That textura loves guitarists should come as no surprise to anyone; textura's premiere release, for example, features the work of no less than four different guitarists (orchestramaxfieldparrish, Alexander Turnquist, The Retail Sectors, and Ryan Francesconi), each of whom brings his unique interpretative skills to bear upon Coleridge's Kubla Khan. Having also in recent times received a number of newly-issued recordings by other experimental guitarists, we thought it was high time we devoted extra coverage beyond an album review to these deserving six-string innovators. While their approaches clearly differ, all six share a similar fearless and pioneering spirit in their respective attempts to re-write the ways in which the instrument is used in contemporary electronic-based music-making contexts.
Birth Name: Erik Carlson
Currently Located: Providence, Rhode Island USA
Background: Originally from Youngstown, Ohio, I have been based in Providence, Rhode Island for the last fifteen years, where I work as a musician, media artist, and architect. In 2002 I began using the name AREA C, and this has become my primary vehicle for recordings and performances since then. AREA C marked the beginning of a transition away from more structured compositional techniques and toward my present practice, which relies strongly on elements of unpredictability and perpetual variation, and the real-time transformation of both musical and extra-musical elements.
Personal Style, Philosophy, or Approach: My work has always been concerned with the cyclical and malleable relationships of rhythm, pitch, and timbre. I feel that an essential factor in all of my work is a quality of continual recall, where changeable elements realign and pull things into focus, where your mind clicks and finds itself somewhere generally familiar but, in detail, utterly strange. Improvisation and real-time processing play an important part in my compositions and live performances, which build on explorations of minimal clusters of tone, rhythm, and melody and follow the transformation of pure sound as it passes back and forth between analog and digital mediums, seeing what happens as elements transform and decay. I find that the guitar, besides being the instrument that I am most comfortable with, can make an incredible variety in the sounds, both musical and non-musical.
My work is intimately concerned with the relationships between aural and physical space, an interest grown from fifteen years of parallel work in the fields of music and architecture. Also, having been raised in an economically depressed, post-industrial town in Ohio, the phenomenon of abandonment and forgotten detail has always fascinated me. I am influenced not only by an environment's naturally occurring sonic characteristics, but also by the ways that inserted sounds can alter our perception of a space and our presence in it.
I also draw heavily from other art forms that address issues of human presence in the man-made and natural environment. Notable influences include poetry, photography, and film. Chris Marker's film Sans Soleil has had a profound influence for its non-linear use of image, sound, and voice-over fragments as a means for reflecting on time, place, travel, and memory. Marker's film suggests formal techniques and perspectives that I now apply to my own work. These techniques have been instrumental as I examine sound as an evocative presence which often acts as a subconscious marker in the spaces we occupy.
Gear and Working Methods: I have been using the same Rickenbacker guitar for over twenty years. It's versatile and familiar and I rarely find myself wanting to use anything else. The Rickenbacker's semi-hollow body is very resonant and offers many alternate sound possibilities—tapping, scratching, etc. I frequently use it percussively or to generate microsounds. I occasionally use a stripped-down, modified Fender Telecaster, originally destroyed and re-made by a good friend of mine. In addition I use a Farfisa organ, a small Casio keyboard, a Hammond analog drum machine, and a Roland SP-202 sampler.
Older tube amplifiers are also an important element in my setup, and I use several Ampegs and Fenders. I love the quality of the vibrato effects on the Ampegs in particular, which often have a strange and intense quality to them, and I've found that every amp's vibrato is different. Tube amps are also great for the ancillary buzz and hiss they sometimes generate on their own.
I would say that the two most important effects in my setup are delays and volume pedals. I have quite a collection of delays, and each does something a little different. The volume pedals give me much more control over the types of sounds I can make. I also use some digital and spring reverbs, several tremolo pedals, a Fulltone distortion, and an old four-track recorder, and several cassette Dictaphones.
Though I have a fair amount of equipment, it's been collected slowly over the years and I add to it rarely. More often, I take tools that I already have and try them in new ways. I have consciously stayed away from incorporating a computer in my setup for any guitar processing, though I often find myself trying to replicate or explore sounds that others have made via digital means.
I do use a computer for recording and editing and some additional processing, but almost all of the sounds are essentially a guitar through an amplifier. The computer comes in handy more as a compositional tool, for editing and re-ordering pre-recorded elements.
