Friday, June 13, 2008

The Softer Side of Dave

Your Weekend Listening, 6/13/08

Untitled (Acoustic Instrumental), 1996-7

MOJA, 1996-7

Apologies for (among other misdemeanors) the inexact dating of these. I'm sure if I really put my mind to it, I could place them more exactly, but all I know for sure is that they were done post-Lizard Music but pre-Yesenia. So let's say Spring of 1997? That sounds about as close as I can get, especially when you consider I have literally no recollection of the genesis of the acoustic number.

In fact, all I can really say with some confidence about the acoustic piece is that I'm 99.9% positive that it was a complete improvisation, something that I threw together on the Tascam one lonely night in the basement, literally playing with myself in the way that only a man without a musical outlet save for his trusty four-track can. In spite of this - or, more likely, because of it - upon hearing these two pieces cold for the first time in a decade, I think that half-assed acoustic ramble completely outclasses MOJA, a piece that I have a complete backstory for. And I can assure you that the backstory is just as labored as the resulting composition and recording.

The short version: I paid a visit to my Uncle and two cousins for two weeks around this time. Unlike my first visit to Corvallis in 1983, this time, I was bored out of my mind. The fault lay neither with the town or my family, but my own disconsolate and misanthropic 26-year-old self. Thankfully, my uncle - either thinking it would give me something to do or just coincidentally - asked if I could help shop for a guitar for my younger cousin Aaron. Since Aaron was about 9 at the time, I found an inexpensive short-scale guitar.

Of course, the idea that Aaron wanted to play the guitar was entirely in my uncle's head, as Aaron was 9 and only wanted to watch cartoons and play Nintendo. So the guitar fell into my hands, and I found it mercifully easy to play for my stubby, fat fingers. Which meant that I could play stuff more ambitious than I could on a normal guitar. Over the course of a few days, I occupied myself by putting MOJA together - deeply annoying, if I recall, Aaron, who got really sick of hearing the same passages played poorly over and over again.

And over. You get the drift.

Although I do have an ability to carry large and complex musical arrangements around in my head (borne of inheriting my father's math-mind and my own decades of prog-rock love), I've never been anything like a technique-minded musician. So assembling something as through-composed as MOJA - particularly on an instrument that I've never been more than a dabbler on - was more than enough of a challenge to keep me occupied for a few days.

To help, I also tested out a scoring program that my uncle bought for himself. And since my uncle didn't have any kind of midi device, I put all of the notes in manually. One unrealized dream of mine is to find a piano player who can sight read and perform the piece for me - I still have the print out of the score, if there are any takers!

Anyway, when I got back to New York, I wanted to get a recording of the piece. Of course, I didn't have a short-scale guitar, so my performance wasn't nearly as good for the final as it was in Oregon. Still, I had my Gibson Melody Maker and Fender Deluxe Twin amp,* which is a pretty sweet sonic combo.

It's easy for me now to sit and look back on this piece with derision, but I have to say that I still largely like the composition - even though it gets away from me at a writing level and I never was able to whittle it into a proper piece. And while the performance has a few too many fret-outs and hesitations to be mistaken for even a slumming Steve Howe** missing an arm and suffering from a severe spatial disorder, the insane ambition of even trying something like this given my writing, playing and instrumental comfort zones is pretty impressive, to me. Frankly, if I'd played the exact same piece on piano (then, as now, my premiere instrument), it would be unlistenable. But the combination of the overstepped compositional bounds and the beginner's guitar fumbling give the final a charm that I think carries it through.

When did I ever have this kind of clueless ambition?

And the name? Pronounced 'Mo-ha', it's an acronym for "Mellow On Your Ass," with a 'j' subbing for the 'y,' to give it more of a Spanish flavor. Why, I couldn't tell you.


*Close followers of my recorded music and this amplifier in particular will be able to pick out the tell-tale ring of the loose pre-amp tube. Here, it adds charm and warmth to an otherwise dry and middling performance.

**Speaking of Steve Howe, there's no doubt that his solo pieces in general informed the writing of this. In particular, there's an almost direct quote from his Masquerade in the little sliding licks.


Anonymous said...

funny, sifting through my casstte tapes, I have a bunch of these types of instrumentals as well.. What was with the 90s and the acoustic instrumental??.. Always these little wistful pieces lasting no more than a couple of minutes...

Dave Kopperman said...

I think the reason is - and it may be something for a longer essay, at some point - is that when you're writing a lot (and don't really have anything else occupying your attention), your brain keeps coughing up these things even when you're not really writing. Kind of like the fan running in a car for a little while after you turn off the ignition.

Also, the mid-90's was a period when I was more diligent about making recordings of things, with the idea that I might develop it into a real song at some point. It's possible that I thought this one might become a full song, but given the number of overdubs, I think it's more likely that I was planning to leave it as is. Or as was.

You need to post "Coventry" somewhere, speaking of your 90's acoustic noodles.


Anonymous said...

Well, Coventry isn't even one of my better ones, as it basically sounds exactly like 4 + 20 by CSNand Y... The funny thing is, I'm not sure I'd heard that song before I wrote it... I may have though.. I've 're-written' many a song in my day!

Dave Kopperman said...

"Fearlessly the idiot faced the sons and daughters."


Anonymous said...

I didn't even realize that until now....


Dave Kopperman said...

I'd swear we had conversations about this at the time - and that it was you (or Ansley) who pointed it out to me in the first place.

Didn't stop it from being a great song, mind you.