Friday, December 6, 2013

for the guitar lover who has everything

They say all good things must come to an end: the promised twelve months of Electric Vivaldi blogs are officially up!  But what better opportunity to bust out some local legends who, like Nguyên Lê, have taken in a musical panorama that ranges far beyond our humble Colorado mountain setting!

Ron Bucknam is perhaps the most complete experimental guitarist you’ve never heard of, mining deep-seated veins of creativity for rare gems. Taking the same tired over-the-counter implements that overflow the aisles at Guitar Center - in this case, a pair of Applied Research and Technology effects processors he named Art & Bart - he 's dug up some epic cheats. Join his cult following as they disappear down twisted rabbit holes in the quest for avant-garde profundity... never to be heard from again.               Bliss Tech - Ron Bucknam 

Though young at heart, Neil Haverstick’s three-pronged performing, teaching, and publishing attack has kept him for the hunt for the mantle of Elder Statesman of the American Microtonal Guitar. And for any who might not actually reside in his state of dissonance, he also applies earbending tunings to the blues and world music improvisations.  His life-affirming energy can be glimpsed with the Stickman 19-Tone Power Trio, featuring Thomas Blomster on drums and Mary Stribling - on 19-tone bass:  African Stick - Neil Haverstick
In the spirit of the season, a brand spanking new Centaur Records enchanced compact disc, Electric Vivaldi: Global Solstice, has just appeared on Amazon and iTunes.  It's a culmination of my own musical travels, but also a medley of holiday favorites mashed-up in the  blender of all the influences we’ve been sharing these past twelve months – the perfect holiday gift for the guitar lover who has everything.   There are even some East Indian Carnatic stylings inspired by my trip to Kerala, India with the Chuck Fryberger Films team: Electric Vivaldi: Largo on YouTube .  May the New Year bring us all even more new unsung guitar heroes to sing and their inspired creative torches to pass!

Monday, November 25, 2013

with no borders

Here you are just reading about music while some guys come up with music about what they're reading.  Steve Vai and a bunch of the players here spent alot of time reading sci-fi, in particular. I can relate; in fact, some science fiction I wrote got published by Double Dragon Press this year and when the time came to make a promotional video teaser, it felt pretty natural to include my Winter Remix (Lori's Theme) from Electric Vivaldi, a 2007 Newport Classic release, for some background ambience.  I think the combination of futuristic electronica and antiquated classical guitar helps set the mood for Trigram Cluster Funk - especially because it was also inspired by the age-old Chinese martial art of kung fu.

One of the earliest novels involving kung fu was actually written in the 16th century by the legendary Wu Cheng'en.   Saiyuki  is the Japanese name for his "Journey to the West," and this tome would also spark the imagination of French-Vietnamese guitar visionary Nguyên Lê.
"I chose to use the « Journey to the West » as an image for travels, both real and imaginary, which bring us together to create this music,"  writes Lê.  "Passing from Viêt-Nam to India through Japan, we weave the threads of silk which portray an Asia with no borders. ... The West viewed by the Chinese novel was India, but right now the center is exploding: it becomes plural, Dialogue has began and connections are opening up!"

When it comes a style that can't be imitated and huge ears that take in everything from old to new to "Is that even music?", this guy is pretty unique in the annals of the instrument.  In this clip from the Saiyuki Project, Lê performs no less than ritual exorcism upon an Indian tabla master and a Japanese koto enchantress, before battling the inner demons.


Thursday, October 31, 2013

the meticulous madness

When Boulder Symphony conductor Devin Patrick Hughes asked me to compose something for his orchestra last year, I remembered Al Pacino's immortal mob metaphor from the Godfather: "Just when I thought that I was out they pull me back in."  I'd grown up playing violin, but in its heart of hearts, the orchestra is an institution that's tried its best to remain unchanged for centuries.  I was also trying to figure out  some of my new guitar effects which were so glitchy I couldn't even get most of the notes to work.  But Devin is one of the only guys I know who will goad me to be more creative than I really am and it was only a matter of time before I came up with [glitch].  As it turned out, even more impressive than coming up with this stuff was how the Boulder Symphony Orchestra was brave enough to actually perform it!

