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-   -   A brilliant letter that somebody wrote to The Wire (http://www.sonicyouth.com/gossip/showthread.php?t=37608)

Genteel Death 01.19.2010 03:43 PM

A brilliant letter that somebody wrote to The Wire
 
In Edwin Pounceys review of A New Way To Pay Old Debts (The Wire 309), Bill Orcutts playing is compared to Cecil Taylor, Derek Bailey and Glenn Gould with evidence that is either highly specious or totally non-existent.



One of the most salient features of the album is the low C played on the open detuned sixth string of Orcutts guitar. Its hard to miss. He returns to this note every few seconds on every single track. There arent any other notes in that register on the album. Orcutt sticks to the C minor pentatonic scale for the majority of his licks on strings one, two and three (as you pointed out and one can observe from the video posted on The Wires webpage, Orcutt has removed strings four and five from his guitar). At the end of a list of guitar influences, you name Derek Bailey claiming that his influence echoes loudest here. No further explanation of this influence is given in your review, but lets examine what Derek Bailey has done for the guitar and see if we can find any similarities to Orcutt.



Bailey took Anton Weberns technique of constructing a single line of melody out of individual notes from several instruments of disparate timbres and applied it to the guitar. Rather than having access to a trumpet, clarinet and violin, for example, his timbre options were limited to fretted notes, open notes and harmonics. Bailey would pick a set of tri-chords and improvise on these three different options. Yes, theres more to Derek Baileys oeuvre than this, but this is Baileys most obvious contribution to the history of guitar playing. Bill Orcutt doesnt do anything resembling this. There arent any tri-chords. Orcutt sticks to a pentatonic scale. Theres no even distribution of pitches among fretted notes, open notes and harmonics on A New Way To Pay Old Debts. The only similarity I can find between Derek Bailey and Bill Orcutt is that they both play the guitar and that they both improvise.



Pouncey goes into a bit more depth in his comparison to Cecil Taylor. He says that there is a distinct keyboard element to Orcutts style, and that the influence can be plainly heard midway through Lip Rich, where the reverberating guitar strings against the pickup are strained to the point where they sound like Taylors stabbed piano keys. First of all, the middle of Lip Rich sounds like the rest of Lip Rich. Theres nothing Cecil Taylor-like about this section that can be plainly heard. It also sounds like every other track on the album with the exception of the last. Second, Id like you to name one Cecil Taylor album where he returns to the same pedal-point over and over again every few seconds throughout every piece.



Pouncey supports the idea that Glenn Gould is an influence on this album by pointing out that they both sing along with their instruments. You mention Gould in the headline, but this is the only connection to him you posit, and it is a superficial connection, if not a meaningless one. Lots of instrumentalists, classical and jazz alike, have recorded albums where their singing along is audible. Why not compare Orcutt to a jazz musician who sings along with the music? At least then theyre both improvisors. The comparison might be slightly more meaningful if it was made to another guitarist, but then it would undermine the equally tenuous and unsupported contention that Orcutts playing sounds like a keyboard.



As for the Gould quotation, No piano need feel duty-bound to always sound like a piano: the truth is that A New Way To Pay Old Debts does sound like a guitar album. Anyone who knows anything about the instrument will know that when they hear the omnipresent open low C that Orcutt returns to again and again like a crutch and the use of the C minor pentatonic scale. It doesnt sound anything like a piano, an instrument that doesnt have open or fretted strings and doesnt allow for that particular technical sleight of hand.

Genteel Death 01.19.2010 03:49 PM

It also doesnt sound anything like Derek Bailey.



Did Orcutt tell you to mention Bailey, Taylor and Gould? If so, maybe Orcutt should have written the review. Youve already demonstrated a lack of interest in (or perhaps aptitude for?) serious critical rigour. No need to actually review the music when the artist is feeding you lines about it.



One of my gripes with academic music theory is that its proponents see no problem writing a paper, publishing a book, or teaching a class that contains lots and lots of evidence and no point. Nothing to prove. I dont need to hear someone rattle on about a harmonic analysis of Wagners Tristan And Isolde if that analysis isnt going to lead to anything about Wagners cultural or historical significance. With your review of A New Way To Pay Old Debts you have done the opposite. Youve made a series of assertions about a works significance without providing one bit of real evidence. For shame.



Christopher Riggs Michigan, USA

Keeping It Simple 01.19.2010 04:11 PM

It's a shit letter.

Genteel Death 01.19.2010 04:13 PM

Ok. It's a shit letter.

Genteel Death 01.19.2010 04:30 PM

Bill Orcutt wrote about it:

I should probably say I basically agree with Chris's points. I've been lucky to have some insanely enthusiastic responses to the record and to have some sensible person pour a little cold water on the proceedings is a bit of a relief. It's also kind of amusing to see my mess subjected to this kind of analysis which is why I posted it here. Anyway I'm glad he wrote the letter.

