Archive for guitar improvisation

RECORDING | Gentleman Echo – There Shall Be No Circles

Posted in recordings, writings with tags , , , , on October 10, 2017 by dukewisdom

Gentleman Echo – There Shall Be No Circles

First things first: Why the fuck would anyone want to listen to a self-indulgent vanity project featuring 50 minutes of me playing improvised guitar solos? Hell if I know. But if that sort of thing is up your alley, consider this a lucky circumstance.

The blueprint for this album sketched itself out while I was submersed in listening to saxophonist Colin Stetson, whose New History Warfare recordings combine a whitewater stream of adventurous improvisation with the percussive element of contact and other close microphones. His use of circular breathing and the manic attack on his instrument yields a unique texture. My original plan was to execute a set of improvs using 2-hand tapping techniques, each piece restricted to performance on one string of the guitar. The first completed segment (on the B string) was promptly lost in a hard drive failure (back your shit up fast, people). While that was a setback, I was already questioning whether I could actually sustain interest (my own or anyone’s) and keep from repeating myself over the course of a full album. So I switched gears.

What I wound up with is a combination of the original principle and some regulatory arrangement impositions used on previous Gentleman Echo releases. More on that below. These recordings are 96% first takes, but to be clear: I have made edits, added garnish, dabbed on mascara where I felt like it. I also left some blemishes. Here come the track-by-track details:

1. Colonist at the Transom 
[Drone note: B]
“Indeed, they have arrived. You’re being watched and I think you know it.” 

Though my performance concept shifted, I decided to stick with letting the pitch centers be dictated by the strings of a guitar in standard tuning. The pitch center of each track is underpinned by an electronically generated drone employed to perhaps put me in a state of mind the way a tamboura might provide atmosphere for a raga. Atop those I winged it. “Colonist” is a brooding little trip, and though it differs in obvious ways from Eddie Hazel’s Funkadelic freakout, it may be my own personal “Maggot Brain.” (Then again, it may not be.)

2. We Cursed the Day with Distended Tongues 
[Drone note: D]
“There’s no longer any need for self-censorship.” 

This is the most agitated (agitating?) track on the album, and the most in line with the original spirit of the project. I’ve never really been a big tapping guy, but I certainly appreciate those who’ve done something fascinating with the technique—Hackett, Zappa, Vai, Satriani, Buckethead, Rhoads and Van Halen come to mind. Yet when I listen to “Cursed,” I think more of something Billy Sheehan might play. That will work. Another side effect of this not being my normal bag is that I found the actual performance to be a definite physical workout. I wound up winded and sweaty when the take was done, like some junior varsity Colin Stetson. (You really should watch the guy play. It often appears he might pass out or disintegrate.) And speaking of Stetson again, his influence is present not only in the unceasing spew of notes, but also in the fact that you can occasionally hear my physical interaction with the instrument, the mic picking up my fretboard whacking. This track also features the additional intermittent sound element of cicadas recorded from my driveway. Oh, how they drone.

3. Man Amid Oscilloscopes 
[Drone note: E]
“There are many voltage changes to be analyzed, are there not?” 

“Man” combines two guitar tracks, one restricted to the low E and one to the high E (though rote motor moves may account for a note or three on other strings). Each take was created without reference or respect to the other. This idea has been used elsewhere in the Gentleman Echo catalog such as the track “Clandestine Umbrellas” (Research Arc) and the entirety of Islands Shouting Lies: Multiple tracks are pitted against each other to produce a false interaction that never happened in real time. If you’re familiar with the technique, you’ll recognize this fake blind jamming as what Zappa called xenochrony.

Happy (?) accident regarding the high E part: Owing to a sketchy cable or iffy jack or who knows what, I occasionally got some glitchy weirdness, mostly in the attacks of notes. In the back of my mind I knew I’d read that during the making of Bitches Brew, Miles Davis and/or Teo Macero decided to keep the unexpected result of a certain piece of gear misfiring [citation needed]. So, on the spot I decided to just go with it.

4. An Injured Shotgun Firing Ivory 
[Drone note: A]
“Even weapons feel the pain now.” 

Here’s another false duet with myself, but one that contains a kind-of-planned interaction between electric and acoustic guitars. At some point while recording the distorted guitar line I thought, hey, I should leave a couple of spaces for an acoustic. So that’s what I did. Instant interplay! Happy (?) accident related to that overdriven part: While recording, I was working a wah pedal with my right foot (the only true and proper way to do so) and switching a delay pedal on and off with my left. At some point in trying to click the delay off, I hit the switch too many times and sent it into some unknown mode I didn’t didn’t know how to stop. So, there’s that.

5. Murmansk 
[Drone note: G]
“At last, beneath the railway station.” 

Still there? “Murmansk” serves as a bookend to “Colonist,” another clean tone meditation on a single pitch. What scales do you hear?

Did I manage to sustain interest? Not sure. As I get a bit further away and more detached from the actual production of the music, I think this may ultimately serve as good mass of material for self-study. What are my own habits and cliches? What do I think is sorta bitchen and what do I hate? I waver between thinking that a) the music is something to dive fully into, staring at the phrases as they pass like comets on an infinite bed of velvet and b) that it’s something to put on while doing something in another room. I suppose both serve a purpose.

Gear used on this album: ’00s Michael Kelly Valor-Q with direct-mounted, zebra-coil Rockfield SCW humbuckers, 2006 Gibson Les Paul Studio, ’70s Opus XX acoustic, ’70s Fender Pro Reverb, ’00s Fender Hot Rod Deville 4×10

Performed and assembled by Troy Van Horn
Realized at The Prussian Film Commission

Thanks and acknowledgements to: Venus forever, Mas for Yeti macrolending, Gregg for POG passage, Rex Woodwind for design stewardship and dumpster chicken object, Remote Dave for disappearing percussion, Alberto and Dahveed from Giant Deer Bear, Duke Wisdom, Syd Faraday.

Coda: Walter Becker of Steely Dan died the weekend I was finishing this music. Though I wasn’t specifically thinking of him while making these recordings, I suppose his pristine clean tones on the likes “Hey Nineteen” and “Negative Girl” are always in my ear as a benchmark. Molly Hatchet’s Dave Hlubek also passed the same day. I can safely say his playing did not influence my performance–at least within the present project. At any rate, this album is dedicated to the two guitarists.

Want to listen? Download for free (or throw a man a couple bucks) at Bandcamp.
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IMPROV | Quartal voicings et al.

Posted in video with tags , on June 27, 2017 by dukewisdom

The fabulous Rick Beato got me thinking about using quartal voicings (based on 4ths), à la McCoy Tyner on the guitar neck. If you stack diatonic 4ths in G major, for example, you get G C F# B E A going across six strings. Based on A dorian (the second mode of G), you have A D G C F# B across the neck, and so on. Naturally, these sets of notes imply sus4 and +4 chords (among others) throughout the key. Some of this thought pops up in this bit of improv.

Of course it would be preposterous to say that my rambling has a damn thing to do with the great McCoy Tyner, but it’s nice place to start and a good way to bump creativity.