Archive for June, 2012

The Luthiers Art and the Air Guitar Disease

June 19, 2012

As you are well aware, a luthier is a maker of stringed instruments: it is not a reference to that rabid Anti-Semite Martin Luther

Think about this! If it wasn’t for the development of the electrostatic pick-up (which senses vibrations in the soundboard of stringed instruments) by Lloyd Loar (Rickenbacker) and Walter Fuller (Gibson) in the 1920s, we could still be listening to big band instruments. And you, Dear Reader, would probably be playing air saxaphone, trumpet or even worse air clarinet (surely the poxiest of all wind instruments) when pixillated in the shower. (1) Not an edifying sight, I’m sure you’d agree.

Once the pickup was added to the guitar and it was plugged into a suitably loud amplifier, (artistic and sexual) self-expression was yours for the asking. Instead of taking the Spinal Tap trajectory here, and I know that there is at least one unreconstructed heavy metallist among the half dozen readers who visit this site, I want to focus on some interesting examples of the luthiers art.

This is really an extension of a previous post (old site, I think), and no, I’m not going to rabbit on about Gibsons and Fenders or give you my list of top 10 guitarists. Listing is classified by the Dictionary of Psychiatric Disorders as an anal retentive behaviour. List compilers (guitarists, bands, LPs, movies, ice cream flavours) are culturally insecure specimens with narrow fixations and rotten social skills.

So let’s proceed with a minimum of comment before I get to my point.

The forerunner of the modern electric guitar – the Rickenbacker Frying Pan – was built by Adolph Rickenbacker, Paul Barth and George Beauchamp in the early 1920’s. Rickenbacker gained his patent after sending several guitarists to the Patent Office in Washington DC to prove that it actually worked. (2)

Some Great Designs.

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In order:
Vox Teardrop
The Framus Superyob for Readers who were into the Slade tribal stomp
Vox Phantom
Hofner Violin Bass
Gretsch White Falcon
Ovation Deacon

The Danelectro range. Surely my favourites for their striking body styles and paintwork. Danelectros were constructed out of wood and believe it or no, Masonite, and sold for around $100 (including sturdy case) by Sears Roebuck mail order. They were not crap guitars by any means and had their aficianadoes, since a failed modification didn’t break the bank. Also culturally sensitive advertising: “You don’t have to be a Hindu to play a Coral (under license) electric sitar“. (3)

Somehow, I feel that Gram Parsons and the Flying Burrito Brothers should have chosen a Danelectro, possibly the Guitarlin, a mix of guitar and mandolin. Also a perfect complement to that example of sartorial elegance, the Nudie suit.

Some Antipodean notes.

To the best of my knowledge, Ozland hasn’t produced an indigenous guitar company, since bespoke luthiers don’t really count in terms of the mass market for air guitarists. New Zealand that land of sheep (let’s not go there KT) gave rise to the Jansen company in 1960. Jansen produced a wide range of attractively styled copies (Vox Teardrop, Fenders, Rickenbacker and even a Danelectro), plus a brilliant looking semi-acoustic bass. Unfortunately, the company folded in 1972. (4)

Australia in contrast Strauss amplifiers which were truly fucking loud with speakers capable of taking 300 watts (the nearest being the English Celestion which was only capable of a measly 30 watts. In the words of Lobby Lloyd “…Strauss amps were killers, they were beasts, but the company couldn’t capture an overseas market and went bust in the end”. (5)

In terms of sheer air guitar volume, Billy Thorpe ruled the roost, leaving pissy Pom wannabees Deep Purple in the dust. Fresh after killing the goldfish in the Bondi Pavilion, Thorpe set new standards at the Sunbury outdoor mudfest: everybody left with permanent tinnitus and koalas dropped dead in gum trees.

