Songs About Nothing: Jason Lescalleet

Bob Burnett:  A review of "Songs About Nothing" by Jason Lescalleet (released on Erstwhile) from Volcanic Tongue that captures the release well.

Stunning double disc collection of mind-erasing loops, avant classical drone and minimal cold wave threat from Jason Lescallett, presented as a back-handed tribute to Big Black’s notorious 1992 album Songs About Fucking: Songs About Nothing is the sound of pure entropy, moving from ear-scalding feedback sculptures through nod-out minimal synth repetition through scrambled choral works and widescreen soundtrack drones. The first disc unfolds in a series of stately movements linked by a form of oblique progressive logic with an increasing atmosphere of all-out psychosis until it feels like you’re listening in on advanced surveillance electronics or experiments in sonic/psychological warfare (a quality which often marks out the most extreme Lescalleet recordings). The second disc consists of one massively extended track which expands on the ‘narrative’ feel of the first disc with the sounds of helicopter blades, distant cries, riot tones, hallucinatory/piercing upper register violence and huge blocks of eviscerated silence, with aspects of Masayoshi Urabe’s convulsive approach to orchestrating nada. A stunning release from Lescalleet, his best to date, and a set that demands to be explored repeatedly in depth. This is hardcore. Highly recommended. 


Bicycles and a Better City

"The bicycle is new vision for the blind man. It is a thrilling tool of communication, an experiential device for the beauty and the ills of the urban context. One cannot turn a blind eye on a bicycle – they must acknowledge their community, all of it."

Read more from Kasey Klimes wonderful observations here.  


The Anonymous Zone

Simon Reynell at Another Timbre has created a listening space titled The Anonymous Zone. I'll let his description stand: 

The Anonymous Zone is a new idea; a place where music can be listened to and appreciated for what it really is, not because of who made it.  Improvisation and contemporary classical music are as riddled with star systems as any other form of music, and inevitably, in spite of our best intentions, our reaction to a piece of music is partly determined by our knowledge of who is playing or has composed it.  So we give more time and attention to pieces by our favourite musicians, and – conversely – we’re inclined to quickly pass over music by people we either don’t know or assume we don’t much like.


Doug Aitken: Song 1

Bob Burnett: Doug Aitken's' 360 degree film project Song 1 will be concluding it's showing on March 20.  The filmwork has been screened nightly from sunset to midnight via 11 HD projectors on the facade of the Hirshhorn museum in Washington, DC. There's a full write up of the piece on the Hirshhorn's website.

Much has already been said about Song 1 being a groundbreaking work merging film and technology.  As a viewer my thoughts kept drifting towards James Joyce's concept of "the language of the night" used in Finnegan's Wake; a form of articulating the unconsious yet clear moments in life that may not have tangible meaning but create deep and lasting impact. The constant of Song 1 is the soundtrack; a variety of takes of the standard "I Only Have Eyes for You" mixed in with atmospheric natural sound from the environments where the images and people were shot.  The most notable version of the song is the haunting version from 1959 by The Flamingos.

For contrast, here's the version created by Beck that's also used:

In addition to sitting still and watching one section of the wall, I walked around the perimeter and took in the mid-side doppler effect of the soundscape changing from speaker to speaker. Added visual charm was the in-proximity tree branches that picked up the flicker of the projectors--not to forget the projectors themselves: large, square HD boxes emitting strong light and movement.  The surrounding trees picked up reflections of the projections as well as added dimension to the foreground.

The experience created interesting people watching too.  There were several hundred viewers sitting around the perimeter, passersby on foot self-conciously walking by seemingly not knowing what to do with themselves or comprehending what they'd stumbled across.  Some flat-out showed their lack of intellectual curiosity by ignoring the whole environment. Oh well, that's their loss.  The final takeaway for me is Song 1 came across as a strong example of art in public places being a catalyst for making something happen.   The nightly screening created a destination for what's normally a quiet part of the city.  Additionally, it rethought the use of a structure and turned art outward instead of only within its walls.


Hillman Curtis 1961-2012

Bob Burnett: I didn’t know Hillman Curtis or know specifically of his web design work or read his books.  I read this article on Design Observer earlier in the week and was struck by it.  Hillman was approximately my age when he died earlier in April of cancer.   I admire that he produced video pieces in a quiet, unaffected yet thoughtful way.  I like their nerdy normalcy—I didn’t care that they were sometimes technically a-kilter or not lit.

His webpage features a bunch of video clips.

He seemed to be a guy that took his design experience in web and print and expanded it to video stories about people just because he wanted to.  I suggest starting with the Artists Series on his web page. I liked the David Byrne/Brian Eno film because he made me interested in an album that I didn’t like when I listened to it when it came out.   The Lawrence Weiner video was another great example for me.  Mr. Weiner was all over the place and captivating at the same time.  I love the slow dolly shot up to his striking face.

