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Alternative Guitar: Elif Yalvaç, Rachika Nayar, SkyCreature, Kristinn Kristinsson and Tristan Welch

Mark Sullivan By

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There is something about the electric guitar that inspires players to utilize electronics to create a more complex sound than previously possible with a solo guitar. Electronic processing offers ways to dramatically alter the guitar's dynamic envelope and timbre, sometimes resulting in a guitar that does not sound like a guitar at all. Add on live looping and editing during the recording process, and it becomes possible to create a massive, complex sound: an alternative guitar.

Elif Yalvaç
Mountains Become Stepping Stones
NNA Tapes
2020

Istanbul-based ambient/electronic composer Elif Yalvaç derives most of her sounds from her guitar playing, which is usually electronically processed beyond recognition. Opening track "Brocken Spectre" (named after the phenomenon of seeing the aircraft's shadow within a halo of a rainbow during a flight to Iceland) is built on an industrial-sounding drone, to which she adds delicate electronic sounds from a Game Boy handheld video game console. She says "I wrote so much about Game Boy in my master's thesis; it was now time to make music with it." After some bell-like sounds there are identifiable guitar sounds, on "Under The Aurora 1" ( as well as "Under The Aurora 2" and "Black Sand Beach"). "Black Sand Beach" also uses field recordings prominently—the sound of waves from the North Atlantic ocean—along with the sound of the composer's breathing, conjuring an almost alien atmosphere. "Freak Box" lives up to its title with an onslaught of what seems to be industrial noise. " Kintsugi" (named after the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery by reconnecting the pieces with powdered gold, silver, or platinum) ends the album with an almost gamelan-like tapestry of bells and gongs. Like the rest of the album it is a fascinating journey.

Rachika Nayar
Our Hands Against The Dusk
NNA Tapes
2021

Brooklyn-based ambient/electronic composer Rachika Nayar also bases her compositions upon her guitar playing, in this case loops that are electronically processed. The pulsing bit-crunched sounds of opener "The Trembling of Glass" make a very electronic impression at first, but they finally give way to finger style guitar picking, revealing the progression that had been the source material for the entire piece. "Losing Too Is Still Ours" is full of glitchy sounds, overlaid with guest YATTA's ethereal wordless vocals. "The Edges" evokes the swells of a futuristic string section and a choir, while "Aurobindo" mixes guitar with spacious, reverberant bell-like sounds. Closer "No Future" adds two humanizing elements to the electronic mix: Zeelie Brown's cello and the piano that ends the piece, unaccompanied and unmodified.

SkyCreature
The Breath of Galaxies
Mystic Form Records
2020

SkyCreature is the name that New Orleans-based guitarist Chris Alford gave to this pandemic project, solo guitar music improvised with multiple loops and processors in real time with no overdubs. While there is plenty of electronic processing in evidence, this music is notable for an identifiable guitar presence: these really do sound like guitar solos, albeit with an expansive sonic palette. He described it this way: " I wanted to reflect the turbulence of the present moment while also creating a new reality. Solo performance in this form was new terrain. I wanted a way to create space and vastness when confined to my home during this period of quarantine." He was using technology as a collaborator, but feeling was paramount, so he changed the configuration whenever he lost focus. "Prelude to the Multiverse" opens the set with melodic solo guitar over a gentle backwards loop, but the solo part morphs into bit crunching by the end. As the title implies, "Take Root Among the Stars" employs deep reverb to maintain its vast atmosphere, with abstract bursts of sound representing stars. "In the Clouds of Venus" ends the album with dense layers of short loops and a final over-driven solo.

Kristinn Kristinsson
Amidst
Anca Rusd
2021

Icelandic guitarist Kristinn Kristinsson recorded this solo album after returning to his hometown of Reykjavík, following many years abroad. It is a dramatic departure from his solo debut Module (Hout Records, 2018). That album featured very precise, repetitive pattern playing, usually without electronic effects. Kristinsson describes the dense, heavily processed music here as "melancholic," and these improvisations certainly project a uniform, disquieting emotional tone. They were recorded in three evening sessions directly to stereo. "I" opens the album with a drone wash, including plenty of crushing low bass. "II" is marked by what sounds like an organ accompanied by white noise; and so it goes through the conclusion of the set with "VI," an exercise in dense, dramatic electronic sounds. This is easily the most extreme electronic processing of these albums: the final product reveals very little sonic evidence of the guitar at all.

Tristan Welch
Temporary Preservation
Self Produced
2021

Ambient guitarist Tristan Welch is based in Washington, D.C., where he makes his living as a licensed funeral director: that may be a first in the experimental music world. The album title comes from a phrase used to describe the restoration of a lifelike appearance of the deceased. Like much of the other music reviewed here the sounds are entirely produced by the electric guitar, but looped and processed beyond recognition with delay, reverb and distortion. The pieces fall on a maximalist/minimalist line stylistically. They are all relatively brief in duration (recalling traditional songs), but are full of the sort of density common to longer drone-based music. "Trying to Change the Weather" begins with a dense, pulsing texture reminiscent of a modern string orchestra composition. "Soul Exhaustion" features an ominous chord progression with overtones that recall strings, chorus and bells. "Legislative Morality" actually begins with identifiable guitar chords, which gradually become overwhelmed by electronic sounds. The title of "Pleasant Trees" must be ironic, because it includes some of the most extreme distorted textures on the album. "Meandering in Obscurity" closes the set with a kind of march.

Tracks and Personnel

Mountains Become Stepping Stones

Tracks: Brocken Spectre; Under the Aurora 1; Painted In Pitch Black; Breaking My Rose Tinted Glasses; Huginn and Muninn; Black Sand Beach; Bifröst; Freak Box; Mossy Moon; Under the Aurora 2; Two Compartments; Kintsugi.

Personnel: Hazal Elif Yalvaç: guitars, pedals, synthesizer, Game Boy, laptop; Field recordings: Hazal Elif Yalvaç with Magnús Bergsson.

Our Hands Against The Dusk

Tracks: The Trembling of Glass; Losing Too Is Still Ours; Marigolds Tulsi; The Edges; New Strands; A Burning Plain; Aurobindo; No Future.

Personnel: Rachika Nayar: guitar, electronics; YATTA: vocals; Zeelie Brown: cello.

The Breath of Galaxies

Tracks: Prelude to the Multiverse; Pleiades (coping with sorrow); Take Root Among the Stars; Adrift in the Chasm; Lunar Chorale; Returning on the Wind; Sagitarius A*; Tamu Massif; In the Clouds of Venus.

Personnel: Chris Alford: guitar, electronics.

Amidst

Tracks: I; II; III; IV; V; VI.

Personnel: Kristinn Kristinsson: guitar, electronics.

Temporary Preservation

Tracks: Trying To Change The Weather; Children Reimagined; Soul Exhaustion; I Live In Filth; Legislative Morality; Pleasant Trees; A Moment Of Xanax; Clout Currency; Meandering In Relative Obscurity.

Personnel: Tristan Welch: guitar, electronics; Jake Reid: bass, synthesizer (3).

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