I will have a few concerts in the coming weeks - solo and with the Soft Power Ensemble of Vienna. Here is my pedal line for my improvised solo act next week - as you can see I added a EHX Holy Stain multi-effect to the line, that might surprise some people if you've read some bad reviews this pedal has online. I got if first to add reverb and distortion to my Volca Bass, then it was very convenient to put it in my bag when I go jamming at theNeu New York/Vienna Institute of Improvised Music- it replaces 3 of my basic pedals: fuzz, tremolo and reverb… Then for the same reason I started to use it for rehearsals until I mastered it enough to put it in my pedal line.
People often dislike the harshness of it fuzz and overdrive, that is true that they are not for the fainthearted, but they suit me, also the deep reverb and harsh tremolo. I even get along well with the pitch shifter, that I use either as a detuner or set on max where its bad tracking gives painfully artificial squeaky sounds. I like this a lot! I've even learned lately that you can upgrade the pedal by tweaking its chip and get a chorus and a flanger - and split the control for reverb and effect… There again my lack of knowledge in electronics prevents me from doing it myself, so I will be looking for someone to do it for me here in Vienna (would be even better if it could have a gain control…)
Actually I do need some more electronic help for I ruined my Sovtek Big Muff - I pulled off a wire of the battery connection then tried to replace it with a power jack and now it doesn't work at all… I almost dumped it to buy a EHX one but I like it - and if I have it fixed I will also ask for some mods and changing the input/output jacks positions - I favor efficiency over authenticity…
So for now I went back to use my Boss FZ-5 - and here again the very bad reviews that pedal has feel like pure snobbery: compared to other fuzzes I have it sound very powerful and rich. Maybe it doesn't sound how it's supposed to and all authentic and shit but I don't really care about that.
music of the week: 2 completely different things I enjoyed lately: PJ Harvey live in 1995 with the great John Parish and his terrific guitar sound… And the crazy album of Meshuggah's Fredrik ThordendalSol Niger Within - yes jazz metal means something…
I hope that's not because I'm getting old but I think that music in the 1990s was so fucking good, and there's always more to discover of it!
Swans is not a band I'm familiar with, for some reasons I missed them all these last three decades - maybe because for me post-punk was mostly British, and no wave was more on the side of free-jazz or contemporary music…
Anyway, some (younger) musicians I'm playing with strongly advised me to listen to Swans and to go to their concert last friday, and they were right! It was an intense and inspirational concert, and probably a landmark in my life as a musician and music lover. Their unique combination of minimalism and maximalism, fueled by rock energy but ruled by contemporary music strategies, allows them to break the boundaries of their art as much as the emotional ones of their audience!
Fronted and powered by guitars (ES-335 Lucille for Michael Gira and telecaster for Norman Westberg - not the guitars you'd expect for such a noisy act), Swans' rich sound owes a lot to the lap steel of Christop Hahn that creates beautiful distorted textures and the percussions of Thor Harris (gong, tubular bells, vibraphone, cymbals…) - who also played trombone, clarinet and what seemed to be a homemade silicone string bass similar to an Ashbory bass, but that he also played with a bow, I have to learn more about that (actually it's a pity that the mix at the Arena Wien didn't do justice to Harris' presence and put the guitars really on top of everything). And of course Phil Puleo's powerful drumming is the bedrock of this musical architecture.
Since I didn't know their songs and didn't expect anything, I could really just dive into the music and let myself go in their repetitive patterns and thunder drones, carried by mere sonic bliss. My only reservation was that Swans is very brainy, with a kind of macho self-consciousness that prevents their music to become really emotional and reach the plasmatic creative chaos that would have really blown my mind - I don't know if this Viennese concert was not their best or if it's just what they are…
Music of the week: can't stop listening to David Bowie's new song - Sue (or in a season of crime) - his best work for decades in my opinion, finally at the level of his genius. I often think that for some great musicians, pop music is too restricted and after a few albums they should switch to more ambitious music - and Bowie should definitely move to opera now.
Unfortunately there won't be a full album in that vein, it will be one extra song on a greatest hits album, but one can hope that this song is the starting point of some chef-d'oeuvre to come.
More tracks from the past! Back in 2002 I collaborated with butoh dancer Oguri for the series of performances Chisel In. Label Even Stilte proposed me to record the soundtrack in a studio and released it in 2004. It's the only time I used a computer for live music - combined with electronics, mostly diverted guitar effects - and I didn't like it so much, it's a great tool to do studio music but I'm much happier now with my rudimentary analog machines. Originally there was also a part improvised on an Ashbory bass but I didn't record it.
