Swimming In It

Swimming in It: Front Cover

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Swimming in it was recorded live over the summer of 2004/05 to an audience of one - Jenny Ward - who would usually fall asleep on the couch. However, her role of executive producer / girlfriend / audience was not compromised. Quite the contrary, when woken with cry of "What did you think of that one?" her subconcious state provided lucid explanations of the pros and cons of each of the many renditions. Her advice was invaluable.

MP3 Samples:
Track 1 (1:27, 428KB)
Track 3 (1:10, 342KB)

Track Listing (All pieces were recorded in real time with no overdubs or processing other than the distortion box as noted)

  1. Swimming in It (1:27, 428KB)
    A large spring is suspended over the nut end of the adapted guitar. It's vibrations are amplified through a pick-up in the neck of the guitar. The floor guitar is played with the left foot, creating the rhythmic bass tones. At first the six sympathetic drone strings are strummed. Later in the piece they are left untouched to vibrate in sympathy with the corresponding notes of the melody. This creates it's own internal melody, highlighting the harmonics in relation to the tune. The six sympathetic strings run diagonally through tunnels in the middle of the guitar and are tuned differently for each piece, in this case to three Gs and three Ds. An e-bow is attached to the wrong side of the bridge by a rubber band. This creates the more piercing drone. The Coda is a sympathetic drone string feature. Although these strings remain untouched they play a tune generated by the finger-picking pattern played on the main body of the guitar. Based on an Ancient Greek melody.
  2. Intermission
    Adapted guitar. With: left foot - floor guitar with mini-fan and knife through strings; right foot - tambourine. With each passing of the melody a different pick-up is introduced or withdrawn, demonstrating the range of timbres available from the adapted guitar. Tune by Greg Malcolm.
  3. Lost in Time (1:10, 342KB)
    Adapted guitar and floor guitar kicked with left foot. The right foot floor guitar is played with a mini-fan powered by a flat battery. The middle section uses the same right foot whammy floor guitar. I have to pick up the e-bow to place on the whammy floor guitar (hence the delay on starting the middle section). Features strummed middle strings tuned to one note - E. Based on an Armenian melody.
  4. Staring at the Sun
    Opens with a strum of the middle strings on the adapted guitar. These are tuned to a descending pentatonic scale (D B A F# E D). The main melodic line is played by an e-bow, which is attached to the main body of the guitar with a rubber band. A second hand-held e-bow introduces a sustained note played on the wrong side of the bridge. Once again a spring is suspended over the nut and amplified through the pick up in the neck of the guitar. The left foot floor guitar is kicked and provides the erratic dull thudding sound. A piece of steel wool is placed on the other floor guitar and massaged into the strings with the right foot. Based on a Vietnamese melody.
  5. Mob Job
    Left foot kicks a floor guitar with a knife through the strings. Right foot kicks a tambourine. The other floor guitar has a mini-fan on the low E string creating a drone. This guitar is also going through a distortion box and occasionally cutting in and out with a squeal (the technical term for this is Maltronics). The six sympathetic drone strings on the adapted guitar are tuned to E and resonate through the piece, especially when the guitar body is hit with the knuckles. The pick-up on the wrong side of the bridge amplifies harmonics, which would otherwise go unheard. Tune by Ornette Coleman
  6. Swimming in It

    Homesick for Nowhere is released on the Kraak label, not Proper Music. Copies may be purchased directly from http://www.kraak.net/

    Executive Producer's Notes

    It has been noted that on occasions I happened to fall asleep. However, as the executive producer (a title not to be taken lightly) I was given the opportunity to hear several versions on different occasions and one cannot disregard my observations due to this apparent lapse of attention.

    In recording there is a certain amount of sadness that the live visual element is no longer present. Seeing Greg perform live is like watching a one-man band with a mini orchestra at his hands and his feet. The sounds are all created live, organically by his limbs or adapted guitars. Warning: there have been no overdubs of this recording. Whether this is of any major significance or importance is debatable. Does it change the listeners' perception of the sound? Does it make the sound more valid?

    However, to watch it live is entrancing due to the continued motion of things swinging off the end pick-up and the physicality with which Greg performs. His tape-infested floor guitar lies at his shoeless left foot where he creates his rhythmic (and sometimes not so rhythmic) beat, with his metal knife intertwined through the strings. His right foot hits the tamourine or rubs a steelo (a metal cleaning pad) against the strings of his black guitar or delicately plays the whammy.

