I know what you are thinking, “Not another Theremin and lap steel duo.” Seriously though, when I first encountered Duet for Theremin and Lap Steel at a small coffee shop gig in Nashville three years ago, it seemed simultaneously like a crazy idea and somehow perfect. On the one hand, the potential pitch problems seemed daunting, on the other, the fluid nature of both was perfect for the kind of ambient music they were purveying. A more recent encounter at Big Ears revealed how much more dramatic Scott Burland’s Theremin and Frank Schultz’s lap steel guitar could sound in a big room with a serious sound system. After the festival I corraled Frank for some insight into their formation and process.
There is a wonderful world of effects out there, but maximizing their usefulness often requires modifying parameters on the fly—think Whammy pedal, or runaway delay feedback. Unfortunately, modifying parameters, and even engaging or switching off effects, tethers you to the pedal in a way that can hamper your visual performance.
There have been solutions: In 2014, Livid came out with Guitar Wing, which I covered in Guitar Moderne. It allows control of MIDI effects parameters right from the face of the guitar, unchained from pedals and standard hardware controllers. Source Audio’s Hot Hand, covered here, also permits free-ranging parameter control, either through MIDI (using the Neuro Hub), or through an expression input on the pedal or switching device. The folks at GTC Sound Innovations have come up with yet another solution that debuted at NAMM a couple of years ago and I recently got to put it through its paces. First watch the GTC folks demo some classic effects.
This is Killick Hinds at Trio Contemporary Art Gallery in Athens. He is using two amps for dimensionality. His Rick Toone fretless guitar sports an additional piezo. A Vibesware feedback inducer is at the end of the mic stand, which induces the feedback on the length of strings between the fretting hand and the nut. The Ebow is used on the “regular” part of the strings. He is also processing his electric signal with chorus, octave, Ottobit Jr. effects, as well as using a few implements.
In his video “To Bill” (below) it is easy to detect who the Bill in the title is, but Rocco Saviano also cites Avant-singer Mike Patton. Still, when not paying homage to modern guitar icon Frisell, Saviano’s music leans toward more towards the romanticism of his classical background, with emotion-filled melodies layered over consonant chords, rather than towards Patton’s aggressive sounds. In fact, Saviano’s lyrical style gives ample proof that noise is only one way to be modern.
The journey Reid Karris took to become a player of prepared guitar echoes others who attack the instrument with implements from the kitchen and hardware store. Attempts at “normal” playing left him unsatisfied, until he found his true musical self in a combination of tabletop and worn guitars. His lengthy description of his process and his music was worth presenting in full, as it offers valuable insights to anyone considering abandoning genre guitar for the wilds of experimentation.