Giraffe Solos was recorded over a period of 45 minutes at a kitchen table in Marrickville, to a mobile phone. It was not intended to be an album, just a taped rehearsal in preparation for a brief performance at a lecture on free improvisation at the University of Western Sydney where I teach. In the tradition of lo-fi, there is a private moment captured here, and it’s likely the album would be very different if it had been intended as such, recorded in professional surroundings. So, you will hear the occasional plane flying overhead, me laughing at one point and assuring my dog not to worry at another. I think I was holding the guitar over my head at the time.
However, the result is not really lo-fi. I got really lucky with the resonance of the room, and mastering engineer Mitchell Hart did some lovely, subtle work. And after much back-and-forth, the pressing from GZ in the Czech Republic is astonishingly quiet, letting the full dynamic range breathe.
The music is all played on my old Yamaha acoustic six-string. Old strings. Whenever I do free improv on the guitar I tune it in a once-only, almost random tuning. Not an open tuning in the sense of tuning to a major chord. This means I can’t find any known chords or play any known riffs. All I can do is respond to the notes I hear and make guesses about how to combine notes as I learn what’s available through trial-and-error. This contributes to non-standard harmonic relationships. Although I gravitate towards chords I recognise the sound of, I can’t always find them, so I have to make do with what I find. I would never claim any of his prodigious technique or knowledge of folk music, but at times the result is not unlike some of the harmonically adventurous stuff John Fahey got up to in the late ’60s and early ’70s. I doubt I could figure out now how my guitar was tuned when I made this record.
A pair of chopsticks is an essential part of this record. They allow for all sorts of timbres impossible with fingers or picks alone. I’m working here in the shadow of both the prepared guitar music of Fred Frith (his Guitar Solos record from 1974 is still amazing) and the prepared piano music of John Cage (particularly the Three Dances and The Perilous Night, both from 1944-1945). I can’t help thinking also of the experimentation of Sonic Youth - both their improvised records and the way Thurston and Lee sometimes shove broken drumsticks through the strings on the fretboard, one of the things I do here. Another reference point, though I wasn’t aware of it until listening back, is the open, shimmering spaces of the Charalambides album Joy Shapes, also guitar-based, also tangentially inhabiting a place informed by folk, rock and the avant-garde.
OK, I think that’s the most important debts acknowledged. I’m really happy with this record and I hope you get something out of it.
12 June 2014
released June 13, 2014
Recorded by phone at the kitchen table, 8:30-9:15pm, 29 July 2013
Mastered by Mitchell Hart
Photos/design: John E.
Design/art: Mark Bradridge
(c) & (p) 2014 psychopyjama