Hillman Curtis did some commissioned work too—for instance a few shorts for Adobe.  He had the  huevos to do technically messy, yet engaging segments.  I’m just starting to watch the BAM Performers series. Seems he actually got a camera crew for those and there's a higher level of production aesthetic.  

I've produced and directed videos for 25 years.  There’s something nice and re-centering for me seeing this work.  It makes me not want to get simply caught up in delivering something for a client as fast as possible but to think a little bit, let a concept develop that you actually like and then make better use of the medium.  


Christopher Willits+ Friends Remixes Now Online

Bob Burnett: A nice compilation is now available online. Christopher Willits publicly shared 121 recordings used to create the album "Tiger Flower Circle Sun", encouraging other artists to "have fun and create what you love with the sounds". This album features some of the results.You can go here to download it for yourself.


The Coordinates Are Entered by Dksoundguy

The Coordinates Are Entered by Dksoundguy
Bob Burnett: DC musician and friend of C60 Dennis Kane has been going down the road of analog synthesizer acquisition, composition and recording. I've linked his newest effort above. I've always had a soft spot for analog synthesis. I used to listen to it frequently while working in a record store while in high school. "Boring synthesizer music!" bellowed my colleague Marc. "But I like boring synthesizer music" being my reply. I have to credit long duration synthesizer music as the groundwork that made other contemporary composition understandable for me. The pathway to Morton Feldman had a trailhead of Tim Blake. (seen in the photo above)I hope you enjoy Dennis' work.


"John & Beatrice"

Bob Burnett: I'm tooting my own horn with today's post. I recently produced a video for Fairfax, Va.- based The Hub Theatre about their upcoming play " John & Beatrice".
The production of the video received a very nice write up in DC Theatre Scene.
If you live in the DC region please come see the play. I enjoyed the time I spent observing the rehearsal. It's rare to find such a high level of performance happening in a small, suburban theater.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


Gerald Cleaver's Detroit

Bob Burnett:  This morning is a case where, for once, MOG's "Just For You" selection process worked.  It told me since I listened to Tim Berne's Snakeoil I'd like Gerald Cleaver's Detroit.  I didn't know anything about this album before this listen.  I think Tom Greenland's review from All About Jazz makes a great point when he says:

Simultaneously mainstream and forward-thinking, self-contained yet open-ended, "Detroit" embodies the currency and vitality of its namesake's hard bop legacy in today's creative music scene.

Since I'm listening on MOG, I'm not getting the benefit of the album
packaging. Apparently there's a photo essay in the liner notes showing dilapidated buildings
and former neighborhoods now shells and ghosts of a time gone by which (as said in Greenland's review) "strikes a melancholy tone, but the music is
anything but."
I'm finding the music reflective.  The ballad "Henry" feels like a Detroit version of John Coltrane's New York City reflection "Central Park West".  There's plenty of post hard-bop driving, pulsing and interesting music here too.  
All and all a nice discovery.  Here's hoping MOG's "Just For You" scores a few more for me.


Charles Gayle Trio: Streets

Bob Burnett: There's an excellent article by Dan Spicer in this month's The Wire magazine about saxophonist-pianist Charles Gayle. Charles was part of the '60s music movement called "The New Thing" or "free jazz".   For years Gayle took on a variety of odd jobs to help support his life as a musician.  At one point sometime between 15-20 years ago (he doesn't recall for sure) something changed in his mind.  He quit trying to scrape by with jobs and, as he puts it, changed.

"I have to change...and that was it.  I gave my duffel bag to a friend because it's all I had, and I just went to the streets. I had no idea what I was doing. I didn't know what it was going to be like to be homeless and for how long." 
"(Homelessness) absolutely changed me. And it's still in me. You don't think the same as you think when you're living like I'm living now, like regular people live. You haven't time to think like that. Something else takes over. Your dreams are different in terms of what you think about the future. You're living from day to day so you can't think, "Oh, next year I'll go to Hawaii". You can forget about that. With no heat all those years...you're a different person.  it's about surviving. It can break you, I'll tell you that. It can break you for life." 

After years of the street, Gayle now has a modest apartment near Tompkins Square in New York City.  The term "street" now means something different to him.  He's taken on the persona of "Streets The Clown" and plays gigs as Streets and still goes out on the streets, in costume, and plays.  In addition to The Wire article, The Village Voice recently had a Q&A article with Gayle.  It goes into details about his life as a homeless person and how Streets The Clown came about through the combination of being homeless and continuing a life dedicated to playing music .

He's recently released an album titled Streets.  He's in his full clown costume on the cover but  there's nothing but raw, intense music happening inside.  The Wire also linked to a video of Streets the Clown playing in the streets in New York City. 