Most compositions come out of extended improvisations. Some things are played and left “as is,” a first take, while on others I consciously and meticulously edit, re-working them over and over. I feel that both approaches are necessary and lead to different but equally important results.
Influenced By: Ryoji Ikeda; Anthology of American Folk Music; the poetry of William Carlos Williams; films by Chris Marker and Andrei Tarkovsky among others; the photography of William Christenberry, Terry Evans, William Eggleston.
Desert Island albums:
Dream Collaborator: There are many people I'd be honoured to collaborate with, since I really love and
Life-Changing Concert Experience:
Proudest Accomplishment: Living (and working) within my means
Take on Experimental Music in its Current Form: The intermixing of experimental, pop, electronic, rock, improv, noise, etc. of late has been very inspiring. I am constantly finding new music (and old music that is new to me) that is exciting, challenging, and inspirational.
Currently Promoting / Latest release:
Currently Working On: I'm working on a composition based on the geological formation of the moon for the NASA RI Space Grant Consortium, which will be premiered this October. I will also be composing for a new collaborative live performance series at an observatory in Providence, RI this fall, where we will be exploring the building itself as a sonic source.
Currently Located: Istanbul, Turkey
Currently located: Perth, Western Australia
Background: I first remember getting into punk rock through my friend's big brother's skate videos. Then I started going to hardcore punk shows and found the volume and power mesmerising. I tried my hand at playing bass in a band for a few years but eventually came to the realization that I was on completely different wavelengths to the rest of the guys and most of the people in that circle of friends. I started to smoke more and care less about proficiency, rehearsing, and numbers and looked only to feel, relax, and trip...hard. After trying to keep a safe distance from playing live and getting caught up in the evergrowing vortex of jerks, leeches, and working men's pubs, I finally met a handful of good, sensible people doing positive and interesting things in Perth and ever since everything has been growing beautifully as it was supposed to.
Personal style, philosophy, approach: Bruce Lee once said, “When one has reached maturity in the art, one will have a formless form. It is like ice dissolving in water. When one has no form, one can be all forms; when one has no style, he can fit in with any style.” I became fascinated by Lee's philosophy of the application of emotional content and how difficult it is for someone to truly express themselves artistically but also how imperative it is that they try to learn. Being able to lose yourself in your own music is something I have always found difficult to do in front of an audience but when it does happen and you are ‘in the zone,' your mind transcends the performance and floats in a place where you can synchronize your movements exactly with the emotions that your body is trying to express. The ideal is natural unnaturalness or unnatural naturalness.
Gear or working methods: I try not to stick to the same methods or gear for too long or I tend to get burnt out or stuck in a comfort zone that doesn't allow me to be enchanted by the millions of other ways we can make noise, but...in saying that, I have been enjoying playing with loops, fuzz, and samplers. I wouldn't call myself an equiptment geek but I do enjoy being able to get as many different strange and varied sounds through lots of different toys and techniques. As far as guitars go, I'm happy to play on anything. There is no real set way I like to do things since I'm constantly in a open-minded learning experience.
Influenced by: Bruce Lee, Ian Williams, Dylan Carlson, David Attenborough, Arthur Russell, Emil Amos
Favourite guitarist: One of the main reasons I decided to start playing guitar was when I first heard Ian Williams' guitar sound. There have been so many wonderful and unusual guitarists to have crossed my ears over the years but when I first heard the noise his guitar made, I turned into a five-year-old kid at a magic show. Not only his unique distortion or clean sounds but the techniques he displayed that seemed to be strangely both razor sharp and loose as a wet noodle at the same time. Playing on the ‘twang' whilst using all fingers on both hands at the same time to tap away on the fretboard to create these beautifully abstract and pensive combinations of loops, bends, juts, and plenty of other sounds that haunt and mystify me.
Desert island album: Well, if it was a desert island—and not a tropical island—then I'd have to go with Grails' Black Tar Prophecies 1, 2 & 3. The strong songwriting sense mixed with their expansive sound experimentation is perfectly mixed and the druggy, dark, Arabic, occult imagery that is associated with their sound makes it a truly deep listen, not to mention that they are all seasoned players.
Dream collaborator: I would love nothing more than to plug into a wall of Marshall stacks and play with Dylan Carlson as loud as it could go.
