Secret Mojo Dumbs It Down for You

October 27, 2006

Boy I’d like to tap that…

Filed under: Music — secretmojo @ 3:55 am

How do you even begin to write about something like this?

I mean, god damn. What’s more is that Erik Mongrain isn’t the end of it. In fact, as I net-splurged on fingertap guitar, I discovered that, while Mongrain has impressive chops, there are far more musicians out there that lend more musicality (as in “graspability”) to their compositions. In other words, when you close your eyes, they’re still impressive.

Michael Hedges, a strong influence of Mongrain, is one of those guys. He was a guitarist stolen from the world in a fatal car crash, and proves in this video (has two songs) that it’s not just technique, but technique applied musically that creates wonder.

Notice how Hedges squeezes the entire dynamic range out of his guitar. Even furious triplets are played delicately, quietly; technique serving the desire of the ear. It may seem like a waste when you listen to it. Why such a rapid-fire lick, just to underlay a mere passage? Something so impressive should jump out front and center and announce its ownership of the world! I SAID “!”! (That’s certainly what works on American Idol).

But this is where true mastery comes in. Hedges is so poised, so skilled, that a movement requiring years of practice from even the most talented to master — and therefore eternally out of reach for mere mortals — is but another trick in his bag, another way to get at music. As I always contend, “there is nothing more astonishing than ease.”

In my short exploration into unconventional guitar, I discovered one fingerstylist (besides Hedges) I could truly say impressed me with my eyes closed. His name is Andy McKee. He’s not as wacky-dextrous as the others (at least he doesn’t show it), but I really like his ear for music. My prediction is that within five years, he’ll be the hot new composer, writing scores for movies using a total of six strings. At least, it’s what I hope for both him and this style of guitar music.

Finally, I must mention a video that literally had me laughing in joy. Similar to Fencer’s juggling links (which still get me to this day), these two demonstrations (top of page) of a funky instrument called “the stick” had me clapping my hands (yes, it’s true) and yelling at my screen: “My god, that is so. fucking. coooooool!”

Greg Howard, the zealous advocate of the Chapman stick who plays in these two videos, is a keyboardist and sax player who found magic in the tapping technique developed by Emmett Chapman (designer of the stick). To be honest, Howard plays stick better than Emmett Chapman himself. Dave Matthews has used him on occasion, and the guy certainly deserves more attention. Check out his solo performances from his album Stick Figures (scroll down).

Sufficed to say, I want me one of those sticks. In a bad way. Looks like a bitch to play, and it’s not acoustic. But God. Damn. It’s the only instrument I know of that retains some of the compositional features of a keyboard while offering things a keyboard lacks (pitch bend, slide, tremolo, timbre experiments, and so on). Oh, the vibrato envy!

I hope the stick catches on. Unfortunately, its $2,600 price tag is prohibitive for such an experimental amplified instrument. I’d expect that kind of price from a keyboard or a violin, because they already have a support system of teachers and players around the globe. But for an instrument that you may just discover is not your bag of tea? No thanks.

It’s still wicked cool, though. Shame about the price.


Okay, I’m probably unfair singling anybody out, because there’s plenty of fingerstyling to be impressed with over at Candy Rat Records, like Erick Turnbull (mp3 sample, site), Antoine Dufour (mp3 sample, site), Don Ross (mp3 sample, site), and a grammy-nominated guy who boldly does it with Bass, Michael Manring (mp3 sample, site). Not to mention all the newgrass artists, chicks like Ani DiFranco (mp3, site) and on, and on, and on…

Here’s a selection of Chapman stick players on YouTube (why all the ambient music, man?)

Michael Hedges kicks ass with All Along the Watchtower

Don Kush, another impressive fingertapping artist, who plays the guitar harp.

In my opinion, a superior composition from Eric Mongrain called The Silent Fool.

Check out more performance videos of the stick from various artists.

Musicians influenced by Michael Hedges (with mp3s).


August 10, 2006

William Martin Joel, Immortal Being

Filed under: Music — secretmojo @ 6:46 pm

After my post explaining my “piana fetish,” I decided, in fairness, to give Billy Joel some ear time. So I dusted of the box collection, skipped three discs and snatched numero cuatro, wherein Bill offers a seminar, full of joke cracking and piano vamps, to an enthralled audience on the pretext of giving them music biz advice.

Shelve that one next to Eric Clapton: Unplugged.

There’s a word for this kind of experience. Joy. Everyone feels blessed to be there. The audience is happy he’s cracking jokes, thrilled he can’t keep his fingers off the piano. Joel is loving it, too. He’s up on stage, surrounded by his people. People who know what a major 7th is, who know Debussy and Grieg and Kurt Weill. There’s no set list, no programmed lights, just he and a piano, and, if the urge to “demonstrate” a musical idea arises, his band.

The atmosphere is electric, the kind that makes a person funnier than he usually is, greater than his greatness. Though it began as a simple charitable act from Joel, it certainly ends as a celebration of his work in the form of thousands of adoring fans.

The first sentence he utters (after hard-dying applause and shout-outs) is, “No one’s under the illusion that this is a concert or anything?”

But he simply can’t help himself. The business is, in fact, the music. He’s hard-pressed to answer any question for more than ten seconds without scampering towards the ivories… to thunderous applause.

He explains how the Beatles phenomenon (February, 1964, he remembers) galvanized his musical drive. He recounts memories of JFK and the dull Lyndon Johnson who replaced him (“I come to you with a heavy heart… and big ears.”). He breaks out his blues chops in a smile-inducing, Ray Charlesy rendition of River of Dreams, and rides a bongo wave in We Didn’t Start the Fire. He demonstrates a portion of Scenes from an Italian Restaurant on the piano pure, which, as a side effect, emphasizes how great of a song it really is.