Ollie Halsall

Bob Burnett: Ollie Halsall, the most interesting guitarist you probably never heard, had a birthday on March 14.  Unfortunately, Ollie died due to a heroin overdose in May of 1992 so while he didn't recognize his own birthday several facebook friends posted Ollie Halsall birthday tribute reminders.

Ollie was probably best known for his multi-instrumental work in the faux-Beatles film and soundtrack The Rutles. He was also a member of semi-progressive rock bands Patto, Matchbox and Boxer. (note: old friend Marc just chimed in that Ollie replaced Alan Holdsworth in Tempest when they covered The Beatles' "Paperback Writer")

I was reminded of the Patto song "The Man" this past week (thanks to Brendan Canty) where Ollie shines.  In addition to playing nice guitar, he adds vibes to a great off-rhythm rock song that has a Tortoise-like ring to it.  Patto has it's moments as an early '70s rock album but I can't quite see past lead singer Mike Patto's "rock guy" approach.  It's worth a run-through since the album is available on MOG.I've also popped in a youtube version here.

Ollie's single greatest moment for me was the guitar solo he played on Kevin Ayers' "May I" from the June 1, 1974 album.  The album comes from a live gig that took place at the Rainbow Theater in London.  Featured performers along with Kevin Ayers include John Cale, Nico, Brian Eno, Robert Wyatt, Mike Oldfield and our focus--Ollie Halsall. I probably owned and sold this album 3 or 4 times.  It's very spotty.  I'm pretty certain I was first led to it because of Eno's participation. As mentioned, the Eno focus was deflected by Ollie Halsall's solo.  It floats, always seems on the verge of being just a little off but tightropes it's way elegantly through several hoops and ladders until it lands beautifully allowing Kevin Ayer's to return to his Burgundy-soaked vocals. After hearing this solo I always kept Ollie Halsall's name around in my mind as someone to look for in record shops. It seems he stayed with Ayer's pretty much from 1976 on.  Somewhere in some record company vault there sits a solo album that was produced by Robert Fripp.

I lost track of Ollie and hadn't thought about him for awhile until the birthday greetings popped up.  I looked around and found an archive/tribute webpage to him that offers more information as well as a detailed Ollie's Guitar Techniques page.


The Berlin Philharmonic: Inside Instruments

 A little visual something to share that's been floating around on design and advertising blogs.

This print campaign for the Berlin Philharmonic orchestra uses macro photographs taken inside the cramped spaces of instruments making the inner workings of a violin, cello, flute, and pipe organ appear vast and spacious, almost as if you could walk around inside them. Art directed by photographer Bjoern Ewers. 

While this concept strikes home, I keep imagining and wanting to see macro photographs of a prepared piano set up for John Cage's Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano.  Or better still, Fred Frith's alligator clip manipulations on a guitar from his Guitar Solos album.  Still pushing a bit more, a series of macro photographs of Keith Rowe's table top guitar.

All and all, the Berlin Philharmonic series is a nice visual approach.  I can't say I have instant recollection of the Philharmonic's work, but I can speak supportive volumes for their neighbors, the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchestra Berliner, who just performed beautifully on an album titled Feldman:Orchestra, a release of four previously unreleased Morton Feldman scoresThe Mode Records webpage says that The Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin was founded in 1946 in the American sector of Berlin as the RIAS-Symphonie-Orchester. As its first principal conductor, from 1948, Ferenc Fricsay established the orchestra’s future course: commitment to contemporary and stylish interpretation of the traditional repertoire.

Mode describes Orchestra as "a walk through the orchestral landscape. Patterns come and go of their own accord as the music moves into unexplored territories. An important bridge between Feldman’s middle and late works."

Just like the photos from the Berlin Philharmonic campaign, sometimes a little unexplored territory goes a long and rewarding way. 


Within (and now) Without You

Bob Burnett: I sold what remained of my Beatles CDs this weekend. For the first time since 1973 I'm completely without any Beatles media.  I started with the Yellow Submarine soundtrack and ended with Magical Mystery Tour. So it goes.

The big issue isn't having physical possession of Beatles music as much as the internal debate I've had about ownership of items: shelves and rows of music, books, anything collectable.  After decades of acquiring I've spent the last few years liquidating.  The motivating factor is to take the Robert Fripp concept of "intellegent mobile unit" to eliminating the anchor-like physical drag-down of ownership as well as to take advantage of the availability and access of so many things I'm interested in electronically.  Plus, I just don't enjoy having "stuff" anymore.  Granted, there was a time when I was content spending hours perusing row after row of my album collection or thumbing through scads of books in my various library spaces. I still maintain a solid selection of books but I'm now keeping an on-going discard box that gets donated to our local public library.

