Guitarist David Torn has popularized (among a few adventurous guitarists, that is) the use of a guitar pick made of stone that is roughened on one side. It can be used like a tiny bow to activate the strings, and if one uses the neck pickup exclusively, the very charming additional effect is that the string length gets shortened – when one puts the stone pick down on the string, the string’s vibrating part gets shorter the more you move the pick up towards the neck. Of course, all the frets no longer fit the shortened string length, so you end up playing notes with pitches that got shifted outside the well-tuned scale, suddenly sounding vaguely middle-Eastern, maybe – exotic, but you can’t quite localize it.
I love this technique but couldn’t really find a suitable stone pick, so one day, I tried a big garnet crystal (an ‘Almandine‘ garnet, to be precise). Its edges are sometimes smooth, sometimes more rough, some are shorter and some longer, so using it as a ‘bowing pick’ adds a bit of unpredictability, which I enjoy.
Garnets are very dense and heavy, typically almost perfect dodecahedron shaped, and because of their beautiful dark red, they were symbols of divine love for the Sufis. I have fond very personal memories related to that – that big beautiful crystal means much more to me than a random object.
I eventually discovered that its sheer weight and smoothness makes it possible to simply put it down on the string to create a clear note. That does not work very well with a stone pick, a glass capo, or other objects – the garnet does this job much better. The string position where I put it down is directly related to the resulting pitch, and of course, when I put down the fingers of my left hand on a fret, that also determines the resulting pitch. While usually, you determine the pitch only using your left hand in a totally predictable way, using the garnet adds another determining factor, forcing you to learn guitar playing in a completely new way. Just having discovered this technique, I am far from being a master of it 🙂 but I confess that I am totally fascinated.
For the big 2020 Livelooping compilation album that I initiated and put on Bandcamp on April 1, 2021, I created a piece of music using a ‘rhythm group’ consisting of various field recordings, with occasional double bass and drums added. These ingredients went into two synced Echoloop plugins that were in a 6/8 relation. I used four field recordings at a time (plus bass and drums), inserting short random parts of them into the loops by pressing the corresponding buttons on my controller, using Quantized Replace. This resulted in a glitchy kind of groove. And: Synchronized loops of different lengths create polymetric permutations, a technique often used in minimalism. (Starting from 2:50, you can clearly hear two bass notes going through this kind of permutation.)
On top of this, I played a guitar solo using the Almandine garnet crystal.
Because I’d love to get into making music videos more, I took this as an opportunity to create a video. I had a lot of fun doing this, and I hope more videos will follow soon!
The Livelooping compilation for 2020 (with ‘Almandine’ among its tracks) turned out to be hugely popular, compared to previous compilations. We ended up with 44 tracks, or about 4 hours of livelooping music! I am still amazed by the amount of very diverse creativity and talent collected on this album.