Tuesday, February 27, 2007

solo: my humble lexicon

Having critiqued the music as language metaphor, I’m now about to talk about lexicons.
Let’s be clear here: by lexicon I don’t necessarily mean a kind of musical building-block—the atoms by which a performance/piece is constructed—although, interestingly enough, atomizing tends to be the first step in creating a lexicon (but that’s a discussion for another time…). I find lexicons—vocabularies, palettes or classifications of gestures, relationships, tactics or sounds—are useful not so much for generating material, but as a “temporary acknowledgment of one boundary [that] allows for [the] renegotiations of others” (Devin Hurd made a similar comment in regards to two-note scales).
My vocabulary has changed significantly over the years, and substantially over the last four years or so during which I began to seriously explore the solo context. And although there’s a kind of (irrational) logic to my vocabulary, much of the choices are arbitrary and ad-hoc—it’s what I can practice and train practically.
My vocabulary is also, for lack of better expression, non-formally multi-dimensional (but more on that in the future). However, in its bare-bones, ‘flat’ form, in the solo guitar context, I have only three elements that make up my improvisative vocabulary: open strings plus natural harmonics; chromatic and ‘displaced’ clusters; and two-hand ‘touch’ playing. Never mind Anthony Braxton’s hundred or so ‘sound classifications’ (Braxton, 1988, pp. v–x), ‘impoverished’ does not begin to describe my lexicon (it’s a small part of why ‘lexicon’ is entirely the wrong word for it).
I’ll take closer looks at these elements from various angles in future articles; discussing some of the (irrational) logic behind it, and exploring some of the implications of it.


Braxton, Anthony (1988), Composition Notes, Book A (distributed by Hanover, NH: Frog Peak Music).

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