Friday, November 19, 2010

+DRAWING+MODEL+MUSIC+BEER+: Cowbells, 12-String Guitars, Vocoders (kinda)

Drawing by Dr. D.


12-string guitars.


And, technically, Talk Boxes, too.

Y'all sweet ~ we had our largest turnout to date last night. And, once again, y'all were game. The theme was admittedly formal. But, like most of the themes to date, a great excuse for me to dig into ideas I haven't had the motivation to research on my own. So, selfishly, I thank you for indulging me.

The idea to pick specific instruments came from the sense of texture apparent in the previous session's Eno soundtrack. A lot of those works were less about songs and more about moods or atmospheres. Nice way to reflect or refract a group's energy.

There are a handful of producers or musicians that I want to explore in a similar manner: Daniel Lanois, RZA. We'll return to that approach in the future, but for last night's session I thought I'd try instruments or production techniques that create a certain atmosphere. Sound a little abstract? Think of the wah-wah pedal. Does this come to mind? Naturally, the guitar effect pops up in countless derivations of sleazy, porntastic funk. Helpful for creating a lighthearted mood or to break tension -- a "moment of levity," as they may say. It's also been used in a variety of ways, from ballsy, bombastic rock to gentle, psychedelic flourishes. Well, there's another possible theme for a future session...

Anyway, I focused on these three instruments/technologies because they afforded a range of moods. I've been joking with Nate about doing a cowbell theme for a while. Pretty fascinating to hear such a prominent percussion piece being used as everything from a literal metronome to an accent within a drum solo. And mostly during a certain period from the late '60s to the mid-70s. For anyone that complains about dance music and its incessant 4/4 beat, how is the cowbell in "We're An American Band" any better or worse? In seriousness, peep the playlist above as there were a bunch of jams I didn't get to. Dig the o.g. version of the Bad Brains' "Pay To Cum" -- completely forgot about the insane cowbell part on the verse!

I have been thinking about the 12-string guitar of late, because I've seen it cropping up in a variety of other bands: Led Zeppelin, R.E.M., Tim Buckley. I didn't know much about it aside that Roger McGuinn rocked one and used it to get that shimmery tone on all those classic Byrds records. Was very pleased to learn that that same jangle could by a variety of artists ranging from some bright Beatles sides penned by George Harrison and even the Cure and the Smiths. Was especially surprised about the latter two groups because I attribute a lot of their sound to guitar effects. Nice to also think about the impact of which instruments they used on which records. By the way, Smiths fans will geek on this post breaking down the various guitars that Johnny Marr used.

Last up is the Vocoder. Won't say much about this b/c I'm not done with Dave Tompkins' excellent tome on the technology. In summary, it's the device that transforms your voice into that quintessential late '70s/early '80s robot sound that we all associate with Electric Boogaloo 2 and JCVD actin' a fool to Ollie & Jerry on Venice Beach. It's fun, it's silly... and it's such a literal representation of what we once thought was the future. What a pure form of expression.

PS: I really wanted to play some Zapp, which is why I pulled out some talk box cuts. A talk box is that tube that guitarists and keyboardists stick in their mouth and allows them to play/sing in a way that sounds like a Peanuts gang adult. And Roger Troutman was a stone genius. WHAT.

The net result? There were a lot of familiar cuts last night. Maybe that's why Nate and I felt everything go so quickly? The mood was pretty light and energetic throughout. And, again, everyone was sociable. But what did you guys think? Do you prefer the music to be more present or more in the background?

Looking forward to seeing you again in 2 weeks on Dec 1.

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