Fingering An Idea
2 cds for the price of 1
I first heard David Watson some 25 or more years ago at a small festival in Tasmania. Exotic location - and so was the music. I was astonished by a highly developed bowed guitar technique - up there with one of my favourite bowed guitar exponents, Davey Williams of Alabama. The Watson concert demonstrated a concentration and fascination with long tones and tuning. Fast forward on some years, and I heard the same guitarist playing in downtown New York, where he had decamped, playing in an improvised guitar style very much indicative of the place and its cultural environment. That's not a negative assessment, just noticing a change of aesthetic values.
Then at the end of the 1990s, we met again in Berlin. David was there primarily to play in the Exiles Festival. And yes he had brought his guitar and yes also his bagpipes. Somehow the haptic feedback of these two instruments seemed so far removed from one another, I couldn't imagine how they ended up in the same pair of hands; the physiological processes are so different for each instrument.
Then there is this recording. Although the forward velocity is purposefully restricted, there is plenty of tonal development - it's just that it jumps straight over the equal tempered system and into other notions of tuning and scale - notably and happily unavoidably the harmonic series remains central to this organization of tones. Something akin to clanging church bells from hell - the overtones inherent in the basic chords being heavily accentuated. Odd things happen on Judgment Day, as you would expect from a player as opposed to a composer; unexpected clonks, squeaks, clicks, scrapes, adjustments are continually being addressed to the sonic states of each tuning regime.
Meanwhile back at bagpipe central, the bag is being squeezed mercilessly. Simple integer intervals of 5/4 and 6/5 (major and minor thirds) are being messed with as the listener is lead to Mecca but never quite allowed to enter the gates. The 3/2 interval and bastion of western music also wobbles under the wheezing strain. Disciples of Just Intonation should probably avoid this album. -Jon Rose (from the liner notes)
Fingering an Idea (a phrase pulled from a Chris Mann piece) resulted from a Phill Niblock invitation to make a double CD for bagpipe and guitar. A bagpipe CD is a particular challenge. A high beam spatial explorer, it is the kind of unstable phenomena that is hard to enjoyably reproduce on your stereo player. The first pipe recording session was an ensemble piece, the score including walks around the concert hall. The second, a solo multi-track session. The third with Rob Ramirez, recorded material was played back in the concert hall through an eight-channel MSP patch. A carnival of colliding pans, exits and entrances, re-recorded for stereo.
For "Sinister", an old cassette recorded at Amica Bunker was the original germ. A sequence of re-tuning and de-stringing, starting with six strings pitched across a whole-tone and ending with an improvisation on one string. This old piece was dusted off and reworked through an image of bell-ringing, another outdoors vernacular. - David Watson