Rock Samples Vol 3: More sculpted grit & gravel

This third sampler in the Rock Samples series has been sitting around for awhile, adjusting its geological shape over time, allowing its various strata to settle. Rock Samples Vol 3 is curated from earlier albums as well as newer albums released after Vol 2 (2019).

The pieces on Vol 3 form a geological slice that is rough, gritty and unstable, abrasive but streaked with subtle tones, the layers formed at unexpected angles. The tracks range across loose, spacious explorative ‘jams’ to studio-manipulated Frippish sonic experiments.

I enjoy the creative process of ‘curating’ previous work into a collection; it allows me to review my creative development over time, I get to exercise some design thinking, and it keeps my (autistic) ‘listmaking’ and ‘patternmaking’ urges happy, too. Compilations are the kind of project I like to have on the periphery, for when I need an activity that uses less energy, but can still be engaging and creatively satisfying.

When I’m choosing tracks for a collection, I usually give myself an underlying theme or textural field, however vague, as a kind of glue. Within those parameters I try to highlight certain tracks in a new context or setting, using contrast and colour to create new relationships to other works, defining themselves differently in the process. There’s an element of sculpting and puzzle-solving involved, shaping fragmented but related elements into some sense of cohesion.

It was the freerange, Can-inspired, 12-min guitar improvisation Departure that set the ground, followed quickly by two tracks from the Asp Burger album, Psociatric Assetudes Botherness and Asp Burger. One of my alltime favourite pieces of electric guitar interplay is Neil Young and Danny Whitten twisting and twitching through Down By The River; I also really like the innovative guitar layering of Television, the jagged rhythmic edges of Gang Of Four, and the laconically intelligent interplay of Pavement at their sloppy best. In this mix of influences I’d also include Robert Fripp’s funky abstractions on the first few King Crimson albums. Not that my efforts at all emulate these musical mavericks, but they are all sources of inspiration.

While there’s always some degree of editing involved, the tracks on Rock Samples Vol 3 stay authentic to their organic & spontaneous nature. Their raw edges and unrefined, shambolic motion gives them textural character, as in some forms of painting and drawing. They capture the immediacy of my discovery.

In my youth, I was never much of a ‘jammer’, so improvisation has been a relatively new exploration for me over the last decade. In the piece that became Departure, I allowed myself to surrender even more to the improvisation – attuning to ear & feel rather than technical knowledge; or perhaps I was allowing past knowledge to surface unconsciously. I seemed to release myself into a state of Not Knowing, often not having a clue what notes I was reaching for, approaching the guitar more as a percussive or textural element.

Two tracks, Would That It Were and Empty Head, Happy Head, were chosen for their melodic minimalism and relative fragility – they were both the gentlest moments on The Impertinence of Being album, and I like their textural addition to this collection. In particular, Would That It Were was the result of some very spontaneous & fortunate musical accidents (or intersections), that led my guitar-playing in a lateral direction, resulting in something like a mellow but gritty surf-jazz waltz kinda flavour. Empty Head, Happy Head is primitive but intended as a wistful or thoughtful moment, a ‘gentling’ at the end of the rollercoaster.

I also wanted to highlight pieces that captured me exploring sonic / textural palettes with electric guitar: from tremolo twang, to metallic-edged Fripperies, unreasonably fat fuzz and ragged, grungy ‘jams’. In all these examples I’m discovering something new for myself, either a technical effect, a guitar tone, or some fresh freedom or refinement in my guitar-playing.

For the album Crux, I set out to explore the edges of distorted guitar, as a technical exercise. I wanted to see if I could make a sound as simultaneously filthy and as smooth as possible, then give it clear, sharp edges. In editing I used a lot of abrupt cuts, reversed tracks and doubletracking at different pitches. I like the metallic sheen this gave the sound, hostile but impersonal. I’ve selected three pieces from that album: Obnoxive Obnostic for its tightly contained chaos, Being Held Underwater for its atmospherics (I think I once described it as ambient music for goblins), and Black Rainbow because it moves like a cave troll and makes such a great entrance as it bursts through the wall.

Two other tracks that experiment with modifying the guitar sound are Desert Bloom and Misshapen Identity, from the For A Few Gringos More album. That album was a ‘studio exercise’ after I broke my wrist and couldn’t play guitar – ‘re-mangling’ (cannibalising) tracks from the original Gringo album into a collection of new experimental works.  Desert Bloom uses my improvisation in the original Cactus Flower as raw data over a drone loop, to  relatively ambient effect.  Misshapen Identity takes a section of the original Gringo’s Theme slowed waaaaay down, just to explore the deep bass rumbles down there, where sound disintegrates.

Another piece from a more recent release is Thrust, a minimalist interlude using loops and cut-ups of a fuzzed-out bass noodle. It comes from the eclectic album Kalonga, and I include it here because it is among its textural kin, contrary to its experience on Kalonga, where it was included for its difference.