Try this on Youtube and you will get my point below:
Billy Thorpe & The Aztecs – Mama live on GTK

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Its 2012 and time to abandon guitars and all guitar-based music. Put your guitar, guitar-based LPs and CDs in the attic and let them collect dust. The guitar is a 20th century electricity technology which has totally outlived its sonic possibilities and is now a brake and bankrupting influence on the music creation process. Its sound is simply too dominant and centre stage. I hope to return to this point at a later date.

I can hear the objections now. What you are proposing is simply not good economic policy KT. My old dad is still working as a roadie for a metal band and I don’t think I can afford to support him in his old age, writes one ESL teacher in Asia.

I only listen to very non-mainstream guitarists (Laswell, Hillage, Frith, etc) who sell their experimental noodlings on obscure mail order sites, so this proscription doesn’t apply to me, right? You, my friend, have even less credibility than the rest of us yobs bought up on a diet of Page, Clapton, Roy Buchanan and John Fahey. I can see it now. You play your latest experimental/freeform guitar offering to you friends, and the thought bubble above their heads reads:

God, what shyte. Why can’t he be rediscovering Black Sabbath like the rest of us. Hopefully, he will find a girlfriend and not stretch the friendship with this drivel”.

Okay, guitars are a major commodity in a massive industrial supply chain, so their wholescale rejection would result in economic chaos and mass unemployment. Let’s put paid to this argument quick smart. Next time you are doing your Hong Kong visa run, visit Billy Lee’s guitar shop in Kowloon. With the exception of Gretsch, every name brand guitar under licence or copied is either made in South Korea or China, so there is only Chinese unemployment to worry about, and that will be remedied in the near future when the PRC moves towards a full welfare state and democratic government.

Finally, we need to consider the welfare of all guitarists and guitar bands, since most have an extremely narrow range of life skills (exploitating female fans, excessive recreational use of drugs and alcohol, stage posturing and taking themselves seriously) and would probably end up in the dole queue. Not to worry. They will be allowed to live out their mortal coil in the Orient traversing the Seoul, Beijing, Shanghai circuit in an eternal triangular tour loop. Rock royalty could hobnob with PRC’s princelings, while the lesser of the species could create general mayhem for shock horror editorials in the China Daily and on Dialogue.

Okay, this manifesto is all very well KT, but how are we going to fill this vacuum and loss of identity in our lives. In a word, Mali, that poverty and permanently drought stricken state in Sahelian Africa, which is presently experiencing a military coup and a Taureg homeland independence movement.

Written in a public library, so shall finish it tomorrow.

In a second word, the Kora.

The Kora, a 21 string harp-like instrument, produces a light airy soundscape perfect if you wish to get down with with some Flamenco or Delta blues. To make you own, you will need a calabash, a long piece of hardwood, some cowhide, wooden sound pegs and a bridge and either fishing line or metal harp stings. Guitar machine heads can substituted for wooden pegs, but they will put your tuning out of whack in short time.

Importantly, you will need to leave your day job and move home and hearth to Mali as you will need to engage the services of a Kora Grandmaster, if you wish to move beyond the nitwit stage. Finally, a massive dose of application as the competition among Kora-playing griots in that part of the world is something fierce.

Now that I’ve provided you with a mission in life, at least something more important than your daily visit to China forums, I would like to end with a local event here in tubbyland. Colin Offord and his collaborator Lihan Yeh are not to be missed. A mixture of of sonic soundscape, installation art and performance with Australasian themes and Colins original instruments. Tremendous stuff, Dear Reader.
Info:
http://www.colinofford.com and http://www.youtube.com
References

1 -3. Greatly indebted to Michael Heatley The Illustrated History of the Electric Guitar, Merchant Book Company, 2003. This is a tremendous and lavishly illustrated resource which I recommend to anyone with an interest in the subject. The basic proposition in my para one was pilfered from page 10.\

4. Roger Watkins. 1995. Hostage to the Beat: The Auckland Scene 1955 – 1970. Tandem Press.

5. Iain McIntyre Ed. 2006. Tomorrow is Today: Australia in the psychedelic era, 1966 – 1970. Highly detailed essays which go far beyond music to include politics, counterculture and experimental theatre. Brilliant bibliography which includes I Marks & I McIntyre Wild About You: Tales from the Australian Rock Underground, 1963 – 1968. Community Radio Federation. 2004.
I will trade my first born for a copy since it covers a period which I find far more interesting – The Librettos, The Missing Links, The Creatures, The Throb, etc.