Last month, I was stunned to hear back from maestro Mattias IA Ecklundh, and he was able to update me with the latest: "There's more madness on and loads to come, rest assure... on the run to Berlin to mix an album with Jonas Hellborg, moi and the fabulous Ranjit Barot on drums."

Now the Favored Nations record label that currently distributes Ecklundh's recordings is owned by the one and only Steve Vai, a past master who had originally emerged as Frank Zappa's "stunt guitarist" in the 80s.  This seemingly Zen artiste had proceeded to enlist in the band Alcatrazz after Yngwie Malmsteen, with David Lee Roth after Eddie Van Halen, and in Whitesenake after Vivian Campbell.  Each time proceeding to shred the comparisons with  over-the-top displays that simultaneously re-appropriated and perfected the techniques of his illustrious predecessors.

 In 2002, the eternal quest for ever greater platforms led him to a symphonic phase of his own.  In this clip, there are some interview excerpts where he really sums up what it's like when the musical worlds collide - and peppered with glimpses into his performance and the meticulous madness that is his own righteous gift.

Monday, September 30, 2013

the (bathroom) sink of his imagination

It's not easy to invent a new sound world on a guitar, and when you do, people are either pretty impressed or laughter ensues.  No matter what, the easiest way to come up with new sounds is buy new toys.  They did provide a certain comfort as I was finding fewer and fewer collaborators willing to indulge me, and soon the time had to come to strike out with a solo project: DJ DATA DADA.   The digital looper layering wall-o-sound is kind of widespread these days, so instead I decided to program some gurgling organ patches, rhythmic delays, and twiddle with the battery-powered sampler velcroed to the front of my guitar synth. 

One night at the local coffee house, I fired up everything I had and did my best to remember a stream of lyrics that represent either rampant existentialism or the online dating experience.

As you can tell from the tepid applause, tongue-in-cheek retro tech doesn't exactly have a wide audience.  Sometimes it takes the twisted mind of a natural-born musical comedian to to express it like a real virtuoso.

Sweden's Mattias IA Eklundh has taken that avant-comedic torch Frank Zappa pioneered and bottled it in a combustible compound that spurts of his hands like Silly String; his signature sound is tactile, fluid, and can be shaped in way too many ways.  It would still be easy to dismiss him as just another heavy metal wanker, I suppose... or at least until you check out his rendition of Ludwig van Beethoven's Triple Concerto on YouTube.  In Chopstick Boogie, though, he demonstrates that the chops he developed when he was originally a young drum student can be mashed-up, throwing in the (bathroom) sink of his imagination.  Along with pretty much anything else he can get his hands on.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

moment of shock and awe

Untold numbers of guitars (or at least calories) have been burnt by players attempting to expand the possibilities of the instrument.  After xy techno theatre, I still liked my wild electronic sounds, but I wanted a more honest approach to the guitar, bare fingers on strings, letting the tone of the wood ring out on its own.  I ended up traveling to Cordoba, Spain, where I soaked up everything from the Medieval history of the Crusades to the Flamenco performances.  Mostly, I took pictures. 

Upon my return, I set to work on a new project which combined live video mixing of the pictures I'd taken, some Drum 'n' Bass mixes my DJ Doc Livingston had come up with and bassist Matt Deason had fleshed out, spoken word, and the sounds of my fingernails splintering against nylon strings.

When the John McLaughlin/Al Di Meola/ Paco de Lucia Guitar Trio began touring in the 1980s, McLaughlin's angular assault had been renowned for the decade since his days with the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Di Meola's gorgeous pattern flow had established a new benchmark for cleanliness of technique.  But the traditional integrity of Paco de Lucia's Flamenco background - and the fact that without a pick, with just the blurred fingers of his right hand he could compete with the others - placed him in a class by himself.   Though not without the headaches and backaches he suffered while performing, reportedly due to the strain of keeping up with the others' advanced knowledge of jazz improvisation!

