“It’s a Stick Thing” . . : Complaints and Coincidences

Recently, two separate Chapman Stick related events occurred to me in the course of two days. Given that the Chapman Stick related things are not exactly common everyday occurrences, it gave me pause.

The first was a comment I received on my Chapman Stick Guitar page from someone who took exception with my calling the page “Chapman Stick Guitar”, saying that it’s a Stick and not a guitar. My response was that I play a Chapman Stick model SG-12 which Stick Enterprises calls a Chapman Stick Guitar. I believe the disagreement is coming from two different views on the purpose of the web page. The person might of thought that it’s purpose was as a general informational page on the Chapman Stick while I think of it as a journal of my personal take on the instrument. However, upon further reflection I thought that that I should explain to those who were kind enough to check out the web page that there are several different configurations of the Chapman Stick. The original Chapman Stick design (which Stick Enterprises refers to as “The Stick”) is ten strings with the bass/treble sides each having five strings. The Grand Stick expands the original concepts to 12 strings, extending the instruments range in both directions. There’s a Stick Bass, a eight string version whose range is mainly in the (you guessed it) bass register. There’s an Alto Stick and the model that I play, the Chapman Stick Guitar. So, even though the few people who know what a Chapman Stick think of the Stick or Grand Stick, there are other versions of the instrument. One size doesn’t fit all. Go to the Stick Enterprises web site for more details (http://stick.com/instruments/).

My second Stick related event occurred the next day. I was visiting San Francisco with my wife and we went down to Fisherman’s Wharf for general tourist stuff and specifically to visit the aquarium (my wife and I are big fans of zoos and aquariums and try to check them out whenever we visit a different city). There, performing right in front of the aquarium was Bob Culbertson. In the (admittedly small) world of Chapman Stick, Bob Culbertson is one of the masters. When I got my first Stick used off of eBay, it came with two of his instructional videos which were invaluable to me as a beginner. He was exceedingly gracious  with his time and it was a complete gas to just run into someone like him unexpectedly. Below, an example of his mastery.

Bob Culbertson – While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Chapman Stick

Please check out Bob Culbertson’s web site: https://www.stickmusic.com/

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Stick Theory: Little Wing (Jimi Hendrix Cover) on the Chapman Stick Guitar

I just want to let everyone know that I just posted a new video to Stick Theory, my playlist of solo Chapman Stick Guitar videos (https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLogHrynqXOvSmeQXOw_SAW0etIHHKV8mX). It’s my (very loose) interpretation of Hendrix’s classic song Little Wing.

I would like to imagine that Hendrix, with his sense of exploration of sound, would be interested in checking out the Chapman Stick. The possibilities of what he could have done with it just boggle my mind.

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Stick Theory – Little Wing (Jimi Hendrix cover) on the Chapman Stick Guitar –

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“And Now For Something Completely Different” . . . : Listening To Music Before And After Isolated Tracks

I was recently watching a movie with my wife called French Kiss (1995) with Meg Ryan and Kevin Kline. It’s a lightweight romantic comedy but there was one scenr that I found interesting. It takes place in the childhood home of the Kevin Kline character, situated in the middle of French wine country. There, Kline demonstrated an old science project he did as a kid. He asked Meg Ryan to take a sip of wine and describe the taste. Then he asked her to sample several different natural fragrances that were stored in small glass bottles. He then had her take a second sip of wine and describe it. To her amazement, she now detected aromas and tastes in the wine she never noticed before.

This made me wonder what would be the musical equivalent of such a science project. What I came up is the following:
1)  Listen to a given song.
2) If possible listen to one or more isolated tracks of the song. Fortunately, there are numerous YouTube videos that provide such tracks.
3) Re-listen to the song again. See if you are more aware of elements in the song that you never noticed before.

Below are several videos that present isolated parts of some of the more iconic songs from rock. Here are two videos that present isolated tracks from Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit. First,the guitars only, then the isolated drum and vocal tracks mixed together.

