I just received a terrific CD, Stick Man, from a good friend of mine, guitarist Neil Haverstick, out in Colorado. One of the many tremendous attributes setting Neil apart from the ocean of competent, fervid guitarists out there is his use of microtones. Neil doesn't typically dabble in the ubiquitous 12-tone realm that most of the rest of us are trapped in; he takes an octave and, instead of dividing it evenly into 12 steps as is the prosaic Western way, he splits it into 19 or 34 equal divisions--hence the label microtones. The resulting music can be very challenging to the banal, jaded listener unwilling to tramp unfamiliar, enigmatic sonic ground. This music can sound out of tune, even to the most highly-trained, educated musician fancying herself tolerant of new or different things.
I'm personally not so jaded in my own listening that I find his non-12-tone music offensive to the ears. Actually, I find it quite refreshing, and I find his exuberance and enthusiasm in its perpetuation and promotion inspirational. I've also read his book, The Form of No Forms, and found it a staggering instructional tool, advancing a new way of learning to understand, compose, and play music. Come to think of it, being the eclectic composer and artist he is, all of Neil's CDs are terrific listening digressions into tasteful, exceptional experimentalism. I've been a fan of his since 1993, and I first read about him when his music was reviewed in Mike Varney's Spotlight column in the December 1985 issue of Guitar Player magazine. At that point I had been playing guitar not even one year, but I remembered how cool he looked holding his ES-335 with the Yin-Yang emblem prominently adhered to the guitar's body; Neil was no posing shredder like the other chaps in Varney's column, trying to convince the magazine's readership he was the next incarnation of Yngwie Malmsteen--all the rage back in those days. It was that review that led me 7 years later to contact Neil and purchase his book, The Form of No Forms. From there we became friends, exchanging our latest projects and occasionally phoning and emailing each other. Since that 1985 review, Neil has appeared in numerous magazine reviews, has played with many prominent, renowned musicians, and has been praised by many of the same. He's among those I count as a musical influence.
Neil introduced me to another master experimentalist named Dan Stearns, who likewise has been honored by many of the same publications that wrote about Neil. I could use many of the same encomiums I listed above and apply them to Dan without inaccuracy. He's just a plain nice guy with extreme loads of talent. Dan plays a fretless guitar and invents his own forms of musical notation to address the microtonal systems he employs. Another really cool thing about Dan is his use of polyrhythms, which is another realm of modern music that can confound all but the most adventurous auditory spirits. Frank Zappa and Steve Vai, two of my other influences, are (in the case of Frank--were) huge proponents of polyrhythms, where you apportion base elements of one meter into odd tuplets ad infinitum. Dividing a quarter note from 3/4 time into 5 sixteenth notes with the last sixteenth further subdivided into 3 thirty-second notes would be a sample polyrhythmic occurrence. Clearly all but the most technically talented of us can conceive and, much less, accurately play such forms, but Dan can do this stuff blind-folded. His guitar playing sounds almost computer-like in its virtuosic, accurate rhythmic interpretation of these fast tuplets. He's got chops for days. I'm lucky; Neil and Dan are two guys I know personally who just happen to be big influences on my own music and my life. I think other guitarists would benefit by adding them both to their influences list.
So if you're interested in discovering some great, oft overlooked musical giants, visit Dan's and Neil's sites. Read about them and buy some of their music. Support them because they're the real pioneers out there. They're the Lewis and Clark of 21st Century guitar playing. These guys are doing it for the art...not to be the next pop sensation.