David Stackenas’s 36-minute piece ‘bow’ was recorded with six acoustic guitars and ‘fans’. I can’t find anything else out about it. Just ‘fans’ (it took me awhile to read this as ‘oscillating wind-producing devices’ and not ‘people who like David Stackenas). But there is one clue. On Kning Disk’s page for the release, there is a picture of an art gallery with a circle of acoustic guitars on the floor. Beside them are mic stands bent over. Initially I just figured (like a normal person), that microphones we’re being arranged near the sound hole. Then I sort of realized that something needs to be playing these guitars. Then I looked more closely and realized that in place of mics it seemed that these mic stands were holding little personalized fans, the kind people take to the beach against all reason.
This explanation certainly accounts for the noise—an extended grind of plastic (or foam, or whatever) against coils—but a less subtle grinding then a chainsaw against steel, say. What Stackenas is interested in here is how these guitars will resonate against eachother when left alone. I assume some of the guitars are in different tunings, perhaps the fans move up and down the strings accidently or purposefully—but regardless the tones shift, marvelously. It is certainly interesting to hear what occurs. For fans of drones and experimental guitar work this is some splendid, enjoyable meditative stuff.
But I can’t help but ask myself very serious and scary questions, questions I’m sure Stackenas himself is either deliberately wanting his listener to consider or, at the very least, questions that keep him up at night. What he has done as a composer is to simply arrange the instruments and set up the apparatuses that will conduct them—leaving much, seemingly, to chance—the way the air manipulates the sounds, the way the distortion and resonance will shift and pulsate for the listener. Of course, it is clear he has altered the tunings of some guitars, and made sure that some of the lower pitches stay the same, while the higher, crisper ones go careening off through resonance cycles of all different shades. But then what is the composition? The composer here is like the unmoved mover, a deity who gives breath of life and then stands back. Thus for any art created this way it is difficult to compliment or laud the shifts and changes since the are all, ultimately, happenstance. And then your are frightened by just what it is you find beautiful. Is this beautiful because of the results (which I still feel cannot be completely random), because of the concept, because it is like the beauty of nature in that it is occurring deliberately but without plan, its grace-notes just the very miracle of its existence? Realizing that had this been the work of 5 people manipulated guitars with fans, I would probably be praising their ‘group-mind’, the seamlessness of the piece’s movements, how well the various tunings worked together and how the musicians went very patiently and slowly and skillfully through various complimentary tones. But either way it is arresting, hypnotizing music. It is music. Perhaps what is so hard to accept is that the means by which it reached my ears is meaningless. I’ve paused in the bathroom alcoves of school buildings to admire the joint hums of air conditioning and water pipes and distant construction. If I recorded it, all you could praise was just that it sounded nice, that it was music. 8/10 -- John Ganiard (15 July, 2009)