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http://lamkins-guitar.com/music/article/solo-performance
David Lamkins picked up his first guitar a long time ago. As best he can recall the year was 1967: the year of the Summer of Love. Four decades later David has conjured up an amalgam of folk, rock and jazz solo guitar music for the occasional intimate Portland audience.
location: Portland, OR USA

Facets: attitude, effects, goals, human nature, performance, technique, @musings info
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Solo performance

Last night Mary-Suzanne and I went to see our friend, Lana, perform at a gallery in NE Portland. This was an interesting show: about thirty people crammed into a space only slightly larger than our living room to hear several acts perform "noise". Yes, "noise" is a musical genre now. Perhaps it even has several subgenres...

This was basically electronic music. I'm guessing that the genre's roots could be traced back to some of the old-timers like Cage and Stockhausen. I didn't have time to explore these questions, as Mary-Suzanne and I took off after the second act to nurse our lingering jet-lag. What I found most interesting was that I liked some of the music, and that I could identify certain features that I found more compelling than others. Yes, I did say music, not noise. For these noise performances had all the characteristics of good musical performances. There were clearly identifiable movements, each creating a mood. There was an evolution of the sound within movements, and a clear delineation between movements.

All this, and there wasn't an identifiable "instrument" to be seen. The performers' workspaces looked like a science experiment gone awry -- tangles of cables linking boxes of indeterminate origin, plus the occasional object that would not normally be misconstrued as a musical instrument. Regardless of how the music was created, the players stamped their own signature upon the sound. One performer's music was contemplative and reflective. Another's was tense and unresolved. Yes, and not a twelve-tone scale anywhere to be found...

Which brings me around to some contemplation of my own. Since leaving the bands I had been playing in, I've been pondering what to make of my own musically-creative life. I've been leaning toward working up a solo act of some sort, but I haven't really thought of anything that I'd consider doing for the joy of expressing myself through music. I'd been thinking about learning to play chord-melody style guitar, or doing some kind of singer-songwriter thing, or even just arranging folk and pop songs for guitar and voice. But that's all instantly recognizable to an audience. There isn't anything in those styles that really engages the attention of a listener, because it's easy to recognize, categorize and judge without giving it much thought at all. "Easy" music is convenient for the listener, who can ignore the performance to focus on the really important stuff like talking to their friends and schmoozing with their possibly-important acquaintances. But "easy" music is like wallpaper: you'd probably notice if it wasn't there, but you don't really care that it is.

Something about last night's noise performances got me thinking about this, and I realize that -- somehow -- I'd like to adapt some of the genre's underlying aesthetics to solo guitar performance. Noise performers have the freedom to make up the rules as they go. The listener might have a hard time discerning the rules, because there's no handy familiarity with which to pigeonhole the music. But the rules are there, nonetheless. The intelligent, aware mind is very good at finding order and organization among unfamiliar events. It is this tendency of the listener that the noise performers use to engage their audience.

What I'd like to do with a solo guitar performance is to walk that fine line between the familiar and unfamiliar in an improvised manner, free of the restrictions of fixed forms and styles, but still adhering to sonic and musical concepts that can both engage and challenge the audience. That's not going to be an easy thing to do. I'll need to develop enough facility with my instrument to avoid cliches and to improvise without getting stuck. It's partly technique, and partly mindset. Wherever this leads, it ought to be interesting...

October 18 2004 06:01:49 GMT