"Some people assume that they were learning from me, but I can tell you it was me learning from them. I have never studied music, I am incapable of studying harmony - I don't have the discipline.  Playing with McLaughlin and Di Meola was about learning these things." 

Their 1981 Friday Night in San Francisco sold over a million copies and generated a significant interest in flamenco music, but by the mid-1980s, the Guitar Trio had stopped performing together.  Al said they'd run out of new spectacular fast runs to impress the audiences.  In an interview, he admitted a preference for the quieter side of music, something which Paco also felt, saying he preferred "controlled expression to velocity." 

Such blasphemy, coming from the greatest speed demons of their day, does ring of the truth.  But those unforgettable Guitar Trio performances, ones that resulted in rabid fan bases willing to support them through all the present and future chapters in their creativity, deserve their own moment of shock and awe.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

a parallel future for the electric guitar

It was only a matter of time before what came to be known as electronic music captured the mainstream imagination, and I appreciated how the resultant rave scene was bringing concert goers together like never before.

In 2000, inspired by the demo cassettes from a prodigious teenager named Chad Carrier, I began to sketch out xy techno theatre, a portable extravaganza that combined Chad's production concepts, an interactive audience virtual environment, and live theater courtesy of my brother, Ian, and his wife, Andi.

xy techno theatre

Not only was all this techno multimedia a good excuse to experiment with crazed guitar processing, but there were times when I attempted a similarly multi-dimensional guitar technique that had just been taken to a stratospheric level of development by a one-time New York street musician by the name of Stanley Jordan.  

Like Van Halen, his childhood background as a piano student led him down the path of a two-handed string tapping approach, but his net effect was even more unbelievable: it's like each of his hands has its own independent brain, the sound of two guitarists playing at once.  After he exploded out of the blue and unannounced at the 1984 Kool Jazz Festival, some of the most successful players in the business wondered whether from then on, it would be impossible for any guitarist to ignore the new universe of possibilities he'd exposed; that an unforeseen, parallel future for the electric guitar was laid out before us all.  After a few years, though, it became clear that virtually nobody was going to retool their whole way of thinking about the instrument and follow in his footsteps, after all.  Now Jordan's delicate, spidery solos do not automatically endear him to head-bangers, but in this rendition of the Beatles' Eleanor Rigby, he proves that when tap comes to slap, he can still light 'em up:

Stanley Jordan - Eleanor Rigby

Saturday, June 29, 2013

altar of fire

A lot of lonely woodshedding has to occur to produce a bonafide shredder, but rock and roll is still supposed to be about getting together and having a good time.  Those last years of graduate school, I drafted all my friends, friends of friends, girl friends, people I wanted to be girl friends, all rounded up for what became semi-annual multi-media musical events at the local planetarium, Pink Floyd-style.

Some were seduced by the Blues Brothers reunion ambience for a time, though by all accounts, I was a harsh task master, and few lasted long.  Blinky's Last Ticket, which resulted in an album called QUADRIVIUM, was a collection of originals, each of which was supposed to represent a different amusement park ride.  For our haunted house segment, like so many horror flick soundtracks, there were definitely some classical music stylings...


This might have been a pretty original approach had it not been for the spectre of the most notorious shredmeister of them all, Ynwgie Malmsteen.

His raw speed and articulation had already made such an impression that guitarists were unwittingly absorbing influences he brought back from old dead white guys; here was a rock star who actually thanked Antonio Vivaldi and Johann Sebastian Bach on the back of every record.  But bounding onto the international stage at a time during which it seemed Eddie Van Halen had already canvassed every single possibility of the heavy metal guitar, the young Swede succeeded in contributing one final element that would elude so many of his many imitators: emotional intensity.  And for every blues purist who would dismiss the long-haired Viking's output as merely notes per second, there shall be two who worship at his altar of fire: