Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Lot's going on...(Rubenstein review)

I've revamped the web site quite a bit. I'm trying to decentralize as much as possible to allow easier maintenance of the site; for example, I've started moving my links to to allow me to share and update them easier, and I've started hosting my images at .Mac (also allows easier updating). News will now be mostly through this blog and on myspace: Neil Haverstick and other guitarists from around myspace and kronosonic posted some nice comments over at my myspace site.

I met a bunch of great guitarists, musicians, composers, and artists over at Kronosonic at the invitation of friend and experimentalist Dan Stearns.

I also finally met Ken Rubenstein, a terrific experimental guitarist who has been around for years. I bought his CD, Invert and Transcend, and decided to write a review of it for CDBaby:

Ken is a pioneer in the genre that many of us have only recently come to know--that of experimentalism, especially as it relates to the beloved, popular stringed instrument we all adore--the guitar. Experimental music is not wholly constituted of just random noise (though that sort of aleatoric music has its rightful, valid position in the realm of experimentalism); Ken (and a few others like him in this relatively young anti-genre) has shown that such music takes talent, skill, and courage. They are treading sonic ground where no one else has dared walk for fear of being misunderstood or outcast. Unlike the "others" in the music industry that popular culture tries to cram down our throats as currency in art, Ken and his ilk are the REAL pioneers--the REAL artists. They should be on the cover of Rolling Stone--not the latest Brittany Spears reject (or whatever corporate invention happens to be popular at the time)."Invert and Transcend" offers a rich treasure from the first to the last cut. Unlike some experimental music that can be tremendously dissonant and sonically overbearing, this CD is acoustically painted and very approachable for the casual listener, as well as for the trained musician. At times sounding similar to Michael Hedges and at others undefinable, this work is a watershed auditory experiment. Ken has chops that any guitar nut will appreciate, but the music is the star here--his technique is tastefully employed only as a tool to relate the story.

Ken breaks the listener in easily with a short acoustic intro tune called "Yudawee Sang With Love and Joy." The song features some very nice guitar synth embellishments and short bursts of fat, distorted guitar.

"Smallest Words" opens with a nice, chirping koto motif, interwoven between the left and right channels. Then there is an abrupt segue into the acoustic guitar introduction, followed by powerful, conjoining bass and drums. A real treat awaits the listener, as soprano Wendy Parker beautifully sings the unique melody line. Ken likes odd meters, and you'll hear plenty of that here and throughout the album. This number reminds me a bit of Steve Morse from "High Tension Wires." The song is full of changes and turns, so there's no chance of boredom setting in.

The next cut is "Xin Gap Lan." Soft, droning, flute-like synths lead into a very beautiful, arpeggiated acoustic flurry. The material is very rich, flowing, and extremely non-repetitive. Ken sucks you in and takes you on a journey of texture and variation. Interspersed throughout the beautiful tune is an unintelligible spoken word track, and a tastefully delayed horn solo (possibly created via guitar synth).

One of my favorites is "A Man Called Whores / You're All Whores / Lost In All That I'm Not." Here, the listener is taken through more adventurous territory. The opening lines, spoken in Arabic by Ameer, set the tone for the tune, which has a very Eastern ethnic feel, with incredible string lines, odd rhythms, and snapping drum corps snare lines. The spoken Arabic at the front of the tune has an extremely rhythmic, almost argumentative cadence that defines the bedlam to follow. Then there is a chaotic, bizarre interlude of atonal bliss, which rounds back into less dissonant territory toward the end, revisiting the sweet singing of Wendy Parker.

"A Song for Paul" opens with spoken exclamations of terminal drug-induced delirium (I'm assuming of "Paul") and cascading acoustic guitar work. The tune is thick with ambience and underlying busy fretwork, and the rhythm section is spectacular, as it is throughout the recording. There is a very cool upward glissando appearing throughout the tune that translates the emotional richness of this work.

"Broms" is an excellent atonal acoustic piece with some gorgeous Metheny-esque guitar synth lines. At the top of the tune, doubled guitar and synth phrases busily duck and dodge (in pulses of 8) around a quickly paced bass line. A short middle section here encapsulates remarkable guitar synth solo work.

"Lament for St. Thomas of Cantebury" is a nice horn and string arrangement, full of interesting counterpoint. "Invert and Transcend" is another of my favorites on the CD. Here, as in other places on the CD, there is little in the way of static, reappearing ideas; Ken is constantly moving, cascading, driving, and flowing from place to place--rhythmically and melodically, asking us to come with him. Miss Parker's singing talents reappear again on this piece, with an unusual melodic line, and provide a transition into a rapid, tasteful ethnic guitar passage.

"Woe Be Unto Thy Tangible Soul Who Cares Not What's At The End of the Pole As Long As He Fills Your Tight Black Hole" may be one of the longest (and most tongue-in-cheek) titles ever dreamed into existence by an artist, but the musical ideas contained within betray the covert Freudian humor of the song's moniker. More pleasing, pulsing, masterfully composed and performed acoustic guitar, synth, bass, and drums are found within the left and right bookends of the piece. By this point, the listener wonders if Ken will run out of ideas. The music is experienced with a belief that he certainly is conjuring it all at will. Midway through the approximately six-minute work is a staggering, traipsing guitar breakdown, replete with wailful string lines.

The last piece, "Beatrice Foley (for Charles Rosenberg)," is a short, mournful, slow work that initially starts with lightly tinkling piano lines, which, at first, seem to be trying to convey a melancholy narrative. Joining in toward the end are interesting synth bloops and, possibly, a guitar lightly feeding back in the background. A nice, soft, cushiony ending to a terrific project.

Ken is one of the great talents and pioneers of experimental music and guitar--a new realm of musical exploration also championed by such great artists as Neil Haverstick and Dan Stearns. This album is a must-have if you're sick of the "popular garbage" or "wannabe popular garbage" that pervades most Western music. As a matter of fact, just check out to meet the REAL undiscovered talents of creative guitar and experimental music and art. These are the guys I look up to musically; they're real, talented, approachable, and nice folks too. Ken and others like him are the patriarchs of this genre--this anti-genre.