Life-changing concert experience: I took a whole ecstasy pill once and went to a music festival. I have never done either of those things since.
Proudest accomplishment: Changing my strings by myself for the first time
Take on experimental in its current form: I find it mystifying that people can still find so many different new ways to express themselves through sound. I think more young people are learning how to soak up music from all walks of life and use it in ways that they can implement it into their own expression without being insincere to themselves or the artists they are so influenced by.
Currently promoting: You and Me Are Young and Brutal out on Meupe
Currently working on: Learning oud, recording as much as possible, having more fun
Birth Name: René E. Margraff
Birth Name: Clayton McEvoy
Currently Located: Riverside, California USA
Background: I started playing music when I was twelve years old. I originally liked punk music like The Misfits and The Dead Kennedys. Around the time I was eighteen or nineteen, I discovered Shoegaze and more ambient-styled music. After becoming associated with more and more diverse and experimental music, I then became heavily interested in drone, then minimalist compositions. My instrument of choice was always the guitar and various effects, mostly reverb and delay. I also play the piano, though I'm not very skilled, and I am playing around with violins and various other string instruments.
Personal Style, Philosophy, or Approach: My favourite music has always been very simplistic and subtle, yet dynamic. I try to bring those attributes to the table. I like the idea of a slow, crushing feeling, or a disappointment as opposed to something outright heart-wrenching or overwhelming from the start of the composition. I try to portray a feeling of apathy and juxtapose different feelings over it. I don't tend to like music that is incredibly obvious and over-the-top, though there are exceptions. I hope that people can get an intended impression, and relate it to their own specific experiences.
Gear and Working Methods: I primarily use Hollowbody guitars and a Melotron. I also use Line6 delays and a couple of Lexicon rack reverbs and VST's. Most of my guitar sounds come out of the Guitar Rig VST, though I have recently switched over to a Mac, and have been using Amplitude and experimenting with some new sounds for the future. I basically loop using an Electro Harmonix 2880 and Ableton Live whilst playing live.
Influenced By: My biggest influences are Slowdive, Stars of the Lid, Flying Saucer Attack, and Erik Satie. To a lesser extent, James Horner, Max Richter, Tape, Clear Horizon, Bedhead, Carissa's Weird. and Rachel's have been very inspirational to me.
Favourite Guitarists: My favourite guitarists have to be the pair of Brian McBride and Adam Wiltzie. I am also a big fan of Robert Fripp, and the guitarists of Beadhead, who I believe are the Kadane brothers.
Desert Island albums:
Dream Collaborator: I would love to collaborate with Brian McBride, Rachel Grimes, or Christopher Bisonette. Chaz Knapp would be an exciting prospect as well.
Life-Changing Concert Experience: I would say that seeing Stars of the Lid live in Los Angeles was a life-changing concert experience in an odd way. I was extremely excited to see them, but their performance was lackluster. After the show, I was able to talk to Brian McBride and offer my opinions on the show. I think he was initially unhappy to hear that I wasn't extremely impressed, but talked with me for a while about it before thanking me for my honesty, as opposed to just lying to his face. I made it clear that he had all my respect, and we exchanged e-mail addresses. After such profound musical efforts, I think certain musicians can be intimidating... but their performance showed me that even the best musicians have flaws, have bad nights, and have things that they aren't particularly good at. It made an inspiration seem more human than angelic, and it made me feel that I could offer something equivelant given time and effort. Even with their flaws, Stars of the Lid are still my favourite... so hopefully people will enjoy what I have to offer, despite my flaws.
Proudest Accomplishment: Releasing a CD with Hidden Shoal. The opportunity to have my music heard by more people is something that I will always cherish. I initially had doubts as to whether or not anyone would think highly of my work, as I think I am one of many musicians that can be extremely self concious at times. When I was offered a spot on their label, it made me feel that I was right where I was supposed to be, and making music was what I was supposed to do.
