Graham Higgins Illustration - Literate Graffiti Dept.


May 13, 2010

13-5-10 Pas La Mer

1-5-10 La Mer

…I set up this screen-page on the 1st and would have finished it in an evening if little chunks of life and the dratted beta-blockers hadn’t by turns and in harness distracted me and diluted my motivation. My cardiac consultant has cleared me to stop the beta-blockers. Oy, enough with the Buddha-like tranquility already.

This entry was supposed to be a report from the tip of the wave of pleasure when the chords to a new song have just about become reliable enough, the lyrics familiar enough to free you to concentrate on how to sing the thing. I usually take a long time to learn lyrics and forget them too often in performance to have any ambition to be a performer. The words have to fall automatically like a domino-run. If you have to remember what comes next you’re on shaky ground under pressure.

Ten days along it’s become a musical screen-saver, a number to play when you can’t decide what to play. Wide Eyed And Legless is another that’s got a lot of play recently while I try to get the second verse lyric.

The electric guitar is set up to plug-and-play, after an almost tearful Saturday changing leads and testing connections in vain. Hearing the thin twang of unamplified strings while willing a signal to hum in the headphones is a peculiarly dispiriting exercise.

I’m a technodope. The weak link was the in-line volume control on the headphones, the solution: a one-third turn of a plastic wheel the size of a 10p. Result: happiness.

Electric guitar is so different from acoustic that it’s almost misleading to call them both guitars. I’m spending hours under the headphones trying to play what might be suitable for the sounds that emerge as I pedal through the settings on a multi-tone generator. Some of them are designed for committed metallists and sound like the flight-path for Heathrow. Turns out that you can make quite convincing doppler-shifting traffic noise. The electric plank is an array of instruments bringing their own performance-space acoustic with them.

I’m not yet decided whether it’s good to have this open sonic canvas to daub across. Like Photoshop, unless you have a pretty clear idea of what you want to achieve you can easily get waylaid by the ‘merely’ interesting and lose sight of whether the result is any good. I slightly envy Brian Eno’s cool brio about letting chance do the spadework.

No matter, for the moment the guitar – a Left-Hand Sumo Les Paul copy (Sumo? Never heard of ‘em) – is a loosely musical toy. On some of the reverb-drenched settings it feels like standing inside a sonic lava-lamp; some yelp at a touch and howl if you dare to strike the string and will only ever be of any use in lyrics including shouty references to Valhalla; there’s a faux-wah channel that can be made to sound like a voice recorded with most of the consonants missing – spent an amusing hour ‘singing’ Summertime. It reminded me of Debussy’s Golliwogs’ Cakewalk as synthesised by Tomita on Snowflakes Are Dancing.

When I first heard that track in the 70’s it was the comic turn in what seemed and still seems an astonishing set of triumphs of musicality over technology, given the painstaking process of setting up and recording synth-generated signals back then. Even then it struck me that this was a Japanese take on a historical French impression of a dance music of the African diaspora satirising the stiff refinements of the European settlers, a hybrid which is about as American as you can get.

Lawks, we stand on the threshold of a fixed five years of New Pragmatism with the Chuckle Bros. at the wheel – to you/to me… (overseas readers will have to bear with these parochial chidren’s TV references) … and I plug in the electric guitar to do the work of waggling my fingers in my ears and going la-la-la, la-la-la…

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