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Music Consumption: Television
05/12/1998 Television

Still listening to Tim Berne's Paraphrase. And Television's Marquee Moon

A friend and I were talking the other night about cross-pollination, which these two recordings exemplify. Tom Verlaine's guitar phrasings have some relation to the saxophone, which he played before he took up guitar. Sax phrasing depends on the performer having to breathe (or depends upon the performer having mastered circular breathing; either way there's a relation to the breath) which isn't the same necessity on guitar. To bring a saxophone mindset (of any kind) to the guitar extends the guitar's vocabulary, and gives it (and whatever musical idiom the guitar's being used for) a new set of techniques, of sounds, of things to say, and it opens up the possibility for new kinds of responses to the music. Cross-pollination makes the way clear for something new. (I'm reminded of Salman Rushdie's observation in his essay "In Good Faith" that "Mélange, hotchpotch, a bit of this and a bit of that is how newness enters the world." [Imaginary Homelands, Granta Books, London, 1991, p. 394.])

We talked a bit about this, and recalled that distortion as a guitar effect originated--or became popular--as a way for a guitar to sound like a saxophone. I also recall a story about a guitar player dropping his amp, causing one of its tubes to come halfway out of its socket and distort the sound. As the story goes, he reseated the tube, but thought it sounded kind of cool distorted, and pulled it back out. In any case, even if its invention was an accident, distortion was widely adopted for aesthetic reasons, because it increased the guitar's sonic vocabulary.

In various places in Tim Berne's playing, he's making noises with the saxophone that resemble nothing so much as guitar feedback. The cross-pollination works the other way, too, and our vocabulary keeps getting larger.