Shred and the art of motorcycle maintenance.

As promised, I said I would shed a little light on my piece for jazz orchestra titled SHRED! I’ve given a few folks some basics hints as to its meaning and general purpose, but have never really gone into any detail. In reality, there probably isn’t too much detail to be had. I might be giving it all away right now, thus ruining it all for you. So if you are the kind of listener who doesn’t like to go into a new piece with any outside knowledge, beware: SPOILER ALERT!!!

A work’s title often hints at a few things that help give some insight into the overall style and character of the work. As a predominately rock-guitarist, the word “shred” has been infused into my vocabulary as a both a style of metal and a description of fast and acrobatic guitar soloing. Ex:  Yngwie shreds on Black Star while playing in his shred-metal band, Rising Force. One would expect that somewhere in my piece called SHRED! would be moments of shear insanity, involving instrumental pyrotechnics with enough sweep arpeggios and two-hand tapping to kill an ox. This is precisely where I played a bit of mental sorcery. I had decided early on, like before I even had a single note written, that I wanted to explore a whole separate side of metal than shred-metal.

SHRED! is more closely related to djent than any other style. Djent is newer style of metal that stems from the intense polymetric grooving of bands like Meshuggah and Periphery. The name is an onomatopoetic term for the guitar sound when a low power chord is struck and immediately palm-muted (with lots of gain and distortion). The term djent was coined by Periphery guitarist, Misha Monsoor. Every guitarist in a metal band has used this sentence before: “Hey, lay down that sick double-bass beat with open hi-hats while me and the bass player go djent-djent-djent-raaaaow-djent-djent-djent.” A great stylistic feature of djent is the use of small cellular motives (think minimalism) played over a straight 4/4 groove. These cells, however, are usually 16th-note based and in odd groupings that are often rhythmically dissonant against the 4/4 groove, producing something that is wildly syncopated and insanely complicated to play. This is something I decided to latch onto for my piece. This is also something that my old tech-metal band, THE PANT FACTORY, was pretty accustomed to, so the territory wasn’t all that new to me. The name SHRED! came to me before any notes or rhythms. I immediately fell in love the the title and just had to go with it. Calling the piece DJENT! was out of the question. So, not only is there a surprising lack of fast, note-y runs, but the solo section is for trombone, which is sort of the least likely instrument to ever shred. The title hints at metal, which is good enough for me at this point.

More than style, I feel SHRED! is more of a character association, and more specifically a hint at the programmatic nature of the piece. Program, you say? Yes, this work follows a fairly loose program that marks one of the first pieces I have ever written out of my anger towards the American way of life. (Oh I see, it’s one of those pieces) After each semester of school, I immerse myself in some sort of activity that a busy school and work schedule does not allow, i.e. playing video games, catching up on TV shows, knitting, or whatever. After my Spring 2010 semester, I discovered that Netflix had a category of movies called political documentaries and one called conspiracy-theory documentaries. EXCELLENT, my next couple of weeks now had a purpose! I did nothing but watch documentaries on credit card debt, our food industries, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, 9/11 as an inside-job, religion, dolphin slaughter, mainstream news media, and tons of films highlighting the wasteful lifestyles in both our political environment and in our own daily lives. Now, very little of what I saw was completely news to me. I’ve tried to keep pretty aware of my surroundings for quite a while, though I’ll admit that I haven’t really informed myself of key specifics of everything. I’ve become very cynical in my perception of the typical American lifestyle, whatever that is. Our news media have turned politics into an alternative to professional wrestling, thus pitting many of us against each other as we take sides and polarize EVERY ISSUE EVAR! Our news media would like for us to believe that our struggle is academia versus intuition, atheists versus the religious, left versus right, rich versus poor, and gay versus straight, as if middle ground is just a figment of our imagination. We are told constantly to spend more and to buy into novelty and that good ideas and intelligence comes in a cell phone or computer and that all you have to do to be smart is just purchase it. We sensationalize gossip and give most of our weight to superficiality. Politically connectedness has produced a nation of pussies and has made us speak out against everything as an injustice when nothing has been done, meanwhile we’ve turned a blind eye to the real issues. I fear that we’re edging up to the point of no return. This point of no return and the hope to prevent it is the central idea behind SHRED! More on this later…

On a side note, my premiere of Nobody is Looking was sort of a flop. Here is a quote from Darcy James Argue (completely unrelated to my piece) that sums it all up: “Here’s the thing about premieres. Most of the time, they suck. Not because the music is bad, but because it’s horribly under-rehearsed.” Composers who also perform their own pieces, here is some sage advice for you: If you write a piece using electronics or tape, make damn sure you’ve rehearsed it well and above all are able to hear the f-in tape part during the performance! My amp was too loud, I stood a little behind the speakers with no monitor on stage(making the ability to hear the tape part nearly impossible), and I hadn’t worked the piece up to a performance level that should be considered acceptable for someone of my experience. All of this culminated in my on the spot decision to just wing it and improvise a majority of the piece. STUPID IDEA OF THE CENTURY!!!! I’m recording the piece this week and should have it available to listen to, as well as giving it another performance or two sometime in the near future. As disappointed as I am, I got a few good comments on the piece and learned a valuable lesson.

Also, be on the look out for some exciting news regarding a new ensemble I am starting.

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