Friday, May 28, 2010

Trey Gunn Talks About His Music, His New Album

Touch guitarist and pioneering music maker Trey Gunn first came to the worldwide attention of music lovers through a productive association with King Crimson, with whom he recorded no less than 17 albums. He plays a Warr Guitar, which combines regular guitar and bass guitar strings for a very full spectrum of available notes (see him playing it in the illustration on the right).

He's collaborated with scores of other influential musicians and has embarked on a quite advanced and interesting program of music under his own name. We reviewed his Quodia on these pages when it came out. His latest album Modulator (7d Media) marks a giant step further into his own unique musical world. The album came about when drummer Marco Minnemann challenged Trey to make a musical work based on a 50-minute drum solo Marco had recorded.

We spoke with Trey recently and he had much to say about the making of that album and his musical vision in general.

GREGO EDWARDS: What brought you to take up the touch guitar?

TREY GUNN: I discovered that all the music I was trying to make on the regular guitar, bass or keyboard was being articulated on the wrong instrument. Having my fingers tapping the strings on the fretboard just gets me closer to my vision of how sound vibration works for me.

GREGO: When you are not making music of your own what sorts of music do you listen to?

TREY: Rarely anything. I only have so many notes I can hear in a day. With my own listening/producing ear-hours, plus the ambient music I hear whenever I am out in the world....I get pretty full with sound and music in a day without adding pleasure listening. Sad, but true.

GREGO: Your new CD Modulator was put together in an unusual way. Drummer Marco Minnemann laid down a long, continuous drum solo and you took that as a foundation for the music that followed. Did you discuss anything with Marco before you went about composing the music? What ultimately enabled you to find a way into the drum track that worked for you?

TREY: Marco had no preconceived ideas about what I should do. In fact his encouragement and acceptance of where I was heading was very helpful. He was just crazy happy to have me doing this.

The only real interaction we had was when I got stuck on a section and asked him to help decode what he was doing so I could find a new way into the drumming. This happened on two or three occasions. Everything else was done without any input from Marco. Well, except for the hour of drumming!!

Each section of the drum solo was different. Some sections were very easy to get going from my end. The music would just flow right out and then I would work on producing that section to make it sound as right as I could. Other sections were EXTREMELY difficult to find something that worked. Some sections took four or five complete re-writes before I could even find one idea that would work. By the end, it was taking me about a week to write 60 seconds of music. This is because I saved the hardest sections for last!

GREGO: Now that you’ve worked in this unusual manner, do you think you’ll try anything similar in the future?

TREY: Man, I hope not. This was really hard!!! I'm joking, of course. I loved the challenge of it and will take on challenges like this again. But, I juuuuust finished it. So doing something like this again feels very daunting right now. Ask me again in a year.

GREGO: Ha-ha, OK! The music on your new album is rhythmically some of the most sophisticated that I’ve ever heard. It must have been quite a challenge not only to match what Marco was doing, but to counter it with lines that extended and transformed it into a wider space. Did this experience change the way you approach rhythm as a basic element? Do you think you’ll be building on what you’ve achieved on other projects in the future?

TREY: Yes, I think so. Though these new ways of thinking had already started forming in me before I began to work on this project. But it has still been very influential for me working with Marco. Both Marco and guitarist Alex Machacek played with me in UKZ and I began working with their rhythmic approaches at that time. We even played one of Alex's pieces, "Austin Powers," on a UKZ tour in Japan. It had some extremely challenging rhythmic characteristics that left Crimson rhythmic complexities in the dust.

GREGO: One thing that strikes me about your new album, as with much of your work, is the dense, orchestral quality of the layering. You’ve clearly become a master of the studio. Does this kind of production change the way you approach the instruments you play (as opposed to playing live)? Is there a different way to think about music when you are shooting for a finished studio composition as opposed to putting together a piece for live performance?

TREY: I am very, very efficient with how I use my time and energies. I wouldn't have taken on this project with Marco's drum solo if I didn't think I could learn some new skills. One of the skills I was working on throughout the whole project was upping my production chops. The other was with orchestration. Keeping in mind that orchestration around these drums and my Warr Guitar is very unconventional orchestration. But these were the challenges I put in front of myself for this project. I am currently working on some bonus tracks for the European version of Modulator (for Voiceprint Records), where I will be stretching out with the orchestral instruments in some newer directions.

Yes, live playing is utterly different for me and I can't even think of working in the studio as a similar animal. In truth when you play live, as much as you want to "sound good," it isn't the point. The point is to directly transmit Music. How you sound is purely the plate that the food sits on. Meaning that it is marginally important for presentation but not the meal. With a studio recording, it HAS to sound good. That is the first thing that you hear: what it sounds like. Not what is the meaning of the music. Sooooo.... I have to treat these two scenarios quite differently.

GREGO: What’s on the horizon for you? What new projects are coming up or in the works?

TREY: Remastering and releasing some of my back catalog with extra bonus tracks. The Third Star will be coming out this year with five extra tracks in a remaster version. More shows with TU (Pat Mastelotto and myself). More shows with KTU (TU plus Finnish accordionist, Kimmo Pohjonen). Releasing other people's new music on my label, 7d Media. Stick Men's new record comes out on it in two months and I will be releasing Inna Zhellennaya's new disc Cocoon, that I played on, in the fall.

GREGO: Thanks for your time, Trey. We'll look forward to those new projects and reissues.

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