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If modern guitar has its own Jeff Beck or Jimi Hendrix it is Stian Westerhus. Like those iconic guitarists, Westerhus explores the outer reaches of sonic possibilities available from an electric guitar, an amplifier, and some effects (okay, in his case, a lot of effects), all the while exhibiting what can only be defined as star quality.
Making noise is easy; making a beautiful noise is hard. It takes the same technical dedication as playing Mozart, with extra attention to the fine points of tone and texture. It is that kind of attention that moves Westerhus to the top of the field of noise-oriented guitarists.
His work with Puma and Monolith push far into the terrain of pure, aggression. But in his solo shows, as well as in his work with Nils Petter Molvær or Sidsel Endrissen, Westerhus is unafraid to temper the industrial clangs, stutters, and thrashed power chords with moments of blissful bowed ambience. His genius is in his ability to make music out of unexpected juxtapositions of the violent and the sublime.
His sonic and compositional brilliance is evident on his solo effort Pitch Black Star Spangled [Rune Grammofon]. His ability to bring his “own little world” into the world of others in collaboration is on display on the Nils Petter Molvær record Baboon Moon [Thirsty Ear] and on his latest release: live duets with Sidsel Endrissen, documented as didymoi dreams [Rune Grammofon].
Westerhus spoke about the Sidsel experience for the Guitar Player interview.
The Sidsel Endrisen duets are beautiful. How did you come to play with her?
There was a night of two separate solo gigs—me and her—at the Oslo Jazz Festival a few years back. I have always loved Sidsel’s music ever since I was a kid. It turned out that she had listened to my stuff and thought it was cool that we were doing the same night. We did an encore together and it was a really intense five minutes. She was asked to the Molde Festival in Norway and said, “Okay, but I want to do a duo with Stian.” From then on we continued playing.
Does playing with her bring out a different, more melodic, vocabulary?
She can be an incredible singer unmelodically as well, if you know what I mean.
True, she does those vocal tricks that sound like electronic stutter effects.
That opens it up for me to push her melodic side as well. The voice is such a strong instrument. If I weren’t touching the melodic side I would be missing out. She is such an incredible performer in the way that she can move quite easily from doing expressionistic sounds into the most beautiful lullaby you will ever hear.