I'm discovering a like for the iBook concept via iPad.  I'm currently reading John Updike's Rabbit Run via a download purchase of $11.  I've also become quite pleased with the public domain resources available thanks to Project Gutenberg.  Project Gutenberg offers over 38,000 free ebooks: free epub books, free kindle books, download them or read them online. They carry high quality ebooks previously published by bona fide publishers.  They digitized and diligently proofread them with the help of thousands of volunteers. So far in 2012 I've read or re-visited Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, Kafka's Metamorphosis, Ulysses Grant's diaries, Conrad's Heart of Darkness as well as Tolstoy, Gertrude Stein, Ford Maddox Ford and others.

All that said, there's still an emotional attachment to perusing bins in record shops or book stores as well as the bittersweet regret of seeing so many independent retailers shuttering up shop. Here in DC, Melody Records closed down recently.  They were a ten minute walk from my office but I confess it had been years since I'd been there.   When traveling, I tend to seek out independent record and book stores but I usually curtail a large amount of purchases. Occasionally  I'll get a tingle to possess something.  Recently there was a fleeting moment when it seemed like it would be a good thing to physically own the Bob Dylan mono releases. I also spent a weekend contemplating spending money on high quality vinyl releases of Ornette Coleman's early releases.  I got over both and have returned to either streaming them online or sticking with what I already have.   I'm not completely a shut-in.  As mentioned in an earlier post, I recently made a fairly substantial purchase of music on the Erstwhile label.  The only way to get this exciting and vital music is via CD.  I'm happy to own such nicely designed CDs that contain such special moments. 


While Walking in Austin with Drape

I just spent a few days in Austin, Texas. 

I'd never been to Austin before this week and was fortunate to discover it at the neighborhood level where local taco shacks, quaint homes and nice transitions from roads to small businesses make it very walkable .

My hotel was downtown and I enjoyed an early evening walk in clear, low humidity mid 70s weather. I began by looping through 6th St.  where the live music happens. I lasted a few blocks.  Just too much party atmosphere for me. There's less and less I find interesting about most live music venues much less blocks of them. These days, the only thing less interesting than most anything about live music is most anything about recorded music. 

I'm always skeptical of places known for music. New Orleans and Memphis come to mind. I found a want to get away and change directions and scenery so I veered off 6th St. at  South  Congress and soon found a river trail at what is called the "bat bridge". The trail was wonderful. My iPhone was streaming MOG with Gareth  Davis' Drape, another positive notch in the Davis- Machinefabriek  (Rutger Zuydervelt duets.  The layers of floating tones, drifting, breathy bass clarinet, woody clucks blended beautifully with the environment--a  river with sun, waterfowl, passersby on bikes, runners, walkers, fishers, crew teams on the shore getting coaching lectures. It seemed a much more appropriate and fulfilling musical pulse than that of the 6th St.scene.  I've been enjoying two releases in the Gareth Davis- Machinefabriek efforts: Drape and Ghost Roads. There's a spontaneous/ improvisational feel to what they do together. While having a slight non-rhythmic specific groove they manage to float along in textural layers. The sound takes me at times to the drift of Miles Davis' In A Silent Way. The bass clarinet has always been a favorite instrument. It goes back with me to Bennie Maupin on Davis' Bitches Brew and further formed by David Murray on Jack DeJohnette's Special Edition. Davis extends the context even further, eliminates the notes and goes to the texture. I particularly enjoy his sense of timbre and atmosphere.

Austin at night took me up South Congress to what seems like the heart of "weird" Austin. Shops, restaurants, places that seem to embody to vibe of the place. In addition to the brand "weird" there seemed to be another layer of non-weird throughout the city.  Weird derivative established retail in the form of Urban Outfitters-like places.

The city seems to be doing quite well financially. I was surprised by the amount of general construction, high end condos and offices. 

It was a nice few days. It was really good to get out before the "music people" got here for SXSW.


ECM Records I'd Own (If I Owned Records) for Kim

Bob Burnett:  I got a text from my C60 friend Kim the other day. "Hey-if it crosses your mind please sendme ECM recordings you would own. (if you did such)".  The (if you did such) comment is in reference to the fact that he's been hearing a lot from me about MOG having practically the entire ECM Records catalog.  The reason I find that exciting is because I pretty much gave up on ECM after too many expensive mistakes with music that made me miserable in a "I'm listening to formulaic sound" kind of way.  I'm certain Kim departed sooner than I did, having been a solid listener to the mid '70s releases. The spate of lackluster mid '80s recordings made me drift away and, like Kim, kind of made me lose touch with a lot of the music that originally drew me to the label.  If you aren't familiar with ECM I suggest checking out the wikipedia page.  Here's how it starts:
 ECM (Edition of Contemporary Music) is a record label founded in Munich, Germany, in 1969 by Manfred Eicher. While ECM is best known for jazz music, the label has released a wide variety of recordings, and ECM's artists often refuse to acknowledge boundaries between genres. ECM's motto is "the Most Beautiful Sound Next to Silence" taken from a 1971 review of ECM releases in CODA, a Canadian jazz magazine.

