Please describe your evolution/journey as artist from using a guitar to Chapman Stick to Warr Guitar and then your own guitar design, the U8. MR:
When playing guitar and keyboards in my teens I never felt I had to practice, so I never practiced. My talent was sufficient for covering what was needed. But when I started out on Chapman Stick in early 1993, I realized that I have to practice a lot in order to get anywhere on that instrument. This is something that I now realize was also related to the nature of the instrument, which has more of an "invention" than "instrument" character. This also shows in the fact that there's a certain idiom and 'way you should play' attached to the Stick (and, to an extent, to the Warr Guitar), which has always been and still is off-putting for me.
So, after having spent time with both 10- and 12-string Sticks, I made the switch to 8-string Warr Guitar in '97 or '98. Eight strings, tuned in fifths, cover the full musical range and still feel like "one instrument" rather than two instruments turned into one. And, since I've always seen myself as a composer and ensemble player, going for eight strings was most natural. I explored the instrument playing live and in the studio with the Europa String Choir (with Cathy Stevens, Alessandro Bruno and Udo Dzierzanowski), and we released an album on Robert Fripp
's DGM label in the year 2000. The album, Lemon Crash
(DGM Live, 2000), was mixed by David Bottrill, who I later worked with more closely when producing the Tovah Escapologist
In 2008, I started designing my own instrument with American luthier Ed Reynolds. I registered the brand Touch Guitars®
and the top of the line model, called the U8, went into production after I tested the prototype for almost a year. The idea was to produce a musical instrument that is entirely based in the tradition of guitar-building, and that is also informed by my inside knowledge about the playing technique. After almost fifteen years of playing this kind of instrument, I finally understood that none of the existing builders actually plays the instrument well enough, and so I was curious about what I would come up with. I was also lucky to work with one of the great luthiers, Ed Reynolds, who's known for working as a consultant for several first class guitar companies. AAJ:
Can you describe the basis of what I would call the "international touch guitar community"? How do other players interact? Is there camaraderie between players? MR:
I've been involved in the scene for a long time, and while there are quite a few wonderful and unifying aspects, the development of the playing technique and the development of a tradition has been made very difficult by certain factors, like the abovementioned musical idiom and, most horribly, certain 'unhealthy' looks and mannerisms that people adopt when starting out to play. There are too few good and accepted role models around these days.
In the mid-nineties, I started writing a column in the TouchStyle Quarterly
magazine, which was issued by Frank Jolliffe, and soon after, I started working with a first study group of mostly Spanish players. The basic work we started back then was the cradle of "The Family," the approach I'm now teaching. I have several long-time students that work with "The Family," which uses the relationships within a family to metaphorically describe the often-contradictory aspects of the touch-style technique.
There are exercises called "The Mother," "The Father," "The Son," "The Black Sheep," etc, all of which are interrelated and very effective. We're not studying music as such, but working on movements. In early 2009, the Touch Guitar Circle
was founded, and we're meeting regularly to work together and to refine and expand 'The Family.'
Recently, Trey Gunn has also been teaching, and he's using modern technology like Skype for it. Trey and I have also started making attempts at sharing our knowledge with each other. Trey is coming from the perspective of a great player, where I'm more focused on analytical aspects.
The Touch Guitar Circle has recently introduced "working-at-a-distance" to our tool box, and we've complete a couple of courses using this approach already. I really feel something has been set in motion here, and we're looking forward to having more people working with us. AAJ:
How did your recent recording project with Toyah [This Fragile Moment
] come together? MR:
It was initiated by Dr. Margus Laidre, former Estonian ambassador in London. I had first met Toyah and Chris Wong when touring Estonia with Tuner and The Humans in October 2007. Margus called for a meeting in a hotel in Tartu in May 2009, the day after The Humans had their debut performance with Robert Fripp. All the becoming members of This Fragile Moment
were present and we decided on a concept then. Just a few weeks later we all got back together in a studio in Tallinn and recorded the album.