This was another amazing concert at the Good Shepherd Center in Wallingford. Bill is an experimental guitarist, of the Fred Frith variety – the guitar, with various implements in and around the strings, becomes an electro-acoustic ensemble by itself.
Before the concert, an MC (turned out to be Bill’s fiancée) walked onto the stage: “The hush of everybody holding their breath in anticipation – He’s being fashionably late. He’ll be another ten minutes or so… – Breathe, people! Be loud!!”
A couple of minutes later Bill appeared, shuffling onto the stage quietly, deliberately acting sheepish as if sneaking into his own concert. As the audience started clapping, he sat down on a chair between his amp and a table holding cymbals, a waterphone, a violin bow, and other miscellaneous objects. He tuned his guitar, and talked briefly about thanking all of the Seattle musicians who’d helped him with his new CD. “…No, they’re not all here…” he muttered, “I wonder if they’re being dogged by volcanoes, as I was…” He explained that he had just been to two places where volcanoes had erupted, including being in Amsterdam when the one in Iceland went off. “Good to be home where I don’t have to worry. …Uh, anyone heard anything about Mt. Rainier…?”
He played two half-hour improvised sets. The first was mellow, a stream-of-consciousness with folk, rock and raga overtones. I began taking notes about what I heard: “E-bow high drone, e-bow chord (open 4th), minor third (triad), 4th above 3rd (do, sol, mi, la), chord kept reverberating as began conventional guitar picking. Jazz raga against drones. Pentatonic with accidentals. Began rock ground-bass, improv over top. Folk guitar, developed as minimalism. Drones fade. Some dissonance (minor 2nd). Change of style, “electro” birdcalls (prerecorded?); folk guitar resumes. Lets some overtones ring. Electro continues as other sounds fade. Manipulation of sounds: “old school” electronic music (Stockhausen, Subotnick). Return to the e-bow, now with dissonance (minor 2nds, flat 5ths, microtones). Hints of Niblock with microtonal vibrations, though faster (not drone-minimalism). Blues. Plucked harmonics (bell-tones) for next section. Slower folk guitar, “electro” reappears during quiet moments…”
I decided about ten minutes in that that kind of writing wasn’t that interesting, and it certainly didn’t tell about the feel of the piece (which was surprisingly mellow); so I began writing about it in a different way. I just let my pen wander across the paper, going up as the music went up, flowing as the music flowed, stopping as the music stopped. Each horizontal group of lines is a couple of minutes of music.
During the intermission, I showed the resulting abstract to some other audience members, who commented that it was a beautiful graphic. Later, I showed it to Bill, and commented that, “Now it’s a graphic score…” “…And I could play it again!” he said.
Before starting the second half, Bill stated that he should have brought a change of clothes because now he’s an entirely different person. And he was right. The second set was much more abstract, less linear, less melodic and concerned with “real notes”, more freeform, more concerned with interesting sounds that were intrinsically beautiful. Bill inserted the waterphone and the cymbal between the strings of the guitar (not at the same time), and at various points played it with the bow or with an electric toothbrush. I described the sound later as “heavy metal Takemitsu”. The volume built, reaching a screaming climax, and then Bill abruptly turned off the amp, leaving a startling silence. The sudden cessation of sound actually made me dizzy for a second or two – a surprising effect. (For those who are reading this and wonder if there were any chemicals involved here, the answer is no, I don't do drugs.)
I did two graphics inspired by the feel of the music for this second half as well. Since the music was not linear, neither are the graphics (I actually seldom looked where my pen was going, though when I sensed that I was getting close to an edge, I started over on the left).
And that was that. Some of the audience members hung around for a few minutes afterwards, talking about various things musical. Bill made an interesting comment that he had a friend, a percussionist, who used to play with Bill in a rock band and who said, “Forget all that experimental garbage – let’s just do straight-ahead rock, rock, rock!” and then started doing experimental music. I’ve switched styles like that several times too…