Guitarist/bassist Raphael Vanoli’s Bibrax, a set of work for electric guitar, takes the basic practice of solo classical guitar and recasts it in the wide spectrum of colors attainable only through electronic devices.
Like many conservatory-trained musicians in recent years, Vanoli is as involved with rock-derived music as with jazz and music in the Western classical tradition. He studied jazz and classical guitar at the Conservatory of Amsterdam and went on to perform the music of Steve Reich, Frederic Rzewski, Makoto Nomura and others. But he also played in a number of rock-based ensembles including Knalpot, a duo with drummer Gerri Jäger. Bibrax is his first solo release.
For the recording, Vanoli used a stereo setup employing a modified Fender Stratocaster sent through an elaborate pedal chain and then outputted to a bass amp on one side, and one of six guitar amps on the other. Unsurprisingly, the sound on all tracks is full and often of a lush—though sometimes harsh–beauty. This is apparent from the opening track, 99, which wraps floating, chime-like harmonies in a sharply honed, metallic jangle. Similarly, Perrine is a wash of consonant chords carried along on an explicit pulse. It’s vaguely muted sound may be an effect of Vanoli’s bowing the strings with a peacock feather. Lenz is one of several pieces created with Vanoli’s signature technique of blowing across the fingerboard to set the strings in motion. The piece consists of shimmering chords brought on with a gradual attack and fading with a long decay. As with the other pieces on the recording, its beauty carries just enough of an edge to keep complacency away.
Picasso’s 1912 painting Guitar on a Table shows a guitar in a vertiginous, exploded view—dismantled and seen from multiple, often incompatible, perspectives all at once. The instrument is visually deconstructed, decades before the idea of deconstruction was formulated. In a similar manner, two new releases take the solo guitar, electric and acoustic, and perform an aural deconstruction, seemingly disassembling the instrument and testing the sounds of its constituent parts.
Tellef Øgrim’s Solos for Guitars is a set of ten vignettes for electric or acoustic guitar alone, presented from many angles. Øgrim does the guitar in different voices, making it sound like a reed instrument in a distorted setting (LN Has Left the Building); overdriving it through bent and distorted riffs (Fat Fit); bending and pulling the low strings to give it the gravity and twang of a rudra vina (Dolo’s Divid). In the middle of all this, the pristine sound of an acoustic guitar playing modally-flavored melodies on Lur Lokk comes as something of a disorienting experience—the normal displaced and alienated into something strange.
Ernesto Diaz-Infante works with nylon-string guitar and goes for a more elemental sound wherein, as with Picasso’s guitar, the sum is dissolved into the parts. The strings in particular take on a separate personality, scrabbling and popping under Diaz-Infante’s fingers, wobbling as a metal or glass object glides over them, having the ridges of their silver wrap sound at the scrape of a nail. Diaz-Infante gives as intimate a view into the instrument as one could hope to have.
The title of this release by Norwegian guitarist Kim Myhr perfectly captures the atmosphere of highly saturated, sonically rich music on offer. Playing only an acoustic twelve-string guitar, Myhr creates a dense, orchestral sound that does indeed give the impression of all limbs singing all at once.
As a solo instrument the twelve-string guitar is a choir of its own. The arrangement of its strings in unison or octave pairings makes for a choric effect that Myhr channels into complex, unstable chords that shimmer and envelop the listener. On the aptly titled Weaving with Choir and on Sleep Nothing Eat Nothing, rapidly strummed chords build up a thick texture permeated by beats and sustained tones that sound at times like bowed piano strings. On Weaving with Choir Myhr accentuates the slight dissonances of out of phase, doubled strings by laying on harmonies of minor seconds. The texturally lighter Descent, built around a slowly repeated motif with a descending figure in the bass, differs from the frantic Leaping into Periphery, with its manic, ghost-note arpeggios on muted strings and spiky, harp-like timbres. The slowly strummed, unchanging chord on Blinky leaves space between soundings that allows its reverberations to hang in the air like so much transparent connective tissue.
Overall, an aurally lush, harmonically challenging music that’s unapologetically beautiful even at its sparsest.