Last week I was invited to perform with new improvisation band Trio Klaustroratio at Zuckerlfabrik, the atelier of Viennese visual artist Barbara Anna Husar. We played some unusual music - at least for me -, a kind of improvised ambient with slowly developing atonal repetitive patterns, with tints of folk and support of electronics. Put on top of that an enthusiast hostess and a cool and attentive audience and it was a pretty nice evening!
Last year I had to spend a few days at the hospital, and I was high on meds so I was in a writing and composing frenzy - though too confused to achieve anything… This song is the only coherent thing I made and a few weeks ago I finally mixed it and voilà!
Music of the week: one of the musicians who influenced me the most is Marc Ribot. I saw him on stage in the early 1990s - a little bit by chance, all I knew about him was that he was playing for Tom Waits - and he blew my mind: it was like nothing I ever heard before, not rock, not jazz, a bit of everything and a unique sound, something really freeing for someone like me who was still looking for his style (shortly after I would drop composed music and shift to impro).
Most of the music played at that concert was released later on the live album 'Yo! I Killed Your God', that I listened to yesterday again - I have a concert tomorrow and I like to refresh my inspiration by listening to good stuff.
Music of the week: early september, Soft Power Ensemble of Vienna had a 3-day residence in RadioKulturHaus, in the studios of the Austrian national radio, and we improvised for many hours… So the music I hear the most these last days is a rough mix of what we played, because we plan to release a record of this music and there is a lot of work ahead of selecting, editing, mixing, producing, etc… I went through half of it so far, and when I'm fed up I go to YouTube hindu worship channels to listen to endless mantras, such as this one...
My next collaborative project is probably a headless guitar - not my immediate choice but interesting in term of ergonomics.
Alain Bashung - L'Imprudence : I never listen to French pop music, and I even find it irritating when they play some in German or Austrian cafés like it is trendy to do! I can listen to classic French chanson, but as much as jazz combined beautifully with French poetry and inspired genius songwriting as early as in the 1930s - from Charles Trenet to Claude Nougaro via Georges Brassens -, rock never really worked for France. It was actually introduced in the 1950s, but as a parodic genre, by Boris Vian and Henri Salvador who were genuine jazz musicians and thought that rock was mere a fad - and bad music. It never went over that I'm afraid, and doing first degree French rock is almost impossible, and often pathetic.
But French people like me - and like everybody in the world - still grew up listening to English and American rock and pop, and that's what influences them when they want to make music. It's just extremely difficult to create something specific and authentic combining two cultures both foreign and very close. Alain Bashung was one of the few who could do that - and I remember that he was the first to bring post-punk sounds in the early 1980s in France. At some point he became such an institution in France that it was impossible to listen to his music anymore, but he was vey talented for self-sabotage and in 2002 he released L'Imprudence.
Inthis radical album clearly inspired by Scott Walker, you hardly have real songs anymore, often no tunes, no verses, no choruses, just half chanted, half spoken words of his trademark tongue-in-cheek obscure poetry, on top of atmospheric but melodious music mixing electric guitars (played by Marc Ribot or Arto Lindsay), big orchestra, percussions and his heartbreaking harmonica. The album is a bit too long but Bashung's voice is very emotional, that allows him to go a step further than Walker (in my humble opinion).
So on August 22nd I performed solo at the Klangfestival #7 and I had a really good time there - and from what I heard the audience enjoyed it too, but can one trust people who come to you after a concert and tell you it was cool?
Anyway, it was the first time for a long time that I played outdoor, for as much as I love noise music, I usually don't want to impose it to other people, but it was in a farm in the Austrian countryside, in a festival dedicated to radical music, so everybody was there to listen to something like that - except the cows I guess… I played guitars and electronics, plus voice and conch shell blowing - I know that a video was shot but i didn't see it yet, maybe I'll post it here later.
The whole festival was very cool, nice people, good music, bio food, beautiful landscape... There's nothing I enjoy more that what creative and dedicated people can make happen in the interstices of the system...
Sorry but I can't really credit all the pictures, they come from various sources - a.o. the Klangfestival Facebook page…
Now that I do concerts again, I see how different it is since I started to get interested in gear. I spend almost as much time tweaking stuff as preparing music! Well I do improv, so I need to keep fresh, and it's a good way to stay focused, understand how sound is produced and try something completely new!
I housed my Volcas in a crude wooden rack and put my LeafAudio DroneSynth in a wooden box.
