manchine musics

dec 07, 2003.

An electrically amplified guitar is an amazing instrument. Its different parts, both wooden and metal, holding its metal strings, can be made to sing, via the pick-ups, complex and subtle songs. Next to the acoustic piano it probably is the instrument most immediately suited for 'preparation'. (Like in 'prepared piano', and 'prepared guitar'.)

And as any other musical instrument, one can have a go at it with other than the traditional playing techniques. Anything goes (or so it seems), prepared or not. Use your hands, use your toes, your mouth. Use machines.

The duo abs(.)hum (Christophe Havard and Charles-Henry Benetau) used elementary mechanics, about two weeks ago in the Instants Chavirés in Montreuil, as part of the second pituite muzzique organised by the Parisian Vert Pituite label.

And a guitar. Together abs(.)hum played one guitar, four-handedly. But they never touched it. abs(.)hum even stayed hidden from view, and it was the instrument that was out in the spotlight, asking our attention (compassion?), laid out passively like a benumbed and will-less subject on a surgeon's table. The small center stage part it occupied had become an operating theatre, quite litterally, and abs(.)hum was the (anonymous) surgeon.

abs-hum's guit-manchine

They treated their patient from a (safe?) distance, through smallish turning and magnetic devices dangling from bits of string above and around the divers parts of their guitar. Each one of these 'tools' was lowered manually. abs(.)hum pulled the strings, they're surgeon-puppeteers. Quite a spectacle, actually, with a visual rhythm of its own, not necessarily corresponding to the aural one. The resulting sounds were partly post-treated by computer, but for me that was the less interesting bit. It was the mechanics that interested me. And abs(.)hum's choice to apply it manually.
Other than, for example, Remko Scha, who in the early 1980's with his Machines used electric motors and other 'household devices' to play an entire ensemble of electric guitars. Scha's mechanics was automatized, motorized, and human intervention was (or at least: could be) eliminated. Which is the reason that Remko's Machines, contrary to abs(.)hum's remotely controlled improvisation, should rather be considered part of the tradition of mechanical musical instruments (they're a modern day descendant of the player piano, say). (In later years Scha shifted his attention to the algorithmic (computerized) control of the mechanics driving his guitar ensemble, and investigating the possible relations between properties of the divers algorithms used and the patterns of (guitar) sound generated.)

The third and last of the three pituite muzzique #2 sets on that november sunday also prominently involved a machine treating the sounds of an electric guitar. The guitar was in the hands of Fabrice Eglin, its sounds went through a pretty ancient Revox reel-to-reel machine, masterfully commandeered by Jérôme Noetinger, hand-manipulating the recording of Eglin's guitar sounds on looped tape. Their duet was a fine brew of direct and recorded guitar sounds that, listening in close-up, went together beautifully with the non-amplified (a-)rhythmic mechanical noises of the punching 'in' and punching 'out' of the recording and play options of the Revox, and the 'live' scratches and glitches of the electric guitar.
What was s-s-s-sounding from the speakers of the amplifiers, really was but half of the story.

I like that.

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