Guitars are storytellers, like all musical instruments.
But guitars are exceptional storytellers, they hit us just below the line of verbal reasoning, a sweet spot that can exert great power.
Simon Eyre and myself have tried to tell a short story, the unravelling of a lively and successful conversation.
This piece started as something that would allow us to converse with our guitars, swap our roles along the way, and see if we could make it sound good. As soon as the first sketch was in place and we got the chance to listen to it, I’ve realised we where genuinely arguing via our guitars, and arguing well. From then on, the title was set, and I could feel that it was influencing our choices subtly: just below the line of verbal reasoning, the sweet spot.
“A Successful Argument” (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) tells the story of how a good discussion feels to me (I can’t speak for Simon!), there is mutual support, enough to allow the emotional motivations to bubble all the way up to the surface. It gets rowdy, because reciprocal trust allows it. In the end, the original idea becomes a fraction less tentative, acquires nuances and quirks that make it richer and more heartfelt. There are no winners or losers, ideas get shaped by the conversation and both players end up not knowing who convinced the other about what.
Between the lines, it also tells the story of a music-mediated friendship, how very different (musical) heritages and sensibilities can cross-fertilise (again, applies to me!). Yes, this whole experience has a lot to do with some of the underlying themes I explore in this blog.
“A successful argument” is written and performed by Simon Eyre and myself. Two electric guitars, a handful of effect boxes, raw and simple, no bells and whistles. We genuinely don’t know who wrote what (over and above the “fiction” of the story we’re telling). Simon has been my guitar teacher for many years now, allowing me develop my crude musical skills on my own terms: he keeps giving me new tools to grow, never allowing knowledge, skills and best practices to constrain the direction I’d naturally follow. I call Simon my musical therapist, I never-ever fail to feel happy after our weekly session.
The piece is deliberately built to allow us swap parts and take turns in improvising the lead. Great fun, but draining (for me!): since we agreed the title, I felt the need to switch my own mood as the piece develops, so to represent in music what I’ve expressed in words above. A hard thing to do on command, but my limited ability as a guitarist requires to supplement my playing with added emotional grit.
Chord progressions are mostly coming from Simon, I suppose they were chosen to be relatively easy to handle but not bland to the point of being uninteresting. I’ve contributed more to the overall architecture, insisting on what-should-happen-when with my usual stubbornness (I hope you can hear it in the piece!).
Post-processing was kept to a minimum: what you’ll hear is a single recording, with all the accidents of a live performance, minus the most annoying mistakes. We both brushed away a couple of missteps, retouching the original track only to correct the mistakes we thought would spoil the listening experience. In my case, I had to intervene on my chords-sections more than twice (many mistakes survived my editing!) and tweaked two notes on the lead parts. I felt free to adjust relative volumes and EQ all along. Post-processing was also done by both of us, the final version produced with Audacity.
In case you wonder who is playing what, it’s not difficult to figure: Simon is sophisticated and eloquent. I’m the one who’s trying too hard and struggling all along!
To record the tracks, we’ve used my small M-Audio USB recording device, it comes with two inputs, guitar and mic, which is perfect for guitar and voice, not so good to record two guitars at the same time. As a result, Simon had the thrilling experience of being recorded via the extraordinary equipment shown in the pic above: my tiny Peavey amp, paired with an AKG mic. To avoid cross-talk, the mic was (still is!) neatly stashed in a Kleenex box, with makeshift insulation provided by a hand towel. It worked pretty well, I think.
Feedback is always welcome.