Take on Experimental Music in its Current Form: Experimental music is a bit of a puzzle to me today. Here in the greater Los Angeles area, experimental music is popping up everywhere. I have to say that a majority of it is just kids messing around and wanting to get up on stage so they can feel like they are doing something worthwhile. Many times its very apparent that little to no effort was put into their experiments. I guess when you enjoy such an obscure artform, you get the feeling sometimes that many people “Just dont get it. ” I often feel that way. There are many many young noise bands in Los Angeles right now, and I don't particularly find much worth in a continuous wall of static... but someone like Tim Hecker can use static as a tool with which to sculpt his sonic landscape, and therein lies the difference for me. It's not the tools, but how you use them. You have to look very very hard to find the true gems in experimental music nowadays, because many people are swayed by the popular opinion that anyone can pick up a looper and some effects pedals and make art... and since art is subjective, we also need to be mindful that it is all art at the end of the day, and criticize very carefully.
I find myself pidgeon-holed often by people who assume that Sleeping Me is an attempt to make shoegaze or post rock music because of the tools that I use... and it leads to criticism that is unfounded. I am attempting to make minimalist compositions with guitars, using similiar textures as the aforementioned genres. People often tell me that the music “doesn't go far enough ” or is “too subtle ” ...when the fact is that all these things are intended, based on the genre that I am trying to represent. Experimental music is infinite based on the number of variables we have today, and we have to have an open mind when listening. It can become very tedious to walk into a show and hear musician after musician banging on a single drum and playing childrens' toys for unique sounds, but you never know who is going to get up on stage next and what they have to offer. It is a wonderful experience when you hear someone, and you “just get it ” ... and I think that is the wonderful thing about experimental music. It is not a competition, it is a connection between people... and the basis for that connection is often intangible and incommunicable. It's not about being louder, faster, more technical, or more popular. It's just about saying what you have to say.
Currently Promoting / Latest release: I just released my album Cradlesongs with Hidden Shoal Recordings on June 26th, which is a collection of compositions that are fairly bittersweet and cover the spectrum from soft and subtle to more plodding and epic.
The UK label Phantom channel is also releasing an EP that I made entitled Lamenter which consists of more soundscapes and experimental loop-based songs than does Cradlesongs. Phantom Channel is releasing Lamenter as a free download, and I am very excited to see how people react to it. I think that both CDs have very different offerings.
Currently Working On: Not working on much right now, other than trying to figure out how to play a violin I just purchased. I have an emotional basis for new work, and I am going to let it mature as slowly as it needs to. Right now I am giving myself ample time to expand upon my current strengths as well as explore new territories.
Birth Name: Ben Chatwin
Currently Located: London, UK
Background: Talvihorros is the studio project of London-based Ben Chatwin who explores the electronic manipulation of acoustic instruments. Primarily a guitarist with a background in live performance, his solo work now involves integrating acoustic, electric, and prepared guitars with organ, piano, banjo, analog synthesizer, and an array of percussion instruments to create a unique voice in modern electronic music.
Personal Style, Philosophy, or Approach: I try to make music that exists and interacts with the real world. I enjoy playing instruments and composing at a guitar or piano; it's important to me that my tracks are composed away from a computer and with real instruments. Saying that, for some reason when I decide to ‘make music' the first thing I often do is sit down in my studio and turn on my computer and stare at it waiting for something to happen (it never does)!
I favour old analog equipment and recording medium such as tape as it clearly sounds so much warmer and more organic compared to the digital counterparts. What really interests me though is introducing a modern digital element to contrast with the organic. What I find to be the most exciting area in modern music—the lines where the organic and electronic blur—is where I choose to work. I like to hear real instruments sounding very electronic and electronic production that sounds as organic as it can—the blurring of the lines between analog and digital, man and machine, etc.
Gear and Working Methods: Guitars: Fender Toronado, Modified Squier Jagmaster, Washburn Acoustic, Banjo; Amps: Peavey Delta Blues, Old 1980s Guyatone Valve Amp; Synths: Roland Juno 6, Yamaha SK10 Organ, Korg DW8000, Yamaha SY-22 Home built PC and tons of effects units.
I make most tracks over a period of time, and slowly write the basic composition (chords and structure) on either guitar or piano/organ/synth. When I feel it's ready the composition is recorded into the computer initially. I then add more instrumentation, usually recorded in a more improvisational manner. I heavily process everything using mostly old digital and analog echo/delay units to create thick textures of sound. I enjoy using overloaded analog equipment which creates a warm distortion, and also taking advantage of tape for this effect and others such as for natural phasing and compression. Radio transmissions/static or field recordings are often employed for a random or more human element and to create mood. Percussion instruments are also used for subtle rhythmical interest. I try to stay away from using the computer to do anything other than basic recording and mixing although on some tracks I will use the computer for heavy processing or manipulation. Analog equipment and real instruments are however always preferred over digital or computer plug-ins.