I appreciate Kim not pegging me with the "please send me a list of essential ECM albums" which would have had me spinning for awhile. I decided instead of dwelling on possibilities to just put some titles down quickly. I texted Kim a few suggestions and thought "why not share them with everyone?".  If you have MOG you too can jump in on the fun.These albums are all part of their catalog.

Here's my off the top of my head starter list:

Old and New Dreams: "Playing" (a live recording by the Ornette Coleman tribute band made up of Ornette cohorts)
Ricardo Villalobos: "Re-ECM" (an interesting recent release that uses the ECM catalog as samples to re-invent compositions)
Don Cherry-Ed Blackwell: "El Corazon" (a nice, quiet, pleasing duet that always puts a smile on my face)
Jack DeJohnette: "Pictures" (an early album that features a series of drum and keyboard compositions played by Jack and sometimes joined by John Abercombie's guitar)
Jack DeJohnette: "Special Edition" (a post-Coltrane tribute with a special nod to Eric Dolphy)

Dave Holland: "Conference of the Birds" (One of my favorite albums of all time-Anthony Braxton and Sam Rivers together. If you don't believe me listen to "Four Winds" and decide for yourself)
Marion Brown: "Afternoon of a Georgia Fawn" (the first ECM album I ever bought-abstract, thought expanding, remains fresh after all these years)
Leo Smith: "Divine Love" (pre-Wadada open music: improvisational, spare, engaging)
Paul Motian: "Conception Vessel" (there's so many to like by the maestro so why not start here)
Terje Rypdal: "Odyssey" (always liked the spaciness of this one)
Terje Rypdal: "What Come After" (One of the finds I've recently come back to. More groove and shred here.)
John Abercrombie: "Gateway" (driving, intense)
Jan Garbarek: "Witchi Tai To" (maybe…..this one's teetering on the edge...there are moments of greatness but it's a roadmap to how annoying Garbarek was going to get) 
Kenny Wheeler: "Gnu High" (just added it..some of my favorite Keith Jarrett moments)  
Barre Phillips: "Mountainscapes" (another early one for me that always stuck around) 
Egberto Gismonti: "Soli" (this was a high school favorite..hasn't weathered quite as well and get noodly but I'll keep it around)
Jimmy Giuffre 3: "1961" (I believe this was a re-release or possibly a first time release of an archival production.  Either way it's excellent.) 

I'm sure there are others (like The Music Improvisation Company and Bill Connors, Codona, Ralph Towner,Nana Vasconcelos) and by no means is this meant to cover everything.  Kim asked specifically about David Darling albums; I think we both came very late to him. I tend to stick to the spare, floating solo releases. I was tempted to put Chick Corea vehicles "Circle" or "ARC" on the list but I can't say I find myself returning to them too often.  When I do, the Daevid Allen lyric "Chick Corea gives me diarrhea"  comes to mind and throws them off track. I could also add some Eberhard Weber, Rainer BrĂ¼ninghaus and "Rejoicing" a Pat Metheny trio album he did with Charlie Haden and Billy Higgins.  I guess by mentioning I've kind of done that.

ECM Now Playing: "Snakeoil" by Tim Berne.  I had no idea about this release.

"After compelling contributions to ECM discs by David Torn and Michael Formanek, here is Tim Berne’s first leader date for the label. “Snakeoil” introduces a fascinating ensemble, a “chamber-like group” in Berne’s words, albeit one that packs some power. Tim’s tough alto is heard with Oscar Noriega’s earthy clarinets, Mat Mitchell’s cryptic piano, and Ches Smith’s tone-conscious drums, tympani, gongs and congas. Berne: “I'd decided on this very transparent instrumentation to try and avoid obvious stylistic references and to focus the listener on the musical ideas being presented.” Two years of wood-shedding preceded the recording of “Snakeoil” at New York’s Avatar Studios early in 2011, and the band was ready to roar. The disc is issued on the eve of a tour that takes in dates on both sides of the Atlantic."


The Monkees, People's Drugstore and a Day in 1966

Bob Burnett: Davy Jones of The Monkees died today. He was 66. Thanks goes out to his circa 1966 acting along with Mike Nesmith, Peter Tork and Mickey Dolenz for the portrayed whimsy on the TV show The Monkees.  More importantly, thanks goes out to my mom, who in 1966 walked out of People's Drug Store with a bag of sundries, including The Monkees first album.  I still see her handing that album to me over the car seat and saying "here, I thought you'd like this".  Little did she know that was the moment my personal freedom set in. I played the album over and over; it brought spark to my kindergarten year.  Over time, repeated listens helped me realize "Tomorrow's Gonna Be Another Day" "and "Last Train to Clarksville" from that album were better songs than "(Theme from) THE MONKEES". Time also led me in other musical directions.  

