PERFORMANCES OF NOVEMBER 2, 3, & 5, 1976 AT THE BLUE DOLPHIN, SAN FRANCISCO
Eugene Chadbourne / acoustic 6-string & prepared 12-string guitars. November 5th only: Lewis Jordan / alto saxophone, Bruce Ackley / soprano saxophone, Joseph Sabella / percussion.
Eugene Chadbourne’s music is marked by its originality, both of language and of design. His first album, recorded just a year ago, already sounds fairly conservative compared to much of his current work and is only a partial representation of where he’s presently at. The type of song structures that compose the bulk of the record still find their way into his repertoire, but these are relatively closed pieces, and Chadbourne’s work is considerably more open than what these alone might indicate.
To be sure, the majority of his constructs are still largely conceptual – he did play at least one totally improvised piece – but the conceptions are mostly sketchy ones, offering the improviser a good deal of flexibility and space for spontaneous creation. His concerns have to do with texture, space, dynamics (he sometimes played at an extremely low volume, using barely audible sounds), and the alteration and alternation of timbre, often by means of the introduction of various “foreign objects” to his instrument.
These included the use of paper clips, rubber bands, masking tape, bow, thimble; the running of a chain through the strings, the insertion of extra “bridges” and screws under the strings, scraping springs around the edge of the guitar, knocking on the body of it, running a wet finger or fingers over it (to produce a squeaking sound), making mouth noises against it and, more conventionally, the use of a metal slide. These devices were also sometimes used in conjunction with sounds not produced by any direct contact with the instrument – such as the rattling of a small chain, the blowing of a tiny toy trumpet, or the intentional squeaking of his chair.
Chadbourne’s “prepared” guitar consisted of three alternate bridges, made by means of taping pencils under the strings, and placed at points over and near the hollow of it. Behind the bridge was a large clump of used guitar strings which could be scraped over the instrument’s regular strings (a technique also sometimes used by Derek Bailey), and on top of which was an eccentrically tuned thumb piano. At the neck was attached a small brass cymbal and metal stick, which rattled when the guitar was shook. All this – this attempt to transcend the inherent limitations of the instrument and to expand the range of sounds available in any presentation with it – added up to a quite radical musical conception. At once, the sounds produced were more “disconnected” than usual, yet generated a good deal more rhythmic tension. And even an exceedingly quiet piece such as “(t) – – – (du) – – – (e),” played during the final evening’s performance and so quiet it at times bordered as much on mime as on music, was unusually intense in its silences. And here, as in his other pieces, there was always the implicit acceptance of external sounds as “fitting” in. As might be expected, there is also quite a lot of humor in Chadbourne’s work, and this is often simply true on the face of it; that is, being due to the high “seriousness” of the stance and the general “non sequitur” of the approach. What holds it all together is the music’s underlying pulse and sense of flow which, though perhaps not immediately apparent to the casual listener, is always there.
Chadbourne’s sets also usually included certain “standard” tunes such as Coleman’s “Ramblin’” and “The Blessing,” Ayler’s “Ghosts,” and Monk’s “Round About Midnight” and “Misterioso.” With these, he altered the tunes by changing the expected accentuation and by freely shifting about timbres, registers, and tempos. He frequently “suspended” their more obvious linear (thematic) components, extending the pieces vertically (and percussively) as well as horizontally.
On the final evening, five of Chadbourne’s compositions were performed in different solo, duet, and quartet combinations, and this showed his ability to put together a good and varied program of music. For me, though, it was less interesting overall because less spontaneous; also because the language of the other instrumentalists, while certainly contemporary, had not yet been pushed to the point that Chadbourne had brought his guitar. So the pieces, while engaging enough, lacked the distinct identity of their originator. Another problem was that even this small amount of formalism – i.e. the compositional/(improvisational) setting – tended to contradict the more radical implications of Chadbourne’s music which, if it accepts nothing else, accepts quite a lot more ambivalence than was possible with this aesthetic posture.
Chadbourne’s performances, however, were some of the freshest and most stimulating I’ve heard in a while. His work is already significant and, I expect, it will become even more so.
Henry Kuntz, 1976
Eugene Chadbourne biography:
Eugene Chadbourne (January 4, 1954 in Mount Vernon, New York) is a USA composer, improvisor, guitarist and banjoist. He has also been a reviewer for the All Music Guide (AMG), and a contributor to Maximum RocknRoll. Chadbourne started out playing rock and roll guitar, but quickly grew bored with the form’s conventions. He started studying other genres, including blues, country, bluegrass, free jazz, and noise – eventually synthesizing all those heterogeneous influences into a unique style of his own. He was also influenced early on by the experimental stylings of Captain Beefheart and the Mothers of Invention.
He is also known as the inventor of the electric rake. This instrument (some would hesitate to call it “musical”) is made by attaching a microphone or an electric guitar pickup to an ordinary lawn rake. Chadbourne has worked with numerous artists including John Zorn, Fred Frith, Derek Bailey, Han Bennink, Carla Bley Band, Paul Lovens, Camper Van Beethoven, Jello Biafra, Sun City Girls, Aki Takase, Walter Daniels, Zu, and Jimmy Carl Black.
While in Canada in the 1970s, he produced and hosted a radio program on Radio Radio 104.5 Cable FM in Calgary, Alberta. His show was notorious for obscure and remarkable music. Radio Radio is now the last quasi-pirate station in Canada. Chadbourne also fronted Shockabilly (1982-1985) with Mark Kramer (bass/organ) and David Licht (drums), releasing four eclectic albums. Chadbourne currently resides in Greensboro, North Carolina.
more on Eugene Chadbourne here…
selected Eugene Chadbourne recordings: