Those who follow my blog may have noticed the writing that stands under its logo: “We design the prototypes Scott Johnson”. These words comes from my interview with Scott Johnson, an American composer who wrote some beautiful composions for guitar and can be found on page 123 of my book “Visionary Guitars”. More precisely Johnson said: “Experimentation will always be a minority interest. But many conservative people still have moments of curiosity, when they need something new, and we shouldn’t just chase them away. Providing novelty is part of our job in the culture (sometimes we will be hired and paid for this job, sometimes not). Evolution insures that culture will always need experimentalists. We serve the same function within culture that genetic mutation serves in nature: a source of unpredictable variation. Evolution cannot occur without a pool of variations to choose from. In nature, those genetic variations appear randomly. But in culture, we can consciously design the variations. This is what creative artists share with innovators in science or engineering: we design the prototypes, the early versions that become candidates for future change.”
These concepts came back to me while listening to the latest record made by Israeli guitarist Yaron Deutsch on my turntable. Why? Because to have a prototype you need at least two figures: the designer and the builder. And Yaron Deutsch is an extraordinary maker and interpreter.
I have always thought that the concept of the prototype, as expressed by Scott Johnson, is really very interesting. But what do we mean by prototype? Technically, the term is usually used in reference to devices, machinery and vehicles, the prototype is the original model or the first example of an artifact, with respect to a sequence of the same or similar successive realizations. But the prototype is not a necessity felt only by modern companies. The use of the prototype is, in fact, a need felt since ancient times, when one could only rely on paper and drawing tools, so the realization of the prototype allowed to make important observations on the project in progress. Tests, modifications and improvements will be carried out on the prototype, up to the final prototype, to be sent to series production. As often happens in contemporary music.
Imagine Yaron Deutsch’s album just like a collection, a gallery of prototypes. “33 RPM” is a collection, a well-organized storytelling and thought-out set of pieces for electric guitar each made by a different composer: Steve Reich, Marco Momi, Tristan Murail and Clemens Gadenstätter. Another development of the “conceptual guitar” that I am so interested in. On the one hand the composers (planners, designers), on the other a brilliant, intelligent, technically gifted and conceptually sophisticated interpreter (creator, assembler, builder). The result is a record where we can listen to “prototypes” already known and performed by other performers, and new compositions, indicative of how the development of these advanced design sound objects is moving. The first track could not be more indicative of this “mood”, of this feeling of mine: we start with “Electric Counterpoint”, probably the most performed piece, the most appreciated, interpreted, tested and perfected prototype. Just as the excellent “Vampyr!” by Tristan Murail, also executed and recorded in the past, two examples of successful design, of genetic variation that have made their way into our culture and that in turn have inspired new forms, new evolutionary possibilities, along that path of which Scott Johnson was speaking in my interview. The novelties are given by “Quattro Nudi for electric guitar” (2014 – 2018) by the Italian composer Marco Momi and “Studies for a portrait for electric guitar solo” (2018) by the Viennese composer Clemens Gadenstätter, two pieces of different workmanship and different impact compared to the previous ones. Something is changed. The electric guitar is contextualized in a different way.
If the two prototypes of Reich and Murail showed a connection with the rock and jazz ideas in the 80s, when they were created, these two pieces seem to move on territories alien to the forms of popular music. They are smooth, chromed, shiny, the children of an architectural thought reminiscent of Frank Gehry and Zaha Hadid. They are two prototypes children of deconstruction, which are assembled and unraveled note after note and in which is evident a great attention to sound. They are long, demanding pieces. They do not wink and do not concede. Isolationists, in their own way. Bearers of an icy beauty. Polished, chromed, almost alien. A rarefied design light years ahead of today’s bodywork. All this recorded, trapped, frozen in an unusual form for such an advanced project: an LP. Yaron Deutsch, perhaps with a slightly hipster attitude, has decided to fit this album in the classic format of the vinyl record. I am therefore faced with a double expression: on the one hand a desire for the future expressed through ideas transfigured by electric hydroponic sound designs, on the other a physical object that looks to the past, to a form of retromania that easily borders on fetishism. I am perplexed, but I like it and it fascinates me and stimulates me to new connections and thoughts. But that’s enough for now, I once again perform a ritual with a slightly retro flavor: I take the record out of its case, put it on the record player, side A, start it, clean it with the special brush, lower the needle and I enjoy listening. Ah yes, “Electric Counterpoint”…and I get lost in the process.