He saunters into personal territory, too, describing his trip to Vienna to meet his father, and how he returned with another piece (Vienna) to add to his wealthy repertoire of advisory second-person songs: Captain Jack, Tell Her About It, Innocent Man, You’re Only Human, and so on.

There are ex-wive jokes as well. But “let’s not get into that,” he snarks.

The crowd holds him tight the whole way, never missing the opportunity to carry him aloft like a war hero returned from battle. They know every lyric, sometimes better than he. Without the benefit of microphone, Joel would dissolve, indistinguishable, into the caroling crowd.

The only other time I recall Billy Joel packing this much power into an album was with Концерт, where a preluding Georgian male vocal ensemble (Zhournalist) revved up the audience with the driving traditional “Odoya.” After they breathlessly punctuate the end, Joel jumps on in to dig out an athletically impossible Angry Young Man and launches a two-hour sprint to the finish.

Disc 4, the most glorious part of this box set, in my opinion tops Концерт. It honors Joel’s odyssey by wrapping it all up with Joel’s expansively performed “Piano Man” finale, a thousand voices strong. And by the end of my listening pleasure, I’m convinced that William Martin Joel is immortal.

August 6, 2006

Lady Fingers

Filed under: Music,Random Thoughts — secretmojo @ 12:08 am

Piano-playing chicks knock me sideways. Even Vanessa Carlton has a chance at my ear because of it. It’s absurd: why select music based on genitalia and instrument? Okay, instrument makes sense. And genitalia, too, makes sense—if you’re talking vocal range or (ahem) album cover.

But what I’m talking about here is a dysfunction. Tipping the “piano chick” bottle more often than I should, to the point of leapfrogging over a wicked Dave Matthews drum/flute intro to get my ears on Norah Jones’ “Cold, Cold Heart.”

The lameness doesn’t stop there, oh, no: I’ll carelessly stick my CD player on one-song-repeat and go a few thousand rounds with Vonda Shepherd’s “Maryland.” It’s embarrassing. Actually, since I have headphones on, and no one can logistically hear what I hear, it’s more like shame.

Thing is, there are men out there just as qualified for the job of plinking dinks in my ear. Billy Joel, Randy Newman, Connick, Ellington, and so on could fill that gap easily. But I’ll slam the cover on their fingers to get to Tori Amos, Fiona Apple, Patricia Barber, and hell, even Joni Mitchell, who doesn’t play that well—which of course isn’t one of my requirements anyway.

I originally thought (manual dexterity)*(sex appeal) was the formula for my piano lust. You know, dexterity can come in handy in other, um, scenarios. But that would mean I’d have to dig Allison Krauss and Nancy Wilson a whole lot more than I do, and I’d be watching a hell of a lot of flamenco dancing.

Geeze, I try to deconstruct everything. Why can’t it just be a matter of taste?

Because of this glaring, scary fact: I harbor sympathy for Condoleeza Rice because she plays.

That’s just plain nuts. Nuts! Way beyond standard ethical procedure. As you can see, this fetish is becoming a liability, and may contribute to Middle East war. So it’s important I figure out some root causes, before I ignite world war XXI.

So, in the interests of mankind, this is my theory: command.

No instrument says “overarching control of every note on earth” like piano does. (Full disclosure: I play, if you want to call cursing every 3 measures “playing” piano). Nothing promotes the spirit of “I can yank this note out of key” as well as piano. Plus, if a chick can build a minor 9th with a tritone stuck in there for a little gritty punch, or dig out a melody in parallel fifths, then she receives 150 points of head cred, and goes to the front of the class, past Bonnie Raitt and all the rest of them. Except Annie Lennox and Laurie Anderson. They’re always in front, passing notes about Björk.

Hm. Where was I?

Oh: a smart chick in command is irresistible. A smart chick sitting on a bench, adroitly building songs by the digits, even more so. And any lady who seeks out a 9-foot instrument to play must be massively bigger on the inside than they let on; let’s call it the Beethoven Effect. And who wouldn’t want to put a song on infinite loop to get a piece of that? Not that this Effect is always there (think “Sarah McLachlan”, who may play because a cappella doesn’t sell), but regardless, I’ll hear the Beethoven Effect, even with Alicia Keys, who I think doesn’t pound it like she could.

So that’s it. I’ve confessed. I’m a piana junkie. Sorry, Thelonious, Vienna Teng outranks you on the “ivories” playlist for no legitimate reason. It’s selfish and sad, now I’ve gone and lost the best baby that I ever had. Oh I wish I had a river I could skate away on…

What was I saying?

August 3, 2006

Joni Mitchell is Recyclable

Filed under: Music,News,Random Thoughts,war — secretmojo @ 1:48 am

sittin’ in a park in paris, france
readin’ the news and it sure looks bad:
they won’t give peace a chance
(it was just a dream some of us had)

August 1, 2006

Some rules must be broken

Filed under: Blogroll,Music — secretmojo @ 12:09 am

I feel silly sharing any links to video; it’s probably some sort of YouTube prejudice. But I can’t get this particular juggling one out of my head ever since fencer linked it at his post, Juggling as Kinetic Art. Every single person I’ve showed this juggling viruosity to has laughed with joy and has been amazed. I have watched it at least 7 times.

Some people smoke pot; others get drunk. But that vid is free and feels better than both. So YouBoob be damned. Go watch it now.

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