Here is the new Göldo roller bridge I put on the Jaguar - broke too many strings since I put the LesTrem. I'm not satisfied yet with it, the E strings jump easily out of the roller saddles - my playing style is quite enthusiastic… But I'm sure it can be set up somehow - have to figure out how.
This guitar has been selected for a design competition organized by ShonKy Musical Instruments in the UK, and if it wins, it will be built - wouldn't it be wonderful? The Epsilon is 2 months late and I have no idea of when it will be finished, and my partner and I are getting quite desperate - seeing this one built would cheer us up and get us ready for the next model (a carbon fiber neck headless guitar…).
This model - the Alpha - follows my usual guidelines: it's ergonomic - back cutaway, arm-rest -, convenient - light, with a handle -, slightly retro futurist in shape and gear, and undoubtedly cool with natural wood and metal plates...
But you must help it win the competition, for it's based on likes on Facebook, so please connect to ShonKy's Great Competition and like this picture - it's before August 30th... Thank you!
I announced it as a free glam act, though I don't know yet what it means - it will be mostly improvised, so I don't exactly know what I'll play for now, I'm still currently trying different things with guitars, synthesizers, voice, percussions… So far I tend to do too much, now I must minimalize!
I recently expanded my pedal board with the acquisition of two great pedals…
First I finally put my hands on a Plutoneium Chi-Wah-Wah, and my life has changed: I'm now able to use a wah effect - to use it and abuse of it: one more week of practice and I can play all the parts in Acid Mothers Temple! And that's possible because the Chi-Wah-Wah isn't a classic wah pedal with a rocking system - something I find really unergonomic and that I'm unable to play -, but works with a spring system - that holds in a Boss-sized pedal!
So no, you cannot use it 100% like a rocking wah but I miss nothing since I never really used one, but it definitely sounds terrific. I've been looking at that pedal since its release in 2010 but it's made by a Singaporean company, is poorly distributed in Europe and is a little bit out of my usual price range… Actually the company seems to have recently collapsed, since the average guitarist will hold anyhow to his old dysfunctional Cry Baby, because, you know, Jimi played one or shit, and then it doesn't matter if there are better pedals now…
And since I managed to grab this wah in Germany for half its price, I used the rest of the money to get the yellow gizmo next to it, a Hotone Skyline Wally looper. I chose it over a Ditto or a JamMan for its 15 minutes loop and its slowing down / pitching down control - lots of potential for down tempo heavy baselines there, like I used to do with my old DOD digital delay's 5 seconds loop back in the days! And the gadget factor probably helped, this tiny pedal looks so cool!
I know I always say that, but I really should shoot a demo of these ones of these days...
I was thinking that I could explain a little bit to the new readers of this blog what I'm trying to do here… This morning as I was making these sketches (sitting in the sun at the terrace of a cool Viennese café), I realized that the D model could easily be seen as an extravagant batwing-shaped guitar with a fancy headstock, while I was trying to reach something both simple and ergonomic - and still cool…
Aluminium neck, headstock and hollow central beam are meant for perfect rigidity, hence big sustain (the back of the neck should have wooden inserts like a Kramer to keep a familiar feel), and the wooden wings add uneven mass for sound richness - the windows lighten the weight of the guitar. Upper wing is for arm rest, lower wing shape allows to easily rest on both legs when playing sitting, with a neck in upper position for playing comfort, and wide cutaway for easy access. The reverse headstock gives better access to the tuners with a high neck, and the whole shape of the headstock is wall hanger friendly - also the guitar can lean against a wall. The controls - reduced to one volume, one tone and switch as the less the better - are under the beam so they don't get in the way while strumming, but still are of easy access.
I often draw Bigsby trems on radical designs to give a more traditional feel - it should help to make a basic guitarist accept a non-Les Paul / Stratocaster guitar. Wouldn't you love to play that guitar?
Is it vain to have a personal guitar blog - one more guitar blog? Probably...
But when I started to pay more and more attention to my guitars - lifetime companions and much more than mere working tools -, I've been quite happy to gather information on the net, on blogs, forums, fan sites, etc... So maybe some people will benefit in a way or another from this one.
And maybe also one day someone will see and appreciate my design work and ask me to design guitars for his project or his company - feel free to contact me if you're interested!
You can click on most pictures to enlarge them. This blog is best displayed in 1280 x 800.
A sunburst Stratocaster walks into a bar, orders a beer and takes a stool next to a hot-looking Les Paul Goldtop, who's sipping an umbrella drink. The Strat leers at the Les Paul for several minutes and then says, "Hey, that's some set of humbuckers you got on you, darlin'."
"You're not getting any feedback off of me with a pickup line like that," the Goldtop says indignantly.