Wednesday, November 22, 2006

keith rowe: an appreciation

When I meet, on occasion, a younger, or relative novice, improvising guitarist, and we talk about their models or gurus, I hear the usual suspects (or, should I say, white men?)—Bailey, Frith, etc; never Rowe. Yet, in numerous ways, many of these relative rookies to this practice/tradition are following in the footsteps, not of these more ‘guitaristic’ improvisers, but of Keith Rowe.
Maybe it’s because he is not one of my own models, maybe because I admire his tactics and methodologies from a distance rather than using it as a bounce-off point for my own work, maybe because I find his approach to the instrument so alien, that I find Keith Rowe’s playing (which seems like so much the wrong word for what Rowe does) fascinating and disconcerting. Rowe’s approach borders on what I might, in my most dogmatic moments, consider, well, just plain wrong ;-)
I don’t want to make it sound like my fascination is akin to watching a car crash, but there is something unnerving about all of this. I almost feel like I should not appreciate his playing (there’s that verb again). Something gets to me, for instance, as I watch Keith Rowe - Prepared Guitar (a YouTubified Subsonics ep.):

…Pollock for example, laid the canvas on the floor which meant he broken the link with European easel painting in one swoop—in one move. I could of figured that if I did the same with the guitar—if I laid the guitar down—I would achieve a whole number of things that were my objective at the time: A break with the past, the possibility of developing a completely new language, a sense of detaching yourself from the immediacy of the instrument, and creating a gap between you and…
Then there’s that expression:
…the essential material.
Whatever that means.
I feel nearer, more a part of the paining… literally be in the painting. …There is pure harmony [between painter and painting], an easy give and take, and the painting comes out well.
Jackson Pollock quoted in Ellen G. Landau (1989), Jackson Pollock (London: Thames and Hudson), p. 168.
When I think of, say, Lavender Mist, I don’t see the result of detachment from the material/media; I see gestures, the body, the canvas in some kind of impossible hybridity that problematizes the apparent frozen state of the canvas and the movement of the body.
I approach paining the same way I approach drawing, that is, direct…. No sketches / acceptance of / what I do—. …the more immediate, the more direct—the greater the possibilities of making… a statement.
Pollock quoted ibid., p. 169.
Although the final outcome may be paint and canvas—that distilled materiality—this non-representation is a consequence of embracing “the immediacy of the… essential material.”
With the guitar in its conventional and normal position against your stomach, it’s very much an expression coming out of your stomach about yourself: The ‘I’; who I am; my person; experiences transmitted. And it was really to do with expression—the expression of sentiment. Whereas laying the guitar on the table; it was much more reflecting something about the world rather than a personal view point. So, therefore it became, in a sense, more industrial, more mechanical.
I do have the guitar against my stomach (well, by my ribs anyway), but I don’t agree that this is necessarily about an expression emanating from myself. I disagree, as I think Row does, with this notion of the guitar as a medium through which the message is transmitted. I also disagree that the source of this transmission is the guitarist, as I think Rowe does too. However, while I’ve rejected these ideas in favor of a performative social metaphor or a cyborg model, Rowe is interested in material in a very sculptural sense.

Something gets me and it’s not so much I disagree with Rowe (which, well, I do), but that I can’t imagine being able to have an argument with him. I don’t think we even share the same vocabulary. I’m not sure I have the words to describe, in terms that Rowe would understand, my reasons for finding his approach problematic, and I have a feeling that I would not comprehend his description of what he, no doubt, would find problematic in mine.

1 comment:

MEM said...

I too don't think I can say that Rowe is a model or guru for me, but I think he was the first person that made me feel like it was OK to lay my guitar down and physically prohibit some possibilities in order to reveal new ones.