No matter how many times I turned my collection over (Beatles-to-Chicago-to-ELP-to Henry Cow-to-Ornette Coleman...etc.etc.) I never sold that album because I knew it was the Yuri Gagarin of my music collecting, listening and discovering. (In fact, that's it up top in this post.)

I know as an adult the whole MONKEES rig was the starting point for the corporatization of media; when music, TV, lunchboxes and whatever else were gelled together.  An entertainment vacuum that leaves me cold.  BUT, when it comes to The Monkees, I'm able to remove all the clutter and still be a six year old excited about music for the first time.

A few years back I was in a winery in Napa Valley.  Mickey Dolenz stopped in and bought a case of wine.  I did a little pretend-like-I-didn't-see-him stalking but didn't dare say anything to him. I didn't want to be another forty-something retro-reflector for him to  shake hands with, graciously say thanks and probably wish a few hours could go by on just one day where someone didn't remind him he was in The Monkees. Anyway, the guy who worked at the winery told me after he left he was a local and came in to buy wine and always kept it real.  I was glad to hear that.

So here I sit, having not thought about The Monkees in decades, getting incredibly soft and sentimental for a console stereo time gone by. I'm listening to Pat Metheny playing covers of songs like "The Sound of Silence", "Rainy Days and Mondays" and "That's the Way I Always Heard It Should Be" from his album What's It All About. Little pictures of spinning The Monkees flood my mind.....and bridge where I once was with where I am today thanks in part to knowing Robert Wyatt (with the help of Fred Frith, Nick Mason and others) did a cover of "I'm A Believer".


Jacksonville Pulses and Places

Bob Burnett:  Work this week took me to Jacksonville, Florida.  I had the opportunity to take a few long walks (with headphones) in the evening through the downtown.  Like many places in the USA, Jacksonville has a nice assortment of historic buildings that over time have been accentuated with rampant mediocrity: lifeless towers, formless streets and highway overpasses and ramps that split up connectivity.  There are many vacant buildings that seem to have been gutted in hopes of future rebirth or perhaps were the start of rebirth and the financing collapsed leaving nothing but a shell.  I came across a few odds and end retail spots and restaurants that seemed to offer some sense of possibility among all the emptiness.  No doubt there's community pride and hope for a thriving sense of place.  Unfortunately, it seems to be a stalled work in progress. 

I walked one evening with the Machinefabriek (Rutger Zuydervelt)/Andrea Belfi duet Pulses and Places (via MOG).  The match of location and soundtrack worked nicely.  Pulses and Places was released in September 2009.  Korm Plastics has a nice website that describes the duet and describes the release:
Drifting somewhere between gentle drone-based ambient and modern psychedelia/postrock, the four pieces of "Pulses and Places" consists of waving organ sounds, chilling guitar drones with downbeat hand percussions. The expression of the overall album sounds like a mixture between early Pink Floyd as they sounded in their most trippy psychedelic moments and 80's rock/pop-giants Talk Talk in their more experimental postrock-based period around the "Spirit of Eden"-album (1990).
A striking collaboration took place between Belfi on drums and assorted small percussion and Zuydervelt on guitar and organ. Together they produce the 'pulses' and 'places' mentioned in the title. Organic yet partially improvised, it resembles a kind of sonic geography. The listener is taken away for a journey of mild drones, soft yet outspoken percussion.

As Pulses and Places continued, my personal sonic geography walk carried me from downtown to the waterfront of the St.Johns River.  There's a place called Jacksonville Landing that attempts to be a tourist destination.  As with downtown, you can sense there was effort and great hope at one time for the Landing to be a cornerstone/destination for tourists and visitors.  Unfortunately, it's flat.  It houses a few sports bar-type places and an array of odds and ends tourist trap shops that feature Chinese-made Florida Gator throwaways.  The tourist presence I saw were a smattering of '70s feathered-hair folks (one in a Rod Stewart concert tee shirt) having one last cigarette before going to Hooters.

After the Landing, Pulses and Places landed too.  I found myself back at my hotel glad to have experienced both the music and the visuals.


