Wednesday, January 31, 2007

solo: niche in the ecology

After confidently kick-starting this thread, by the very second entry I had to admit difficulty in writing about the solo context, and I still can’t quite figure out how to crack this. Well, gotta start somewhere (I’m prepared for this ending up as the most confused and lamest of entries…).

Our idom is an open field. If I were to play bebop guitar, well, it’s pretty crowded in there….
John Scofield quoted in Mandel (1988), p. 33.
At It Is Not Mean If It Is True there was an interesting discussion that touched on the crowdedness of instruments. sjz asked if “all the instruments [are] crowded now,” and I think the answer is yes, but they’ve always been crowded—they’ve always come with personal and collective histories.
I prefer the kind of object which… have some kind of inner life. …The ‘conservation’ of certain contents in objects which people touch under conditions of extreme sensitiveness. The ‘emotionally’ charged objects are… capable of revealing these contents and touching them provides associations and analogies for our own flashes of the unconscious. Thus, in several of my films I used an object or a whole group of objects which I ‘heard.’
Jan Svankmajer quoted in Hames (1995), pp. 110-111.
This intersects with cyborg identities (Haraway, 1991) in which, perhaps, “the guitar forms the interface (both the surface boundary and communication channel) between the guitarist and techno-cultural narratives. Narratives that enroll trans-corporeal characters such as tastes, sensibilities and tradition, and corporeal characters such as luthiers, audience members and other guitarists.” Whatever the case, however, let me, for the moment, talk about this crowd.
…I thought about the space, the niche that I could look for was somewhere between Albert Ayler, Pharoah Sanders, with… the way John Tchicai played. …not exactly a synthesis, but I could work my way through the gaps that were left between what those people were doing. …It sounds very mechanical but I was actually emotionally moved to want to be in that space. It wasn’t just a calculation, I felt an impulse.
Evan Parker quoted in Lock (1991), p. 33.
Who’s in this crowd? In my case, there’s a trinity of improvising guitarists who I look towards in navigating this space—this particular socio-cultural intersections of guitar and improvisative performance. In no small way I get my bearings (technically and culturally) from this constellation. Additionally (non-guitarist) improvisers inform my socio-musical approach and position within the performed ecology (there is, for example, a trombonist who I think of every time I play in a group situation). There’s also an assortment of pianist whose techniques and strategies I’ve begun to transpose into the context of the guitar(ist). And somewhere in that crowd—a group that is very much partial and not innocent of issues of identity (class, gender, race, nationality, etc)—is me. In retrospect, this might be a good reading of the title I gave the first entry on the ‘solo’ context: “alone together.”
And that, people, constitutes my niche (or at least the self-conscious, visible aspect of it). It is pretty crowded in there (I would be lying to say that I have an easy time negotiating within it), but I feel like there’s enough space to breathe and maneuver, and, on a good day, a ‘sound’ that I can (tentatively) call mine (and ours).


Hames, Peter (1995), ‘Interview with Jan Svankmajer’ in Peter Hames (ed.), Dark Alchemy: The Films of Jan Svankmajer (Trowbridge: Flicks Books).
Haraway, Donna J. (1991), ‘A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century’ in Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New York: Routledge).
Lock, Graham (1991), ‘speaking of the essence’, Wire (issue 85).
Mandel, Howard (1988), ‘Hard Pickings: John Scofield’, Wire (issue 53).

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