Geoff Traeger - February 17, 2013
Scorched, Dripping, Itchy, Melted, Frozen, Glued, Unglued, Sloppy, Broken, Stained, Welded, Foamy, Masked, Naked, Severe, Destruction……..As an untrained uh, musician, these words are the feelings I try to evoke with sound. My lack of musical instruction and experience limits my technical ability to achieve these moods but that doesn’t stop me from trying. Like an idiot in love, I let my instinct guide me and keep doing what works. Hypnotic repetition is usually what gets me there. Find something that works, something that makes your ears perk up, hair stand on end and run that fucker into the ground.
During tonight’s session I would like players to focus on hypnotic repetition. Take a musical figure, a unit of some kind, and repeat it endlessly. It’s all I really know how to do. If you think about it too hard, most of what we do in life is repetition. Musically, a repeatable unit could be anything: a note held for a certain length of time, notes played in a rhythm, a melody, a pattern, a noise, anything within a player’s technical ability to repeat many times. Don’t think about it too hard, bud.
This might seem boring. What I’m really trying to get at with the dreadful simplicity of endless go-rounds is freeing up the player’s attention to LISTEN to the other players. It can be so hard to do in a free-playing setting. But when playing becomes a reflex, a player’s mind can stretch its legs a bit and see what else is happening on the stage. Here a player can see how all the repeated units fit together to form a whole and can make subtle alterations. These may, for example, be changes in pitch, dynamic, speed, length of unit or pause between units.
If at any point a player makes an error (muted or sour note, rhythmic hiccup, unintentional move) I encourage them to repeat that error. Find the hidden intention in your mistake. Make it your own. Incorporate this new element into the repeated unit and allow the other players to listen and adjust.
A few more thoughts:
- Don’t be afraid of not playing. Put your full intention behind everything you do. You don’t have to be playing every second to be filling up space. Take the time to listen. Play for the piece as a whole.
- If you feel the opportunity to “step out,” “take a walk,” “solo,” or otherwise deviate from your repeated unit arises, grasp it. But be careful not to overstay your welcome in the spotlight and return to your repeated unit when you’ve had your say.
- As with absolutely everything in life, communication is key. Orient yourself on the stage such that you can attain eye contact with the other players. Remember that it’s fine to sign or give vocal instructions to one another. Don’t make racer sessions an experiment in mind reading. It doesn’t work. Think about those classic Charles Mingus albums where he can be heard shouting out the changes, as well as encouraging and admonishing players. Nothing wrong with that kind of fire.
- If you feel like everything you can say with your repeated unit has been said, feel free to stop. When everyone does this the piece ends.
- As a scientist, I am sensitive to the fact that not every experiment works. That is fine.
- Be true to your aesthetic as an artist. Don’t play in a certain style because you feel it is expected of you by the other players or “the audience.” Cross-fertilization bears the most interesting fruit.
- Make it easy and it will work.
I’ll be presenting a short piece for wristwatch and electric guitar followed by a demonstration of what I would like players to try this evening with a small ensemble. Then I’ll relinquish the spotlight and let the hypnosis take hold.