Nirvana – Smell Like Teen Spirit (Guitar Only)

Nirvana – Smells Like Teen Spirit (Drums and vocals only)

 

Below are the isolated guitar and bass parts for Guns N’ Roses Sweet Child O Mine:

Guns N’ Roses -Sweet Child O’ Mine – Slash Only (Lead Guitar)

Guns N’ Roses -Sweet Child O’ Mine – Izzy Stradlin Only (Rhythm Guitar)

Guns N’ Roses -Sweet Child O’ Mine – Duff McKagan (Bass)

 

For the recording of the classic record Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, the Beatles used two 4-track tape machines. They would record parts onto the first tape machine and then mix those parts onto tracks of the second tape machine, freeing up tracks to record additional instruments (digital recording technology makes this unnecessary now). The video below presents a interesting visualization of the process. The audio of the second 4-track tape machine has each of the four tracks represented by a different color. Track 1 (green starting at 0:00) has drums, guitars, and bass (Paul and/or John or George on two electric guitars, Paul on bass, Ringo on drums). Track 2 (blue staring aat 2:24) has horns and a punched-in lead guitar played by Paul. Track 3 (red starting at 4:40) are vocals and track 4 has the three previous tracks plus some audience sounds.

Deconstructing Sgt. Pepper

 

So go listen to the songs in question, then listen to these video and then re-listen to the songs. You just might hear something new.

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“David Bowie is” . . . : Bowie at The Brooklyn Museum, a Synthesizer and Cut-Up

Last week I saw “David Bowie Is . . .”, the exhibition currently at the Brooklyn Museum that examines the art and career of David Bowie.  Any fan of Bowie will be impressed by the breath and depth in which the show looks at his life and work. My personal favorite object was the EMS synthesizer that was used on the albums Low, Heroes and Lodger (see below). I explained to my wife that this was like seeing the bass guitar that Paul McCartney used on Sgt. Pepper or the trumpet used by Miles on Bitches Brew. It’s an object that played an essential role in the creation of an iconic piece of music. It’s coolness cannot be overstated.  Those who disagree, get your own blog.

It was during the period of these records, now collectively known as the Berlin trilogy that Bowie experimented with the literary technique known as cut-up in his songwriting. The artist Tristan Tzara is credited with originating the technique in the 1920s when he proposed to create a poem by pulling words at random from a hat. In 1958 the painter Brion Gysin invented the technique of Cut-Up, which was to cut some texts to reshuffle the parts randomly. Later the great American writer William Burroughs used this technique to write entire novels.

Burroughs explains the cut-up technique thus:

The method is simple. Here is one way to do it. Take a page. Like this page. Now cut down the middle and cross the middle. You have four sections: 1 2 3 4 … one two three four. Now rearrange the sections placing section four with section one and section two with section three. And you have a new page. Sometimes it says much the same thing. Sometimes something quite different–(cutting up political speeches is an interesting exercise)–in any case you will find that it says something and something quite definite. Take any poet or writer you fancy. Heresay, or poems you have read over many times. The words have lost meaning and life through years of repetition. Now take the poem and type out selected passages. Fill a page with excerpts. Now cut the page. You have a new poem. As many poems as you like.

The cut-up technique plays to the ideas of randomness and juxtaposition as a way to “discover new truths” and had great appeal to an artist like Bowie. Bowie described his use of the technique in a 1974 BBC documentary, Cracked Actor, as “igniting anything that might be in my imagination,” and would use it often throughout the later part of the seventies when Bowie was creating the Berlin trilogy .

Cut up techinque- David Bowie –

Bowie returned to using the cut-up technique whe he once again worked with Brian Eno in 1995 for Bowie’s 19th studio album, Outside.This time though he updated the process thru the use of digital technology. Working with Ty Roberts, who had been working on interactive CD-ROMs for both Outside producer Brian Eno and Bowie at the time, Bowie developed a program he called the Verbasizer.

David Bowie — the Verbasizer

 

I always found the actual process of creating music (and art in general) to be fascinating and getting a glimpse of how a great artist like Bowie used ideas from other artistic disciplines very inspiring.

As a side note, since seeing the show I’ve been checking some David Bowie records that I never really listed to before, especially “later” Bowie. I have to say that I’ve been particularly blown away by Earthling (1997). Check it out.

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Stick Theory: Dark Star (Grateful Dead Cover) on the Chapman Stick Guitar

I want to announce the start of a new YouTube playlist on the RoyMusicUSA YouTube channel called Stick Theory (https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLogHrynqXOvSmeQXOw_SAW0etIHHKV8mX). The playlist will feature solo Chapman Stick Guitar videos performed at the ManRoy studios here at Casa de RoyMusicUSA (okay, it’s my living room). The plan is to present videos of myself performing original and non-original music on the Chapman Stick Guitar. In the first of what I hope to be a regular series of videos, I present my cover of Dark Star by The Grateful Dead. Hearing Dark Star from the classic GD album Live Dead was one of those key moments that changed my life. As I wrote that previous sentence, I’m thinking, “God, that sounds stupid”, but as I think about it more, that sentence has some weight behind it. Live Dead was definitely one the records that made me want to make music, to make cool sounds like that.  All these years later, here I am, playing some weird ass instrument, trying to not suck at an attempt to do justice to the music that has inspired me for all these years.

