guys.
Climbing analogy: For me, bouldering is still a means to an end. I enjoy it well enough in and of itself, but since the weather turned nice enough to climb rope, I haven’t bouldered outside. (Maybe that’s because I can’t climb much harder than V5 currently…) In any case, previously, I have stopped climbing rope in the gym to focus on bouldering for a few weeks, and, when I went back to rope, I was climbing better and harder. I just wasn’t climbing longer or higher, and two of the thing I like most about climbing is the elevation and exposure.
Selfishness: I don’t think I was trying say that virtuosity is always selfish. But I find that it can be tacky if not employed judiciously and tastefully though.
Instead, I think the point I was trying to make is that, unlike soloists (even virtuosos), bands are inherently more than the sum of their parts in a way that really excites me. When I was doing music full time, there was nothing I liked more than being in a rehearsal or on stage and, after pushing out to the edge of my abilities, doing something I didn’t know I could do or something that seemed to come out of nowhere. I almost never got that playing on my own. It was always via band play and needing to react to unanticipated stuff that others were doing. Maybe that boils down to personal preference, maybe it’s some sort of failure on my part.
Interestingly though, more often than not, I found that the ideas that would come to me on their own via interacting with other players were the ones that best served the song.
Obviously, some players are soloists though, and that’s fine. But if I were to make my own climbing analogy, I’d say that most of the guitarists in the links above display characteristics that remind me of climbers who top rope a problem that is too technical for them to lead until they have it wired. Then, once they have the moves automated to an almost mechanical and robot-like extent they lead or solo the climb. In some respects, that’s unarguably badass. But it’s not the same as when Hans Kraus stretched out on the last pitch of High E in 1941 without having any idea if he had the chops to make it to the top. If it’s possible, when I start leading more “real” climbs, I want to try to replicate just a little of this by purposely doing them without any beta. I imaging that’ll be exciting and fun – even if others have done it before (and better) it’ll be new to me. And I know of huge areas in the Adirondacks, waiting for first ascents. I have no idea if I’m up to that, but I like the idea of trying.
I guess the articulate way to some all this up is: I find vituosity for the sake of performance to be very dull. Refining technical skills for the purpose of exploration though, that’s worth a whole lot more to me.
>> I find it difficult to get behind the assertions that music is something that occurs when two or more are gathered, or that melody and music are synonymous. The latter probably being a gross exagerration of yr statement.
It was probably hyperbolic and exaggerated to start. Probably better to say that I find that single-minded focus on technique can create imbalances in ability and focus that often result in sacrifices in melody or listenability. A lot of times it results in unnecessary complexity too (listen to how many notes those guys are playing!) and a lack of subtlety or nuance. Back to picking on Don Ross again: “Afraid to Dance” sounds to me like someone beating up his guitar, but something like, say, Richard Thompson’s playing on the Grizzly Man soundtrack sounds like someone who has touch.
>> As for technique: I’m generally in favour of it.
Me too, me too. Though I seem to be arguing against it. It’s just that I’m most in favor of technique when it’s integrated with humanity and subtlety etc. Irrespective of that though, if you’ve got chops, you’ve got chops. It’s tough to argue otherwise and nobody can say there are shortcuts to technique. With the art school poseurs though…you end up playing “Is that something, or is that nothing?” a lot. And that gets old fast.
Anyway, there’s every possibility that I’m out of my depth judging virtuosos or trying to explain why they do what they do.
After all, others have tried. Tried and failed:
Sorry, but there was just too much Bach going on here. And I didn’t want anyone to get the idea that I take myself or any of what I’m saying too seriously. After all, I did come home on Friday and put my guitar in DADGAD tuning and give it a shot. I notice that Andy McKee sells his sheet music, so I might have to top rope his stuff.
Argh! I didn’t realize it was so well known. Here is something else to illustrate this and that and so on and so forth and what have you:
P.S. Sorry if my Nietzschean tropes and rhetoric have offended someone. Undoubtedly a flaw in my technique.
Dave, a brilliant statement. I can’t argue with it.
Matrixless, for some reason the WordPress filter decided your embed was spam. Apologies, & I’ve fished it out.