    His adapted guitar was created by Lyttleton luthier Peter Stephens and constructed in conjunction with Greg. The guitar features a pick-up on the other side of the bridge, which picks up the related harmonics from the conventional side as well as creating another playing area on the wrong side of the bridge.

    The guitar has a longer section of string on the "wrong" side of the bridge. When played open it produces a note two octaves higher than the open string on the conventional side of the bridge. It also generates much harmonic action on the conventional side of the bridge. These sounds can be blended in any combination due to the separate pick-ups. The guitar is unusual in that it has two sets of strings - the standard set and another sympathetic set of tunable strings, which run diagonally inside the guitar body creating drones. All pick-ups have individual outputs enabling five sound sources from one action.

    A pick-up on the nut end amplifies the sound of the string vibrating from the fretted spot back towards the nut. This also enables the strings on the tuning peg side of the nut to be played and heard. When capo-ed, the guitar has five individually controlled playing surfaces.

    Album Reviews

    Edwin Pouncey, The Wire, February 2006: Guitarist an sound artist Greg Malcolm is a New Zealander who has spent more than a decade producing radio art works and music for short films, together with his own CDs and collaborations with other artists and musicians. In 1996 he was forced to flee New Zealand, believing himself to be the victim of media persecution (Malcolm came under fire for a 1995 piece tackling the media frenzy around a bondage death, called "The Ballad of Peter Plumley Walker"). He settled temporarily in Berlin, where he was granted Artist Refugee Status Entry. In 1998 the political climate in his home country became less threatening and so he returned to resume his work there. It was at this time that Malcolm began his guitar project in earnest, taking two years to build an instrument that would provide him with the sounds that he wanted to hear. For his 'rebuild guitar', Malcolm attached two pickups in a way that allowed him to increase the volume of sounds that are usually avoided when playing a regular guitar. Although structured, every squeak, knock and string scrape was thus amplified and incorporated into the overall guitar solo to allow a more organic feel to move through the composition.

    This album of adapted guitar solos by Malcolm was, according to his informative sleevenotes, recorded in front of an audience of one: his girlfriend turned executive producer, who would fall asleep on the couch while he was performing them. When asked for an opinion, her awoken subconscious state would utter a "lucid explanation" regarding the pros and cons of the various renditions. "Her advice was invaluable," acknowledges Malcolm.

    One can easily sympathise with Malcolm's partner, for his music does tend to have a soporific effect upon the listener as it seductively shifts from a mantric acoustic thrum to something that resembles the subdued clamour of a gamelan orchestraa. Malcolm's technique could be clumsily compared to the work of such modern guitar maestros as John Fahey, Robbie Basho, Sandy Bull or even Jack Rose - Fahey's later albums such as Womblife and City of Refuge, and Rose's recent acoustic feedback experiments being particularly close to some of the industrialised fret playing that materialises here. To achieve this effective and stirring ambience, Malcolm has also added what he calls "floor guitars" to his one-man orchestra, which act as an extension to the instrument he already strums. When played with a mini-fan or e-bow, his two floor guitars emit a series of low drones that act as accompaniment for the more complex sounds produced from Malcolm's rebuild guitar - in essence, a six stringed equivalent to John Cage's prepared piano, where unlimited combinations of resonance and timbre result from the alterations and additions to his guitar arsenal.

    That whirling mini-fan-propelled drone is beautifully realised on Malcolm's "Intermission", which as it's title impliess, is placed in the middle of the record, the bulk of which consists of compositions based on ancient Greek, Armenian and Vietnamese melodies. "Intermission" is a languorous string driven exercise that effortlessly slips from between Malcolm's fingers and hangs in the air, held aloft by the subtle droning of the floor guitar arrangement before being gently nudged along by another series of carefully crafted chords.

    It was probably during this lulling rhythmic interlude that Malcolm's somnolent partner's critical dream state was at it's most acute.

    Another key track on Swimming In It is Malcolm's thunderous adaptation of Ornette Coleman's "Mob Job" (which the saxophonist originally recorded with guitarist Pat Metheny on 1986's Song X), where the central theme is reinforced with an almost digeridoo-like drone effect and knuckled precision, over which has been draped a luminescent sheet of feedback, caused by feeding the main guitar sound through a squealing distortion box. The end result is a reconstruction where, as in the tradition of all successful cover versions, the guitarist has convincingly stamped his own brand on the original. By chance, exploration and invention, Malcolm has introduced a poetic new vocabulary into the lexicon of acoustic guitar playing.

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