Tuesday, April 10, 2007


I've long been interested in manipulation of sound. Recently, I've become interested in manipulation of sound through use of a space / room / environment, rather than simply plugging in to an effects pedal. The results are far more interesting and the process by which they are achieved is plain as day to see. Example :

My ongoing project, which I have called Acoustic Alchemy, Bill Baird and Acoustic Alchemy, BB / AA (the best name so far, I think), and Cabeza de Vaca, has done mild experimenting on a number of fronts, and to good effect, I think. The project was conceived after I'd played a number of shows as a solo songwriter, and found that the energy and drive which was intended in the songs simply was not translating. A new approach was needed, one that challenged the old ideas of songwriters, performers, and such. We're not talking revolution here, just an interesting way to perform introspective folky-type songs in a club atmosphere that demands visual spectacle, a certain base level of implied violence, just a tad bit of novelty, and just enough audience uncertainty.

How am I approaching this problem?

Through the use of repetition of parts / instruments; inspired by Glenn Branca, only not at all abrasive. Confrontational, but confronting folks with something (hopefully) quite beautiful and sparkling.

We have have as many as seven or eight people playing the same strummy strummy part on guitar. This has been successful for us for a number of reasons ::::

First, just the pure visual of it. Seven people holding acoustic guitars looks cool and also strange, like some boys escaped from vacation bible school. The repetition of the image is crucial.

Second, the sound of seven (more or less) guitars all strumming the same general pattern, with each players different rhythmic flourishes and quirks thrown in, makes for a beautiful wash of lush stringed noise. No amps, no electronics ! Just vibrating strings; so much more pleasing to the ear.

Third, emphasis on individual playing has been mostly obliterated and members are encouraged to really play as a group. This is a problem I've found quite typical of loud rock ensembles. Even in a nice club with good monitoring, you only end up playing to maybe half the band. There is not really any sense of the totality of it all. This line-up hopefully allows people the awareness of everything that's happening on stage.

Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, having so many players not tied to amplifiers allows incredible flexibility in adapting to changing circumstances in a room. We can spread out all across the stage, move through a room, walk outside... using space as part of the music, we've achieved something that feels magical when you're part of it. The players may spread out through the room, all along the perimeter, so the audience is literally surrounded by sound, enveloped by it. This leads to what I would call pleasant uncertainty, which I find quite amazing as an audience member. Feeling enraptured and being strung along by a performer, wondering what will happen next... this sense of mystery is missing from most "rock" shows that I've seen. People arrive, start drinking, talking, a band plays, and very few people really pay attention or step into the moment they're actually inhabiting. Our show tries to shake them and wake them up! And if they don't want to come along for the ride, so be it. We will still enjoy ourselves.

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