Sunday, March 11, 2012

Parameters and Musicianship

The March 2012 Musician's Friend catalog carries an interview with Tom Morello, guitarist for Rage Against the Machine and other groups. The interview doesn't seem to be online, so I'm going to type in a couple of things he says.

I've had the same rig since prior to Rage Against the Machine, with my band Lock Up. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. One of the things that has helped me creatively and helped my imagination is to have some things just carved in stone. . . There's a sense of comfort in not worrying about gear anymore, I'm going to worry about trying to get sounds and music out of the gear I already have.

This is very similar to something I said in a post about composing, i.e. set some parameters and then see what you can do within them. If everything you're doing is boundless, it's sort of like that thing that can happen to hikers lost in a wilderness when they can't see the sun due to cloud cover or tree canopy - they often just wonder in circles.

There's also the "if only I had a better instrument" syndrome. It's true that better instruments are more responsive, but it's also true that a fine musician can make an average instrument sound great. 

Later in the interview he says:

. . . Up until that point, I had wanted to sound like my favorite guitar players - that's what "good" guitar playing sounded like to me. Then came this revelation that good guitar playing is when you sound like yourself, and I really began to discover who I was as an artist, as a guitarist and a musician.

To me this is the true path of the music maker. You start because you hear things you like and try to do the same, but over time, working towards discovering what it means to "sound like you" is what keeps the practice of music making meaningful, rewarding and ever refreshing. 

It can take a while. I've been singing some Dylan songs for 40 years, and just in the past couple of years have begun to sing them in a voice that sounds more like mine. I think two of the things that helped me were: 1) recording myself much more and repeatedly noticing I didn't sound like I thought I did or how I wanted to, and 2) playing the horn has taught me a world of things I hadn't fully realized about breathing and phrasing and the importance of never letting the musical line just be there filling space as opposed to moving forward with purpose.

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