Theme by nostrich.
by Corbie Hill
The night started with dudes with banjos sitting in a circle, playing bluegrass standards, as six pedalheads packed in their walls of amps and arrays of pedals. It would soon be time to call the Tralfamadorian ambassador in his/her own language, that of feedback and delay. But that’s just the kind of story we tell ourselves in retrospect. In actuality, we were six musicians with a common weirdness. We thought guitars should do unconventional things. Uncomfortable things. Dangerous, painful things. Beautiful things. We told a few people we would be getting together on an off-night at The Nightlight, a phenomenal venue in Chapel Hill that’s always been a real supporter of strange and outbound music, and a few of them actually showed.
Not many, really. At best, there were as many people in the audience as there were onstage. Not to complain though. For one, Betsy – a tireless supporter of Chapel Hill music – came out for the whole show. For another, transcendence happened. Nine amps, seven guitars, and sixty-five pedals, total, hit that stage. The open bluegrass jam over, the mandolin, banjo, and O-type Martin crowd warily dispersed. And we had a quick few minutes to set up and get noisy.
When Matt Guess, who put this thing together, first invited me, I asked to open with about twenty minutes of solo freeform guitar in the guise of my solo identity: peripherals. Following the peripherals intro, the other five would join. Let me tell you a little bit about my friends…
Matt Guess: plays in The White Cascade. Loves disorienting shoegaze washes, but has grown past a near-obsessive focus on that genre to powerful insights on niche music from the standpoint of a pure tonefreak. His specialty: indrawn atmospheres. Clouds of sound.
Matt Robbins: also in The White Cascade, the band’s drummer. Plays ride-heavy drums like a jazz percussionist in low gear. This was my first time playing guitar with him. His specialty: precision that doesn’t hide, even when it’s been run through a half-dozen effects.
Allen Palmer: plays in Goodbye, Titan. Wears a Boba Fett hoodie. Went as Dr. Venture this past Halloween and occasionally talks like Gimli. His specialty: making addictive rhythm guitar come out of absolute nowhere.
Tilson: Goodbye, Titan as well. I swear, this guy simultaneously has the mind of a four-year-old, a fifty-eight-year-old, and a hallucinating fruit bat. He and Allen form a single guitarist, it really is amazing how well they write and play together. His specialty: looped bweeoops that merge seamlessly into mandolin-esque treble-picking.
Andras Fekete: of Boat Burning, Thee Dirtybeats, and I think several more. Plays a Jazzmaster through some seriously dangerous pedals (one of them’s this crazy proto-rotary thing from the 70s with a reservoir of noxious liquid that makes it sound good, but is probably illegal to transport across state lines). His specialty: improvised badlands psychedelia, perfect for your next showdown. Treble that hurts so good.
And me, Corbie Hill: of Where the Buffalo Roamed, Alpha Cop, and Battle Rockets (that one’s on extended hiatus). I got kind of carried away and brought three amps and two guitars, but I used everything. My specialty would probably be on-the-fly relative tunings.
We missed our friend Matt Cash, of The White Cascade, but he couldn’t join us. He’ll be on the next one.
So I started off with my set as peripherals, which I felt great about. I believe my tuning was CGDF#BB, but I did some spot-retuning during the set. I managed to properly slow myself down for my solo piece, which is the hardest thing about playing on my own. Last time I tried to do solo freeform in front of people (late September ’10: Tipsy Teapot, Greenville) I was nervous, and I didn’t get to really find a theme or establish anything beyond frantic noise. The idea behind peripherals is slow introspection, even on the noisebastard passages, and I felt fantastic about how I handled myself.
I believe I played for twenty minutes (I used my Washburn for this set), and then Matt Guess stepped up. He started with samples from some gun show. Funny shit. Then he chopped the samples, set them wandering around like telemarketers lost in a roto-vibe, and added baffling tonal slices like white noise as re-imagined by a fretboard.
We let him do this for a while. We really dug the sound. Then, one by one, the rest of us joined. We made strange noises as we saw fit. Yet at this point the narrative breaks down. I remember waving a power screwdriver in front of my pickups, and I remember when Allen and Tilson brought in desert rock themes. I remember tuning my low-E all the way down to the second C# below middle-C (!!!!), kicking on an ODB-3 and my Micro POG, and creating seriously subterranean low-end swells. And I remember, best of all, the very last two minutes. Tilson and I had a thought, after we had been playing for an indeterminate amount of time, and we rushed out to my car (leaving the other four still improving). We brought in my drumset and set it up. I rejoined the others onstage, and Allen and I felt around for a closing chord progression. When we found it, we began to play and Tilson attacked the drums like some caffeine-electric tarantula. For two minutes. And then the playing stuttered, dwindled, and was done.
A half-dozen people who had been hanging out in the courtyard wandered in, fashionably late, and demanded music. But what we held was more like church than a jukebox, so there was nothing to tell them other than “sorry, you missed out.”
Note from Matt: There will absolutely be a Dreamweapon III, very very soon. For now please sit back and open your ears to the sonic secrets transcribed below:
Oh the things you can find on Craigslist if you are looking. Such was the case earlier tonight when I noticed a rack unit that seemed vaguely familiar, the Roland SDE-1000. I could tell I wanted it in less than 1500 milliseconds (ironically the max delay time on this unit). When I met the guy at his house he had it nicely setup with his strat and an amp ready to go for me. He claimed he didn’t know how to use it, but within five seconds I had the feedback cranked and it went into oscillation so quickly it nearly blew his cheap practice amp and sent his dog running out of the room whimpering. Uh, here’s your money, yeah, I gotta go.
A little history. This was one of the first budget digital delays released to the public. First produced in 1983, it was most notable for creating the sounds of, well, I’m not sure that the Edge actually used it, I doubt he did, but you can get some killer Edge tones with this box. I was thinking more like Cocteau Twins (see my demo below around the 4:30 mark for some Robin Guthrie). If you are searching for processed guitar tone then this is it. The delays are all 12 bit…that’s right, 12 bit. Not exactly great when your CDs are 16 bit and everything else is 24 bit nowadays. On the other hand, lo-fi is always in vogue, so win.
Features on this thing: Four memory locations for saving presets, which considering this came out in 1983 makes the DD-20 Gigadelay look terribly late to the party. Adjustable modulation on the delays ranging from slight chorus drone to full on pitch-bending vibrato. Also the standard input gain/feedback/mix controls on the left of the unit, and several unique flavorings on the right. First the Time x2 button which doubles your current delay time. Push it again to go back to the original delay time. Nice for changing the character of the delay while staying in tempo. Also I already figured out a cool trick. Listen to the track below for what sounds like octave pitch shifting up and down. That’s me hitting the button on and off while constant signal is going through the unit. Next is the Delay Phase button which I haven’t figured out yet, but supposedly it changes the character of the modulation on the delays by inverting the phase. Lastly we have two more buttons to turn on/off Modulation and Feedback.
The back panel contains various foot switch control inputs and no MIDI control whatsoever. Also a dry out and a mix out. Nothing fancy like ping pong delay. So far I like it, and can’t really tell much of its so-called grainy character due to the modulation being so thick and sweet. The track below is experimentation during my first 45 minutes with the beast using some moderately high feedback settings just short of oscillation. Don’t fret though, I do manage to lose control of it briefly and it goes into oscillation halfway in. I’m playing through a Fender fat-strat on the bridge pickup (SD Screamin’ Demon) straight into the SDE-1000 and finally into a JC-77 and recorded with a Sennheiser e-835. I’m a fan of Roland Gear in case you couldn’t tell. The faint rattling in the background is unfortunately my fucking radiator.