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Musicology (One of Three)

June 1, 2012

The only trip up the Thames which gets my approval

It began in the US with heavy rock in the late ’60s with Steppenwolf, Vanilla Fudge and Iron Butterfly (The Godfathers of The Drum Solo). However, after sailing the Atlantic, it embraced folk/pastoral, cod classical and heavy doses of pre-digital equipment giantism and metamorphosed into its true Ebola-type glory – PROGRESSIVE ROCK.

Some book review background. I had a near-death experience in the early 70s after a group of us were given free front row seats to see prog rock royalty, Yes. You can read about it HERE – Musical Memories Best Buried – my first post ever on my first site – and you can understand why we underwent a collective paradigm shift and embraced high-end pink rocks and Hank Williams.

Apologies. The WordPress link simply refused to accept this devastating experience, so pls locate manually.

Paul Stump. The Music’s All That Matters: A History of Progressive Music. Quartet Books. 1997.

Master Stump kicks off his Intro thus:

Contrary to received opinion, Progressive rock’s main trouble isn’t self-indulgence. It isn’t critical ignorance or illiteracy. It isn’t even pretentiousness (an epithet the music’s progenitors so often bear with patient stoicism). Oh no. Progressive’s problem is its name.

As if this isn’t bad enough, we are told that the writing of this tome coincided with his completion of a four year honours degree in a Dept of Europeon and French Studies in one of Pommyland’s lesser universities.

At this point, suspecting a deluge of Frog meta-theory, the cat sneered and headed for the hills. Being made of sterner stuff, we proceeded to the claim that “…Progressive has produced some of the finest of all rock and pop”.

Master Stump doesn’t however deep-six all his critical faculties since, having given every PR LP a deep listening (and I say knowledgeable) experience, he does identify a goodly quantity of vinyl shyte. In so doing, he provides both cruel pleasure plus laughs.

All the major (Pink Floyd, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Yes) and minor (Gentle Giant, Peter Gabriel and Marillon) perps, plus a host of un-heard-ofs, get the full analytical treatment, and every bar of incorporated classica is indentified and evaluated. A good bibliography and lots of interviews (Fripp, Howe, Bruford, etc).

(Oh yes, I forgot. Mike Oldfield, another members of PR’s A Team, gets his due share of ink with his stitched together Tubular Bells. Oldfield earned a squillion for this conceptual pile, and then attempted to recreate this feat ad nauseum, but finally gave up the gig after releasing his massive Anthology, the latter being a sure sign of becoming an embarrassing has-been. Subsequently, our misguided genius took up with a Penthouse Pet and was last heard of advertising for a gf on his Facebook site.)

Prog Rock, its inspirations and ambitions consciously identified itself as the Other to commercial pop with its 2.5 minutes of commercial fairy floss. It encompassed a backward/recursive ideology of the musician as Romantic Artiste – mucho art school personal expression, individuality, experimentalism and compositional complexity leaved with a heavy dose of instrumental vituosity. Whack all of the above onto pre-digital technological determinism – Moogs, Mellatrons, Fairlights and other keyboard developments of the day, throw in The Concept, and fuck me, you had all the ingredients for a full-on theatre/festival of megalomania.

And the audience was complicit in this jaunt into bombast, equipment giantism and the celebration of instrumental technique. You were doomed if you took to the stage without a compositional concept, a massive perspex drum kit with 8 tom toms, at least a dozen keyboards, an add-on classical orchestra, plus a Roger Dean stage motif.