Paul Reed Smith P-22

Kim Kirkpatrick:

In February of 2012 Paul Reed Smith released an electric guitar that I think may be the most innovative instrument they have ever produced. The model is the P-22, equipped with two 53/10 pick ups as well as a piezo one mounted under the bridge. Piezo pick ups have been around for decades installed in various hollow or semi hollow guitars for amplification of the acoustic sound. However, for the first time PRS has specifically designed one for a solid body guitar. If played through a PA system or an acoustic amplifier using the piezo setting on the  P-22, it would be hard for anyone to tell it is a solid body guitar and not an acoustic one. The P-22 is also a versatile electric guitar with newly designed 53/10 pick ups. The electric and piezo features can be used in tandem or separately which is an amazing option for players.  The guitar can be played through a PA system or acoustic amp and a standard guitar amp at the same time. The P-22 has an outlet dedicated to the piezo as well as an electric/piezo combination outlet.These features have the potential to radically change a guitarist's options in the studio and performing live. Up to now an acoustic track would be laid down in the studio and then an electric track over top. Two tracks combined to create a rocking guitar sound with the clarity of each string being heard. With the P-22 the guitarist can send the 53/10 pick up signal to his guitar amp and a piezo output to the PA system (or acoustic amp) at the same time. The P-22 can also be plugged into just a guitar amp with one cable. Using this route you can use the third knob which makes it possible to blend the amount of piezo and 53/10 pick up tones desired, cleaner (more acoustic) or more electric tones depending on preference. On stage a guitarist can switch mid song from a gorgeous acoustic sound to playing a fully charged electric guitar by simply moving a switch. If you check out the videos in the link below you can hear guitarists and producers talking about (and demonstrating) these features. The P-22 has a lush acoustic tone but it is also a fine electric guitar with newly designed, tonally versatile (single and humbucker) 53/10 pick ups. Like all the current PRS guitars the P-22 has truly functional volume and tone knobs with a full range of tonal options. 

Through the years I have owned a few Paul Reed Smith guitars which are made here in Maryland. The company was formed in 1985 and gained initial notoriety from Carlo Santana's endorsement of their guitars. From the beginning PRS guitars were known for their versatility - a musician could use a PRS guitar for a session's gig or on stage and have the tones of various Fender (single coil) or Gibson (humbucker) guitars in one instrument. This was a revolutionary creation in a guitar and one that many professional musician's embraced. My most memorable experience of a PRS guitar's versatility came in 1993 when I saw Los Lobos play in a small club for Clinton's inauguration. David Hidalgo was playing a gold top PRS that from song to song would shift, sounding like a Gibson Les Paul to a Fender Strat or maybe a Tele, just from changing the position of the five way rotary switch on the guitar. Los Lobos use a variety of guitars and amps when recording much of it for a classic, warm vintage tone. Hidalgo was playing a PRS that night because of the tonal options, and convenience of it on stage. I am not trying to imply the early PRS guitars were dead ringers for a vintage Gibson or Fender but they came close enough to be useful back then.

Right up to today the flashiness of many of the PRS guitars, the color options and insane flaming or quilted maple tops, has probably turned off as many guitarists as it has attracted. One could dis PRS because of this flashiness, the steady release of limited editions (the Dragon models for example), or the collector's snatching them up (not unlike Leica hoarders who never use them). Seriously how can you play a $10,000.+ guitar with a 200 piece dragon inlay of abalone, mother of pearl and turquoise? Partially for these reasons, and interest in vintage instruments, many guitarists have dismissed PRS for decades. In addition, for many musicians the pursuit of a magical vintage instrument (high priced and becoming more rare by the day) is the ultimate goal. Finding a fine sounding, mojo laden vintage guitar is hard to do, especially one costing less then a new car. This pursuit is made all the more difficult because quality control in the 50s and 60s was less than consistent and many of the guitars were never particularly good sounding from the start. This historical obsession has many believing the best guitars (and guitar designs) have already come and gone. Several once creative companies such as Fender and Gibson have sat back for decades and reproduced lesser quality versions of their classic guitars from 50 years ago.

Most young guitarist start out emulating a favorite player's style and tone and there is a good chance that involves a Fender or Gibson guitar. Signature models and re-creations (if only cosmetically) of a few historic models are very popular and drive the market. Starting out enamored with say Jimmy Page, Kurt Cobain, or even Joe Pass is part of the appeal of vintage instruments (or copies) for players. They want that specific sound they've heard from famous guitarists and believe it is all about the equipment. When you think of rock guitarists it is generally easy to pinpoint their sound to specific guitars, amps and effect pedals. Jimi Hendrix (Fender Strat and Marshall amp), Neil Young ( 53 Gibson Les Paul and Fender Deluxe), Tom Verlaine (Jazzmaster and Vox) for example*. Obviously many guitarist have an arsenal of instruments, amps, and pedals but my point is most are known for a particular, recognizable tonal quality or sound (Santana and his PRS guitar). The genre of jazz guitar has generally been limited to large hollow body instruments, often using the neck pick up for mellow, soft tones. More contemporary jazz guitarist such as Sonny Sharrock, Bill Frisell, or John Scofield have signature tonal qualities as well, a sound consistent in all their music.

