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Steve Tibbetts

It has been eight years since Steve Tibbetts gave us the fiery electric guitar album “A Man About A Horse” (ECM 1814). Now he returns with a different kind of recording: an album of, primarily, acoustic sounds. The making of “Natural Causes” took place in a period when Tibbetts was reconsidering some fundamental aspects of his art and craft – in parallel with daily studies of Bach, Bartók, and music theory. Examining those giants up close made it doubly difficult to go about business-as-usual in his own work. “After some hours, my ears would be wide open…and disinclined to the prospect of blasting electric guitar. So I stuck with my dad’s Martin D-12-20 12-string. I wanted to keep things simple. I thought maybe I could find a voice in well-played single-string lines and say more with less – like Sultan Kahn perhaps. That was the intent, even though the music usually mutated into complex little cathedrals.”

The music of Sultan Kahn (see mp3 selection below) has been a reference for Tibbetts since the mid-90s and the experience of witnessing a revelatory concert that brought the Indian sarangi master to Minneapolis. “Since then I have taken the singing, voice-like quality of his sarangi as my example. Over months and years of playing the frets were ground down on my 12-string and it began to sound more and more like the sarangi. The frets are nearly flat now. The guitar is about 45 years old and has a mellow, aged sound to it. I set up that guitar so that the strings are in double courses. I set them in unisons. This makes it possible to find (for me) a more “singing” tonality in single string lines. “

Gongs are another primary instrument on “Natural Causes”: “Gong cycles are everywhere in this album. I lived around gong cycles when I worked for study-abroad programs in Indonesia. The students studied gamelan music as part of our programs. Music is everywhere in Indonesia: feasts, temple ceremonies, funerals, births, sacred calendar days. Gong cycles anchor the music. The gong cycles on songs like “Lakshmivana” are triggered from a 12-string I set up with a midi interface. A friend let me record in his gong shop in Peliatan (south of Ubud, Bali) for a few hours, sampling gongs and other metal-key instruments on a portable DAT recorder I brought to Asia. I sampled gongs, gamelans, jublangs, and other metallaphones. I mapped them to diatonic scales, not necessarily tracking the guitar pitches. In other words, a harmonic minor scale played on the guitar might trigger a melodic minor scale from the sampler a 5th higher. I would sometimes make four or five different scales like this, trigger all of them from the guitar, then craft tiny compositions or motifs.”

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Album Review
Album Review
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Album Discography

Recordings: As Leader | As Sideperson


ECM Records


Life Of

ECM Records


Natural Causes

ECM Records


A Man About A Horse

ECM Records




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