The title of this release of solo music for acoustic guitar poses a question, and one that turns out to be more complex than it first appears. On the face of it, what it is is a single instrument, but the farther-reaching answer guitarist Tellef Øgrim gives in his program note is, “a means to connect.” Øgrim, a Norwegian who often plays fretless guitars, sees the apparent simplicity of the lone, unaugmented acoustic instrument as in fact harboring a complex richness of expression and sound that can communicate in as unmediated a way as is possible with an attentive listener.
For this recording, an EP-length collection of eight brief pieces, Øgrim used two guitars with subtly different voices. One, a Martin he acquired after it apparently was abandoned while being repaired, has a deeply resonant voice; the second, a smaller guitar of obscure origins, has a less ringing sound. It’s probably the latter guitar that opens the recording with a gentle, though slightly dissonant, chord sequence pivoting on minor seconds; the agitated, staccato piece that follows has a ringing sound that most likely is the Martin’s. With these as with each of the other pieces, Øgrim keeps focused on a single stylistic trope. These range from the folk-like melodies and arpreggios of P.O. through the rock rhythms and chords of Bestum Plesvark, to the free chromaticism of Horse. It’s a well-recorded set that succeeds in offering challenging substance in an intimate atmosphere.
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.
As a polytonal, chording instrument, the guitar—whether electric or acoustic—is incisively capable of creating textures and harmonies of all densities and degrees of dissonance or consonance. Two new releases of guitar-based, improvised music from Scandinavia reveal something of the instrument’s versatility in creating rough or refined sonic atmospheres.
Kölen, the third release from the duo of Sweden’s Anders Berg (double bass, electric bass and electronics) and Norwegian guitarist Tellef Øgrim consists of eight tracks inspired by the geology and topography of Scandinavia’s severe, far northern landscape. And it’s possible to hear in these largely hard-edged pieces an aural image of craggy stone thrust up into thin, twilit air. Both instruments’ sounds are altered, often aggressively so, into an overdriven, elementally gritty distortion. This may not be metal, but it certainly is the ore from which metal originates.
Unlike Kölen’s electronics-heavy ambience, Advances and Delays, a CD featuring the Norwegian guitarist Kim Myhr along with Swedish guitarist David Stackenäs, Canadian-born bassist Joe Williamson and Australian percussionist Tony Buck, is an acoustic affair made up of two long improvisations. The first piece is framed by the dense, choric clang and jangle of the two guitars; within the apparently static outer shell of sound the music moves restlessly in shimmering increments. The texture of the second piece initially is as rarefied as the first is thick. Harmonics and stopped strings are plucked and left to linger and decay in their own time; spaciously-placed bass notes hit at a chord progression that gradually is realized in strummed guitar chords. Following a percussion interlude, chromatic patterns on one guitar overlay arpeggios on the other, creating a rich, resonant tapestry of sound.