I have owned numerous vintage Gibson and Fender guitars. Fender Jazzmasters, Jaguar, Tele JR., Custom Shop Strat, as well as Gibson 330s, a 335, and a Tennessean. I am not a great or even good guitarist by my own standards but I have a very good ear for music and guitar in particular. Besides my difficulties with playing guitar I have been frustrated by most of the guitars listed above for consistent, technical reasons. Most mass produced guitars have too thin and narrow a neck (described as a "fast neck") causing me to fumble around hitting strings I don't want to. Secondly, the bridge pick ups on the vast majority of guitars were always too bright for me, painfully so, to the point of my not using them. Which leads to the third major problem, the tone knobs and volume knobs are not very useful. You might have a knob that is marked 1-10 but if you dial them back to say 7 any tonal quality of the guitar's sound is lost. They sound like you've placed a pillow over your speaker. All of the above problems have been perpetuated by these manufacturers for decades, not only introducing no improvements but letting the quality of build and materials go downhill. As mentioned earlier the big guitar companies are content with repeating the same guitar designs, both cosmetically and electronically for their customers who generally believe the late 50s and early 60s were the pinnacle of cool, best sounding and playing guitars.

PRS guitars could easily rake in the dough by reproducing guitars they designed and built 25 years ago. But Paul Reed Smith is not interested in making the same guitars over and over, an admirable position and one I want to promote and support. Paul Reed Smith and the PRS company has made a commitment to innovation and serious, steady efforts to improve upon the guitar (electric and acoustic) and quite recently amps. For me PRS innovation became crystal clear in 2008 when they released the first 57/08 equipped guitars. On the surface one could have perceived these 57/08 pick ups as a marketing ploy, an attempt to sucker in those interested in vintage tone. The name 57/08 is a combination of 1957 classic Gibson Humbuckers and 2008 PRS manufacturing date. In reality the 57/08 pick ups were the result of years of research trying to figure out why some vintage guitars had magical tone (specifically mid to late 50's Les Pauls) and others built at the same time were mediocre. The conclusion (simplified) was it had to do with the wire used and the machine that wrapped the pick ups. By modern standards the wire's thickness was far from uniform with a wide variation from the winding pattern of the machine. PRS located the original wire used on 50's Gibson Les Paul guitars and the actual machine used to wind the wire. Thus was born the 57/08 pick up manufactured from this vintage wire and machine.

The fact is anyone I know who has played a PRS 57/08 equipped guitar became a believer. For me it took less then 5 minutes in the music store to hear what I wanted to know. These pick ups sounded like what I had been looking for in numerous other guitars, a thick, rounded tone with absolutely no painful bright or thin tones, not even from the bridge pick up. Rolling off the volume knob offered additional clarity, and backing off on the tone knob softened the sound without killing the guitar's tone! Each year since 2008 PRS has made some changes and options to these pick ups, releasing 59/09 and 53/10 versions, and most recently the narrow field versions of the 57/08. All of these pick up changes are exciting with clearly noticeable changes in tone and astounding sonic variety within any one guitar. The most recent variation in fact are the uncovered, block shaped 53/10 pick ups on the P-22 which have amazing clarity as well as a modern, massive tone.**

We can look forward to the PRS P-22's innovative construction and design adding to the possibilities for musical expression and expanding what we will be hearing live and from recordings. The P-22 guitar has so much unique to offer, abilities never before available. But it also has the qualities of every modern PRS instrument. Overall, across the line (including their reasonably priced SE series) PRS builds well crafted guitars with amazing quality control. The 57/08 pick ups and subsequent pick ups are highly responsive to the player's attack on the strings. All their guitars have truly useful volume/tone knobs and substantial, nicely shaped necks. The current, 21st century line of PRS guitars and the P-22 in particular make the possibilities for expression appear to be infinite for an accomplished musician on stage or in the studio.

* Interestingly you have someone like Neil Young favoring one 1953 Gibson Les Paul named Old Black (actually a gold top underneath the black paint) and still using a small Fender Deluxe amp over 50 years old. Then you had Jimi Hendrix who played any number of Fender Stratocasters right off the shelf and discarded them without a second thought. And he was playing through a wall of Marshall amps. Both musicians have recognizable tone and personal style, but defined and expressed themselves very differently as regards equipment and it's importance. They also share what Bob has referred to as a "special relationship with electricity". Some times it sounds to me like they are not so much playing guitars as they are the power of electricity.

Much credit is due Brian Meader at The Guitar Sanctuary for my knowledge and understanding of Paul Reed Smith guitars.  For decades Brian has guided me to PRS guitars and the tone I was seeking but could barely describe. He has the rare ability to describe and demonstrate tone and features clearly and never steer you in the wrong direction. He has prevented me from buying far more guitars then I purchased from him.