Over the last couple of days, I’ve had a couple of items appear in my reader about the state of and/or future of the guitar in rock music. One was a Village Voice piece by Chris Chafin and the other, a fairly lengthy podcast from Dan Boul of 65 amps.
Chafin makes this astute observation…
What’s replaced guitar rock in the culture? In a sense, everything else: vibrant singers, hip-hop, soul, tones that sound like flocks of electronic birds or crumbling glass towers, beats, chopped up past pop, samples of the production company slates from the 1980s. It’s the sound of a generation that’s grown up drowning in media. These bands’ strength is their lack of focus, their broad references to everything; sounds that stick to you as you fall through culture, like the silhouette at the beginning of Mad Men.
Boul, who is a player himself, has a deep knowledge of how the guitar functions as a component in the rock mix, technically and culturally. He often speaks of an elusive factor; “danger”…
When rock started, it was dangerous music. That was the appeal and the fear. The fact that the elders feared the music made it more appealing.
I think the danger translates as aggression. We fear the aggressive.
Without dwelling in to lyrical content, first consider the instruments of early rock and roll that convey aggression; voice, drums, piano, sax, guitar.
Speed can be one way to advance aggressively. Like a boxer with a lightning quick jab that hits the mark repeatedly. All of the above instruments can be manipulated with speed.
Power is another. A vocalist can shout. A sax player can honk.
The rest, drums, piano and guitar produce notes when struck. Strike aggressively and that’s what transmits…aggression.
You hear a lot about compression in the mastering process, brickwalling. Compression softens the attack and makes the overall mix of the performance louder.
The same principal holds true with the individual instruments. The compressor reduces the initial violent act, the striking of the note, and makes the decay louder, emphasizes the sustain.
You ever notice how a kid messing around will keep a foot constantly on the sustain pedal? It makes it easier.
Compression is everywhere for electric guitarists. It’s built in to most every kind of stomp box (fuzz, chorus, delay, wah) and even in the vaunted tube saturation touted by retro-purists. All of it functions to require less discipline on the attack of the note.
It’s interesting to note that pretty much every guitar player that has been lauded as innovative or experimental has employed some type of effect or multiple ones. Even when you point to a “revolutionary” technique, finger tapping for example, it is reliant on some compression and sustain.
In other words, guitar innovation isn’t about musical substance, a choice of notes or a new type of rhythmic figure, it’s about tone or timbre.
And, to that end, modern rock guitar players are much like what Chafin describes above in regards to “broad references to everything; sounds that stick to you as you fall through culture”…it applies not just to sampling bits of earlier records but to the multi-effects, amp/guitar modeling palette widely available to guitar slingers.
So…what is the future of guitar in rock and roll?
Well, I have no doubt that there are players out there that feel and play with aggression but, like every other type of raw emotion, it loses some of the rawness by being so heavily processed. The raw emotions don’t transmit as well.
This is all about what is being transmitted through a musical instrument. See, a lot of music that might be considered as dangerous these days, is such because of lyrical content. The idea is dangerous.
To that end, there is the shock value component. However, this can be achieved via a musical instrument. Something unexpected. But the current fashion is to use some type of synth for this role.
But, back to guitar players: there is always the opportunity for one to come up with something that breaks through to the collective consciousness. It’s probably not likely that it would be a case of re-inventing the wheel. It will take somebody that can convey (transmit) those raw emotions and, that may entail sacrificing some amount of processed sound to gain more individual characteristics.
That’s a lot easier to do if a player can surround themselves with other players that are sympathetic to the music and the cause and make the same type of sacrifice…get off the grid, defy brickwalling and let the music breathe and bleed…and be real young, great looking and fashionable…it could happen.
Listening To This As I Write:
Save Rock And Roll by Fall Out Boy
Well…I picked this because it is the #1 album at MOG.
In short, it’s one more piece of over-compressed, gridded out current rock with a few naughty words.
The photo below appears in a BBC article about the newest US job numbers with this caption….
The US unemployment rate fell to 7.7% in February, the lowest since December 2008
So…in other words…Cheer up! Vagrant guitarists will now be gainfully employed instead of hanging out in the streets leering at your women.
Check out the story behind these innovative axes at Guitar Thought Of The Day…