The TWANG! To Be Concise
steely Dan’s Elliot Randall waxes musical on simplicity, soloing and the ‘space between the notes’
As you might have guessed by now, I very much enjoy musing on the myriad topics of ‘Guitarism’. So, for this month’s instalment, I thought it might be interesting to explore the subject further. In my initial Guitarist column, I offered this phrase as food for thought: “Hey, take it easy – you’re not getting paid by the note.”
And we’re off...
When I was a young fella back in NYC, like so many of my guitar-playing peers, I wanted to be ‘the fastest gun in town ’(and the loudest too). Maybe it had to do with age and inexperience… To be clear, most of the playing I do these days is related to the genres called‘ Rock’, ‘Blues’,‘ Pop’ and ‘Jazz’. In all of these, I have found a certain type of simplicity works beautifully. For me, it’s not about dazzling the audience with virtuoso speed and complexity. What it is about is finding the path to the listener’s heart, leaving them with a memorable melody or two after the event. I’m not taking away from the incredible writing and playing of complex music. It all has its place. It’s all valid. In the development of one’s style, there are choices to be made. I’ve made mine. Of course, if I’m hired to do a recording in which the guitar parts have been written where I must be uber-speedy and accurate, that’s not a problem (I practise!). That said, I have my own personal preferences, as I’m sure you do. Our preferences may be on opposite sides of the debate, but that’s what makes the world go round. I love listening to Manitas de Plata, Segovia, Wes Montgomery – all of whom can blow the listener away with incredible technique and speed. Bless ’em all!
The difference between light and sound is really interesting. They are both about vibrations. Sound is measured in Hz through kHz (Hz denotes vibrations per second; kHz denotes thousands of vibrations per second). Light and colour are simply measured in a higher part of the frequency spectrum – in mHz (millions of times per second). This should give us a new insight into The Beach Boys’r ecording of Good Vibrations… I also think about the artist Rothko. His body of paintings, in my opinion, is a masterclass in simplicity. His shapes are usually deceptively simple, allowing his bold vibrating colours to create veritable symphonies!
“Music is the space between the notes ”is a quote generally attributed to Claude Debussy, though some scholars might argue that the phrase was uttered by Mozart or Ben Johnson or Miles Davis. Author aside, it’s one I find myself requoting somewhat frequently.
It’s interesting to analyse the solos of Jimi Hendrix. Most were not full of speed – but they were filled with a rainbow of tone. He’d often hit one note, find its feedback counterpart from his amplifier, then let it sing. David Gilmour is another example of this mindset.
Please don’t misunderstand me – there’s nothing wrong with an inspired cascade of complex and speedy soloing, but as I like to say: ‘It’s all about appropriateness’. Hey – I’m still in search for the perfect one-note solo.
And, with that, I sign off for an unspecified duration, as my production workload will be dominating my life for a while.We are baking, digitising and remixing some cool music from another era. I very much look forward to coming back and sharing more views with you all. In the meantime, keep up that search for the lost chord!
Ciao for now and... twang!
The simplicity conjured up by Gilmour is hard to replicate