John Renbourn, ‘Caroline’s Tune’.

Another piece to which I was some-time-ago introduced by Pandora radio.  As it comes up again today, I realize it needs a bookmark.  Lovely and contemplative, and a great example of The Awesome that was John Renbourn.

There’s a YouTube clip of course, but the sound quality seems noticeably worse than what Pandora plays;  please forgive that and just listen to the playing.

One of the things about Renbourn (and the late Bert Jansch, for that matter) that I remain both fascinated and impressed by, is the overtly “raw” sound of his acoustic “lead” playing.  Sometimes (and there are examples in “Caroline’s Tune”) you can just tell that the “boost” of the solo or lead part is entirely in his hands;  he just plays harder when he wants the notes to stand out.  And here, I’m not just making the standard reference to someone who understands dynamics;  there is a difference between just playing louder, and playing harder, and I hear Renbourn and Jansch both as playing harder for many such passages.  Choosing that*.  These guys were clearly good enough players that this choice must have been a willful one.

As I learn more about audio processing, my developing ear wants to hear those timbres, which sometimes start to sound quacky, plinky, and harsh, as something to mitigate or otherwise smooth out.  These days it would be pretty simple to use a gain booster pedal to achieve that, to bring up the volume and allow a softer playing style;  likewise a saturation boost (quite possibly provided by the same pedal) could help to inject an extra urgency or fullness to the tone without changing the playing style.  But these guys seem to have done that with their hands alone, and somehow it seems too simplistic to say that it would have been better to inject technology into what could have been a purely acoustic performance.

Food for thought, at least for me.  One way or the other, I’m glad Renbourn and Jansch did it that way, because 1) I noticed, and it made me think;  and 2) it sounds plenty awesome to me regardless.

 

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* At least in the studio.  I’d guess that at that time, other options for pulling such things off live were a great deal more limiting than they are now, and with some of the pioneering sounds that Renbourn was trying for (especially with Jansch in Pentangle), it may well have been the only way to get there.

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Allan Holdsworth, ‘Devil Take the Hindmost’.

And so now “jazz” guitar legend Allan Holdsworth has passed.  I got my first exposure to his work via Bill Bruford’s first two solo records, and then the UK collaboration with Bruford, John Wetton, and Eddie Jobson.  Man, what a distinctive style:  I’m not sure there is anyone more distinctive, anywhere–and that even includes Robert Fripp, which for me at least is saying something!

Holdsworth is the guy, after all, that Frank Zappa called “the most interesting guy on guitar on the planet”.

After being blown away (as in:  “Holy shit, who is this?” about ten seconds after hearing him start to play) by Bruford and UK, I of course had to hear what else there was.  The first thing I found was Velvet Darkness, which I thought was fabulous, not realizing that he had always hated it (for very understandable reasons), and at some point I wound up with a couple other, later records, including Atavachron.  What I remember concluding, at the time, was that he was going exclusively in the direction of the SynthAxe, which just didn’t resonate with me musically.  And so he kinda fell off my radar for a while, until I discovered his 1975 and 1976 records with the Tony Williams Lifetime.  (What’s funny is that it was probably that work which drew Bruford to Holdsworth in the first place.)

Anyway, as I go back and listen to his stuff again, now with a little better understanding of what it means to be a player, Holdsworth’s wizardry jumps out at me even more.  The late William Grigg (himself no slouch as a guitarist) used to joke that Holdsworth was so harmonically advanced that it constituted prima facie evidence that he was in fact not human, but rather some form of alien being, sent here to show us what was possible.  (There are times, watching and listening to him play, when I’d not want to be the one to try and argue otherwise!)

The story goes that Holdsworth never wanted to be a guitar player, but rather a sax player (I’ve heard it claimed that when John Coltrane died, Holdsworth cried for three days), and so he developed a guitar style that was specifically intended to phrase and sound like a horn.  Well, I can certainly hear “sheets of sound” in his phrasing, and the blunted-attack, incredibly smooth legato sound he got seems like a marvelously imaginative way of having a horn player’s mind in a guitar player’s body.  Between the sound and the playing style, nobody else sounds even distantly like him.

He was also reputed to be incredibly critical of his own playing, even to the point of apologizing to an audience for it.

Man, that’s hard to believe.

 

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(Direct link to video.)

The ambient signal chain.

A few notes here, about my nascent interest in understanding the proper signal chain for doing the sort of ambient soundscapes that Chords of Orion has introduced to me.  For anyone who either happens across this post or who got sent here by me (upon threat of being made to work in the squirrels’ nut mines):  I would welcome constructive or enlightening comments to advance my understanding of what is a new area, but one of great interest, to me as a player.

Continue reading The ambient signal chain.

Dipping the toe in ambient.

Okay, so based on the ideas I picked up from the first few clips of the Ambient Guitar series at Chords of Orion, I went and tried to see if I could, using the very limited amount of gear I have, create a signal chain that would let me approach the same landscape.

In short:  it works!

Continue reading Dipping the toe in ambient.

Ambient guitar resource.

Bookmarking here what looks to be a major-caliber resource, at least for someone as new to electronics as I am, for approaching the live-looping-delaying universe first called “Frippertronics” and later “Soundscapes”.

So there’s this YouTube channel Chords of Orion, which has this fairly substantial series on the -fu of “ambient guitar”.  Installment #1 is here:

I’ve made it up to about #10 in the series thus far, and will be reviewing more soon enough.  This fella seems pretty well thought out, and the landscape this suggests is starting to poke at my hindbrain a little more insistently.

Continue reading Ambient guitar resource.

Steve Ball’s Airport Exercise.

Long-time Gaucho and general ace Crafty Steve Ball demonstrates his workhorse Airport Exercise, designed to stretch the fingers and otherwise provide a calisthenic challenge within a simple form.  Here, the brilliant addition of the moving bass line is a good reminder that exercises can also be musical, if we listen for it and respond in kind.

The tuning in the video is the Guitar Craft standard tuning, C2-G2-D3-A3-E4-G4, but obviously the core idea could be extended to any tuning with reasonably minor arrangement.

The exercise can be as simple as the core five-note pattern, which systematically stretches the fingers and provides a basic alternate picking challenge (the “1” alternates between an upstroke and downstroke), or as rich as what you see Steve doing here, adding parts, playing with muting, staccato vs. ringing notes, and having the exercise move against ensemble parts like Tony Levin’s added bass.

Bookmarked here for easy reference!