Sunday, August 8, 2021

A brief on Metheney's noise machines

The video shows guitarist Pat Metheney performing a four-plus minute improvisation with a completely mechanized, computer-programmed musical ensemble. Termed The Orchestration Project, the goal seems to simulate a "human feel" into these digitally calculated grooves and responses.  This fills me with dread and furthers my frustration with Metheney. He is an original and striking musician, a resourceful improviser with an impressive line of PM Group releases, and works as a support player on the albums of other bandleaders. His fascination with effects, foot pedals, phase shifters, all things digital, leaves me cold, however, and has rarely struck me as especially musical. An earlier post mentioning Metheney reminds me of a finicky musician trying out every effect they have in a Guitar Center. 

 I saw him three years ago with his group, a brilliant array of players. I was relieved that a relatively small portion of a two-hour show was dedicated to Metheney's honking electronic Farago's. Those long lines of bleating squawks, squeaks, and echolated distortion left me wondering how beautiful those notes, forming spontaneous melodies, might have been hadn't been mugged by angry static on their way to the audience's ears.

Angry electronics have their place in jazz, I'll say in a spirit of compromise, and I will admit that sometimes gives us a more fitting and rousing context. 1986's Song X, a collaboration with Harmolodic logician and "out" playing genius Ornette Coleman, is a perfect context for extemporizing an argumentative contrast to drums, basses, and saxophones that overlap, clash, blur and scream at different pitches. Knowing when to start and when to cease production is the key. 

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