ok, i’m in philosophical rant mode so bear with me, but equally feel free to disagree in the comments… I DO realise I am a product of where I’ve been & what I’ve seen & heard… and as with everyone else, its just my unique perspective…. but the crux of this rant is that I ALMOST feel driven to start a new perceptual non-profit organisation with the sole purpose of preserving space. I havent experienced space beyond earths gravity, so I’m not thinking lunar or interstellar – I’m thinking about that seemingly inherent human trait to do more.. and then more.. and then more… until all the space is filled up and there are no longer any empty spaces left.
There is a saying ‘God is in the details’ (no doubt promoted by the Get Things Done/right brain dominant crowd) but I prefer to (re)think it as ‘God is in the empty spaces’ and by ‘God’ I dont mean anything religious…
The empty spaces I refer to are equally metaphorical & real: an empty section in a developed part of the city, a momentary silence in a film soundtrack, a seemingly blank canvas, a totally fulfilled sparse piece of music within beautiful reverbant spaces… All of these empty spaces exist to provide a vehicle in which you as the active participant project yourself & your thoughts/perception….
So what brought on this semi-coherent rant? Well, despite owning a baby grand piano (thats been prepared to within an inch of its life) and a virtual piano (NI) that includes a beautiful multi Gigabyte rendering of a Steinway Concert D grand piano, I recently came to the realisation that while I love to just sit down & play/improvise on the piano (especially since I got an Akai Headrush looper pedal) I can’t actually play a single piece of piano music that I love. In the process of rectifying this situation I began teaching my gnarly old bass players fingers to play at least the start of Satie’s Gymnopedie (sample/MIDI/notation in a previous post here) and in so doing I learned to appreciate the sublime space around those repeating two chords with a whole new respect. Sure that piece of music has been commandered for all sorts of advertising banalities, including more than a few soap commercials, but not only did Satie write that piece back in 1888, he was only 22 years old when he did it! Did I have such an appreciation of space at that age? Sadly hell no! My appreciation for space came much later – I would guess some time in my thirties….
Anyway I was raving to a friend the other night about the space between those two chords, and he pipes up; ‘I have a beautiful version of that piece, but played on guitar!’ My heart shrinks, oh right I think to myself, someone can play guitar & actually leave space around their notes/chords? This I have to hear, it would be a first… Wake up next morning & listen to an mp3 attachment he has sent me & it just reinforced every reason why I very rarely listen to guitar music anymore: the version is note for note ‘correct’ but everywhere there was space in the original, is now filled by goddamn arpeggios!?! I have never taken more pleasure in deleting a file in my life! What is it with (most) guitar players that they feel they must single handedly fill the entire spectrum (in the frequency AND time domain) all by themselves?
The funny thing is, I grew up playing bass in guitar bands – back then the Velvet Underground & Sonic Youth were our role models, but eventually I had an epiphany: Guitars are evil, un-necessary & unwanted, UNLESS & this is the caveat, the person playing that guitar instantly illustrates that they understand space & time. And in the decades since I have found only a few. So feel free to educate me if you are more informed than I, but if I check my music library the only guitar players I find that I have actually listened to in the last decade include:
– Fred Frith
– Keiichi Sugimoto (Minamo/Fourcolour)
– Christopher Willits
– John Lee Hooker (in acoustic mode)
– Gustavo Santaolalla
Philosophically its not just about guitars though – many of the best composers & musicians that i respect & listen to repeatedly share a common factor: minimalism. I dont mean this in an extreme way, but they do share an ability to produce music involving what is needed, rather than simply what is possible. And in this time of ecological & financial near-crisis, I do often wonder if these accute problems arent just a simple illustration that the core belief that ‘MORE IS MORE’ is fundamentally flawed… and a more sane approach, if ‘LESS IS MORE’ is too hard to digest, then at least ‘ENOUGH IS ENOUGH’ is heading down the right road? Is rampant capitalism & endless expansion sustainable? No, didnt think so either… but what does it take to curb it? It seems a crisis is the only answer….