Dark Star (Grateful Dead Cover) on the Chapman Stick Guitar

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“I Love The Colorful Clothes She Wears” . . . : The Beach Boy’s Good Vibrations

In my previous post I briefly talked about the great bassist, Carol Kaye. In a career of over 50 years and over 10,000 recording, spanning artists from Frank Sinatra to Elvis Presley to The Monkees to practically every TV show theme music from the seventies, the high point must surely be playing on The Beach Boy’s Good Vibrations.

Although started during the sessions for the classic 1966 album Pet Sounds, Good Vibrations, (music by Brian Wilson, lyrics by Mike Love) was not issued as a track from that album, instead being released as a stand-alone single. “Good Vibrations” was envisioned for the unfinished album Smile, but after an infamous meltdown in a recording studio,  Brian Wilson abandoned large portions of music recorded over a ten-month period and the band substituted its release with Smiley Smile (1967), an album containing stripped-down remakes of some Smile material.

“Good Vibrations” established a new method of operation for Wilson that would serve as the template for the entire Smile album. Instead of working on whole songs with clear large-scale structures, Wilson recorded short interchangeable fragments that through the method of tape splicing, could then be assembled into a linear sequence with the tape edit masked by reverb and decays that were added during mixing. This new approach to constructing music was incredibly prescient for the time. Nowadays, with digital audio editing tools having replaced tape splicing, this method is much more the norm but in the late sixties it was pretty avant-garde.

Below is an excellent video essay from the You Tube channel Polyphonic discussing “Good Vibrations”. The video gives some background on it’s creation, an analysis of it’s structure, it’s use of unconventional instrumentation like the Theremin and the melodic bass line in the verses (a call back to the amazing Carol Kaye)  and it’s place in history.

Good Vibrations: The Beach Boys’ Pop Masterpiece –

For the instrumental backing tracks for Pet Sounds and Good Vibrations, Brian Wilson employed the services of “the Wrecking Crew”, the nickname for the group of first call session musicians active in Los Angeles at that time. Production for “Good Vibrations” spanned more than a dozen recording sessions at four different Hollywood studios, unheard of at the time for a pop single. Below is a short video clip from a documentary on the Wrecking Crew where they are talking about working on Good Vibrations.

The Wrecking Crew – Making of Good Vibrations

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“Bass Is The Place” . . . . : Reverb Bass Tricks Videos

Reverb?? On a bass?!! No, I’m not talking about using reverb on a bass (reverb, the audio effect that makes the instrument sound like it was played in a bigger space, is generally considered not be good for bass as it muddies the sound). No, I’m talking about the website Reverb and it’s YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/user/reverbmarket/featured ). In my last post I talked about the cool series of videos they are putting out about walking bass lines. This time I want to mention another nifty little series of videos that should interest bass players. Called Bass Tricks, the videos offer overviews of a specific bass player. I’ve already talked about James Jamerson in a previous post (https://roymusicusa.com/2017/04/14/aint-no-mountain-high-enough-the-genius-of-james-jamerson/) but this video discusses his technique and the setup he used that helped to define the Motown sound. Another player highlighted is the amazing Caro Kaye. I first heard of her from the column she used to write for Guitar Player magazine. As a Los Angeles studio musician in sixties and seventies, she has played on an estimated 10,000 recordings over a span of 50 years. Probably her most well known playing was on the classic Beach Boy’s records including the epic Pet Sounds. Like the Jamerson video, this video goes over her picking technique, bass setup and playing approach.
The third video spotlights a player many bassist many not have given much thought to but who I consider to be one of the more underrated bassists of all time, Tina Weymouth of Talking Heads. Let’s face it, the bass line to Psycho Killer is an immediately recognizable classic.  The video goes into Tina’s Motown influence and discusses some of her other great bass lines like the much sampled Genius Of Love.

The James Jamerson Motown Bass Sound | Reverb Bass Tricks

 

The Carol Kaye Bass Sound & Technique | Reverb Bass Tricks

 

The Bass Sound of Tina Weymouth | Reverb Bass Tricks

 

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