Influenced By: It's hard to single out composers or musicians that have specifically influenced my musicas I listen to so much different music from around the world and I'm sure it all has some sort of an effect on the music I make, and I'm certain the equipment I use and the space I live and record in has far more of an impact on my overall ‘sound.'
Certain albums have had a profound impact on me over the years: Steve Reich's Music for 18 Musicians, Erik Satie as performed by Reinbert De Leeuw, Mogwai's Come on Die Young, and Swans' Soundtracks for the Blind come to mind but probably the biggest influence is film. In the making of Some Ambulance I watched a lot of Werner Herzog films, most notably Encounters at the End of World and Wild Blue Yonder; some of the imagery in these films has stayed with me for a long time and directly influenced the direction I've taken in certain compositions.
Favourite Guitarists: When I first picked up a guitar as a teenager it was guitarists like Jonny Greenwood, who made the guitar sound more like an electronic synthesizer than a guitar, who inspired me to pick up a guitar. Nowadays this ethos has been taken to the extreme with people like Fennesz, Tim Hecker, and Oren Ambarchi who really do use their guitars to make music that is so far removed from the capabilties of traditional guitars. I'm not really interested in technically proficient guitar playing; using the guitar as a sound source to create beautiful textures is far more exciting to me. Keijo Haino is another interesting guitarist I've been listening to a lot of lately.
Desert Island albums: Hmmm, tough one this; I think these records all stand out as being complete artistic statements, strikingly original yet emotively powerful too:
Dream Collaborator: It would have to be vocalists. I'm going to be working with a singer called Woodpecker Wooliams in the future which I'm excited about. To work with vocalists like Julee Cruise, Alison Shaw of Cranes, or Liz Frazer from Cocteau twins would be a dream!
Life-Changing Concert Experience: I saw Radiohead tour OK Computer when I was fifteen and that was one of those moments that moved me enough to realize that music is what I want to do with my life. The power of a group of talented musicians playing live together is amazing; they seemed to have this powerful energy coming through the music they played that night.
I find solo performance usually lacks the dynamics of a larger ensemble, although last year I saw Joanna Newsom who blew me away; her harp playing, her singing, and her songs are all remarkable— probably the most impressive solo performance I have ever seen. It made me understand Ys so much more seeing her play it live.
I recently saw Philip Jeck perform Sinking of the Titanic with the Gavin Bryars Ensemble, which again was an incredible, dreamy experience. The music really transported me out of the concert hall and to a whole other place entirely. Jeck integrated himself perfectly into the ensemble, almost leading them at times.
Proudest Accomplishment: In my very short career so far it would have to be completing Some Ambulance. I think after many years playing music in various forms I have finally made something that represents me as a musician and composer. I'm looking forward to moving on to the next album and taking that one out on the road with the band I'm in the process of forming.
Take on Experimental Music in its Current Form: Music is in a great place at the moment, although there are no important youth movements like there perhaps used to be; it seems that everything is a big melting pot of styles—genres blur and experimental music and popular music cross over more than ever. Bandslike Deerhunter and Animal Collective flirt between very experimental releases followed by pop masterpieces.
It has never been easier to record great quality music in one's own home on budget equipment and the avenues for self-releasing are looking more and more lucrative. It's almost tiring and frightening to think about how much great music is out there waiting to be found. Only very recently I discovered the world of Natural Snow Buildings and all the related side projects. I was shocked by the sheer quality and quantity of the music these guys are putting out. Likewise Fabio Orsi from Italy is building a really great body of work released mostly in limited editions on various small labels from around the world.
Currently Promoting / Latest release: Some Ambulance on Benbecula
Currently Working On: I'm re-recording “Etude II” from Its Already on Fire into around a ten-minute version for a short film. I'm really looking forward to seeing the end result as it's looking good already. This new version will appear on my next album which is well under way; it will be a collection of Etudes (around ten in total: the first two are on It's Already on Fire, the third and fourth are on Some Ambulance) and will be called Studies for Acoustic Guitar and Electronics. All pieces were written and composed on acoustic guitar before being taken into the digital domain with electronic elements added.