>>what you can say depends on what you can do ? (Discuss.)
Returning to this: I tend to find the problem here is that I usually have no idea exactly what it is that I’m trying to say. So the struggle with technical problems is not a means in itself but a distraction from myself through which I discover what I was trying to say.
>>After all, others have tried. Tried and failed:
We just want to hug the mountain that is technique, no?
I don’t know why it embedded the last one. They were all just links. Anyway, apparently there were too many of them for the filters. Sorry!
“We just want to hug the mountain that is technique, no?”
I think I want to blow it up with dynamite and take the pieces to my personal laboratory… to poke at them with various instruments, including lasers. Not so much as concerns music (done that already), but more generally. Alas, my dynamite warehouse is almost empty and it’s not a dynamite season so no one is selling dynamite, at least for a good price, and so I guess … I’m stuck with the hugging business. Come to think of it, the laser doesn’t have battery life left in it either. It’s an off-season here in many ways. A good time for a pathetic visit to the local library. My day would be saved if I found The Caves of Technique there or something else I’ve never seen there but someone must have written and got published at some point while it was off-season here but not somewhere else.
I forgot to mention one reason why musicians can never have enough technique… I can illustrate it by pointing to what happened after the easy editing of recordings became possible (in the 50s?) and recordings in general became widely available to the public. What happened was that classical musicians, especially pianists without any exceptions that come to mind easily, became more careful in their live performances in order to avoid wrong notes, losing spontaneity and musicality. I’m not exactly sure why they chose to do that (it must have been a conscious decision for all of them individually), but from what I’ve heard, classical musicians have a lot of pressure to conform their renderings to audience expectations, and since audiences, conditioned by note-perfect recordings, which were note-perfect because of, often extensive, editing and retakes in the studio, began to expect note-perfect live performances as well, the performers felt compelled to conform to that and began to consciously avoid wrong notes. I don’t know whether it’s true, but I can imagine how this then triggered a self-feeding cycle where the incidental changes in performance, less spontaneity etc, became qualities expected by the audiences, whose expectations again affected the way musicians interpreted the music. I have heard a violinist say how she would like to play like the old masters from the early 20th century but can’t because the audiences would hate it; violin playing, as much as classical piano playing, has changed a lot.
Apart from that, the musicians now have to focus, more than before, on the technical side of their performances duringperformance, and something is lost on the musical side. I don’t know how to explain it, but it is a real thing that can be heard, even in recordings, in which the music for some reason tends to be even more carefully played than in live performances, even now that editing is easy and relatively cheap. There is of course a limited number of takes, the studio time is always expensive, when the recording is completed it won’t be changed but will be like that forever… These thoughts, nagging somewhere in the unconscious of the musicians who record in the studio, probably make studio performance even less conducive to genuine music making than simple pressure to conform, if only because it’s addional weight, added to the already existing desire to please the potential listeners.
This opens up a new subject: whether concert music was ever supposed to be recorded in the first place, because if it was, the implication is that there is one correct way to perform it, but we know from private correspondence of classic composers, from their pupils, from other sources, that the composers themselves never played a piece the same way twice. Unfortunately, for many people, listening to one recording many times means developing intense expectations about how the music should be performed. Music was a living thing, but is now an object? I won’t say ‘product.’
The last word in virtuoso transvestite slap bass:
Hi. It’s odd that, that being a huge fan of your work as I am, the first time reply I ever make to any post on this journal (of which I am also a fan) is not to do with literature at all, yours or otherwise. But there you go.
Anyway, my favourite artist in this style of music (which most likely has been given a name at some point but I’m happy to remain ignorant of it) is Kaki King. Probably because she’s a phenomenal live performer, and because she is ept at packing a lot of the technique of those artists into shorter, punchier pieces. Like so:
Probably also because she isn’t particularly stuck to that style at all, and can also do, amongst other things, layered and looping pieces like this one:
Preston Reed might be worth checking out, too.
She’s brilliant, Chris: many thanks for the recommend.
this style of music (which most likely has been given a name at some point but I’m happy to remain ignorant of it)
Zali: that is transcendent. In fact it is beyond transcendent.
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