One of the tragic losses in recent years is regional (or even hyper-regional) music scenes around the country, and, it's easy to suspect, around the world. When everyone has the same limitless access to archival material, coupled with our natural tendency towards the latest and flashiest "new" forms of musical expression, the emphasis on locally shared and private music (with the peculiar vocabularies that infuse them), is diminished, going, going, and, I hope not, gone.
Today I got the chance to record with Jesse Mangum at The Glow, a charmingly anachronistic studio environment. The session revolved around the Walrus. This is my new guitar, built by Rick Toone with art by Laura Masi and metal machining by Bart Townsend. It has a detachable system for the neck...I can interchange a fretted or fretless neck in just a few minutes. It's a beautiful and highly functional feature...the best of two complimentary worlds. The Walrus is like an old friend in just a week. I feel completely at home with it, even as I know new aspects will be revealed in due course.
The session was designed for 9 tracks with the fretless, and then 9 with the fretted. 18 titled pieces with predetermined fun-but-serious-but-fun names as prompts to create emotional structure. We used a binaural mic on my Schroeder amp, and a tube DI for a contact mic I attached to the headstock for additional information/activity/percussion/overtones. The room sound and even a hint of my breathing comes through as well. I had intended on not using any implements or effects, and I kept to that, excepting a cotton handcloth over the strings on one tune. There is no compression on the recording, just a little limiting for the loudest sounds. But this album doesn't compete in the Volume Wars. It's really ideal for headphone enjoyment, and is generally quite quiet. This was the promise of CDs that never came to prominence.
When I first heard the playback, it felt as if I was watching me play...a very unusual perspective for a performer, but so transparent I imagine it will be elucidating with repeated listens. My next thought was perhaps my presentation is impenetrable. My thought after that thought was it is fully accessible as an immersive endeavor. The struggle of the tubes, our perceptual inhibitions lifted, and something that rises above abstraction towards reference and reverence. It feels the most complete extemporaneous exposition of everything I've learned and loved since beginning to play guitar three decades ago.
It's not "commercial" music, much as that would be nice. It shares its genetic composition with the music of parlors, porches, fields, and encampments, where music was made to stave off terrors of night (and day), bring us together, and let us gaze past the ceiling of confines towards something freeing. Despite the modern technology which made this recording possible, I experienced a connection with an ancient ghost, faint as it might be.