Genteel Death 01.19.2010 04:39 PM

Another comment from Bill Orcutt:
K- Don't want to give the impression I didn't like Edwin's review (I loved it in fact), but Chris has a point- if a review name checks Fahey, Gould, Bailey, Taylor, Montoya, McDowell, etc then a sensible reader might expect some kind of Folk/Flamenco/Avant-Garde/Delta Blues/Baroque/Piano hybrid which "New Way" is definitely not.

Personally I don't think Edwin was using "influence" in that literal-minded way though- influence and imitation aren't the same thing. Cecil Taylor's claims Ellington as core influence though you'd be hard-pressed to find evidence of it in his music (hasn't stopped some critics from trying). He claims dancers and structural engineers as influences too- how are you going to verify that?

Similarly Bailey talked about Webern's importance for him, but I doubt most of the folks connected with Webern's music (thinking of Pierre Boulez here) would have any use at all for Derek Bailey and would probably dismiss any connection out of hand.

Anyway my 2 - gotta get the kids off to school...

noisereductions 01.19.2010 05:21 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Keeping It Simple
It's a shit letter.


I'll just believe you. I started getting drowsy somewhere between the first and second paragraph.

Genteel Death 01.19.2010 05:40 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by noisereductions
I'll just believe you. I started getting drowsy somewhere between the first and second paragraph.

You don't have to worry about reading it, trust me, I don't post these things for you two's benefit. Unless I was feeling particularly charitable towards grown men with no confidence who play videogames, or, in Keeping It Simple's case, somebody who feels awkward when the prospect of intelligent, bollocks-free life shows its face.

noisereductions 01.19.2010 07:48 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Genteel Death
You don't have to worry about reading it, trust me, I don't post these things for you two's benefit. Unless I was feeling particularly charitable towards grown men with no confidence who play videogames, or, in Keeping It Simple's case, somebody who feels awkward when the prospect of intelligent, bollocks-free life shows its face.


wow. What a zinger. I might go kill myself. Or play Tetris.

ann ashtray 01.19.2010 07:52 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Keeping It Simple
It's a shit letter.


I love how you keep it simple, short, and sexy.

Genteel Death 01.20.2010 12:12 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by noisereductions
wow. What a zinger. I might go kill myself. Or play Tetris.


Nah, don't kill yourself, you can always start a thread where you beg everyone on a music forum to feel sorry for you because you got neg-repped or called an idiot. TETRIS??? I always thought that different studies reported that war games would man you up a little.

Inhuman 01.20.2010 12:20 AM

Good read Genteel Death, thanks for posting. Despite not hearing either of those artists I'm encouraged to check them both out to see what this is about. It's always great when someone deconstructs a claim and seeks the reasoning for it, especially with a musical background as such

Keeping It Simple 01.20.2010 08:00 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by noisereductions
wow. What a zinger. I might go kill myself. Or play Tetris.


I've clearly hurt Genteel Death's feelings. :D

noisereductions 01.20.2010 08:16 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Genteel Death
Nah, don't kill yourself, you can always start a thread where you beg everyone on a music forum to feel sorry for you because you got neg-repped or called an idiot. TETRIS??? I always thought that different studies reported that war games would man you up a little.


oh shit, somebody called me an idiot?? Time to start a new thread. (BTW, how is Tetris a war game? Just curious what you mean.)

Genteel Death 01.20.2010 09:16 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by noisereductions
oh shit, somebody called me an idiot?? Time to start a new thread. (BTW, how is Tetris a war game? Just curious what you mean.)

Exactly. It isn't, that's why you're twice an idiot. Thanks for the bump.

noisereductions 01.20.2010 09:45 AM

haha, it's hilarious that me saying a letter (that you didn't write) is boring has pushed you to the edge of name-calling.

Genteel Death 01.20.2010 10:36 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by noisereductions
haha, it's hilarious that me saying a letter (that you didn't write) is boring has pushed you to the edge of name-calling.

You'd have to prove who's having a real laugh first, which, I'm afraid, you can't.

_slavo_ 01.20.2010 10:46 AM

how about not turning this thread to another "London Gig Guide" masquerade?

Although, honestly, it's fun.

noisereductions 01.20.2010 10:50 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Genteel Death
You'd have to prove who's having a real laugh first, which, I'm afraid, you can't.


why would I need to prove anyone was laughing? I said that I thought it was hilarious. So, who would I need to prove it to? I wasn't trying to convince anyone else that it was hilarious. Just stating that I thought it was hilarious. Also, it should be noted that in the name of full disclosure, nobody was actually laughing. I mean, I didn't "LOL" or anything. But even when I watch comedies, I tend to think things are funny, without actually laughing more than half the time.

scott v 01.20.2010 12:28 PM

Too many of us here seem to fit the text forum term of "Windbag" if there is such a term. What gives? Best to quit while ahead or behind.

later...


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