The smirk dept. Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s (with his one and a half ton bass drum) stage excesses, the compositional ambitions of Yes (a six sided concept album interpreting the meditations of Shastric scriptures as enunciated by the Yogi Paramhasa Yogananda). Have to admit to cheering when Floyd just about incinerated themselves and half the audience due to a misjudged stage effect. I could pile on the examples, but lets move on.

Prog Rock was a edifice just waiting for a vomit attack with the advent of Thatcher, the miners strike, mass unemployment and the gathering of an increasingly surly urban peasantry ie the filh and the fury lurking near the moat. Punk fundamentalists and their scribe ideologists – Julie Burchill, Tony Parsons, Ian Penman etc of NME -bring to mind Freddie Engels (The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State).

Indeed, only barbarians are capable of rejuvenating a world laboring under the death throes of unnerved civilisation.

Punk had sartorial style and attitude even though its three chord thrash was pretty hopeless. Sort of like the enemies of my enemies are my friends.

Which brings me to The Penguin Book of Rock and Roll Writings ed by Clinton Heylin, Viking, 1992.

While providing a wide patelle of well-chosen examples by the head honcho scribblers to date, it doesn’t have a lot to offer in 2012, unless you seek to validate the importance of the New York Dolls in the grand scheme. The Stones, Springsteen and Dylan – who the fuck cares, even though I’ve consumed a lot of their product in my past.

The standout essay The Harder They Fall, John Helstrom’s coverage of the Pistols last seven shows in the States before they and Syd self-immolated is worth the read. Its a hoot with Vicious attempting suicide every second page, groupies of indeterminate gender/sexuality wandering in and out of the chaos, a thuggish Warner Brothers security and management team manhandling journalists and McClaren egging the pudding from the side.

Gunslingers at their very best facing off hundreds of drunk cowboys at Randi’s Rodeo.

Syd. “You cowboys are all a bunch of fucking faggots. You cunts”.

John. “Shut up, Sydney, you’re holding up the set”.

The penultimate Pistols gig worthy of OBE’s all round.

There is also a nice excerpt If You’re on the Road cut from Tony Parsons Platinum Logic. Logic was the trash read of the early 90s, a modern amorality tale about the record industry which greatly amused young KT and partner while noshing tea and toast after a Sunday lie-in. As delicious and barbed as Albert Goldman’s treatment of Elvis.

Heylin also includes three essays on the late 60s/early 70s cottage bootlegging industry, and all three authors mobilise arguments supporting that musical liberation front against Corporate Greed which still ring true today. Recall legal attempts to ban the sale of double cassette decks , whack a surcharge on blank tapes, etc, all in the interest of financially cross-subsidising classical music and new artists. Ho. Ho. Ho.

While Heylin is another scribe with an unhealthy fixation with bloody Bob Dylan, his Bootleg: The Secret History of the Other Recording Industry, St Martins Press, 1996, is definitely worth the effort. He provides detailed treatments of copyright history and law, and shows how the corporations make off like robbers dogs every time a new sound reproduction media makes an appearance. Corporate greed worthy of Shell in the Niger Basin, and lets also get rid of the idea of artists as victims.

That aside, my hat is tipped to Rubba Dubba the greatest bootlegger of his day. Among other feats, Mr Dubba compiled 75 vinyl bootlegs of Led Zeppelins different US concerts and enclosed them in a wooden carrying case. A completists wet dream. You provide the pantechnicon. Somehow a Japanese Led Zep cover band obtained a box set, and so made a living replicating note for note versions of Dazed and Confused (or whatever) as played on Dec 9 1972 (or whatever).

Finally, a confessional note. In 2012, it is more fun reading about music than listening about it.

The post-modern condition I suppose.

The Sino Front

Being’s govt complains about the US Embassy providing hourly Twitter updates on pollution levels. More foreign interference in China’s domestic affairs.

Stephen Smith, head of Oz’s Foreign Affairs Dept, made the delegation leave all digital devices in Hong Kong before proceeding to Beijing to discuss military exchanges. It caught the attention of the Chinese media and was treated as another instance of foreign barbarians hurting the feelings of the Chinese people.