Monday, August 07, 2006

The Reductio Ad Absurdum of "Shred":

When I was growing up and learning to play guitar, and in realizing just how hard it is to master this instrument, those who could play at a high level of technique, had a tendency to impress us simply with their technical skill.

Playing guitar or any instrument thus could be viewed like a race or an athletic competition: Who could play the fastest and break the speed records? "Shred" is the term of art for such playing.

Rock music, a relatively new art-form, was special in that unlike classical or jazz, many of its pioneers or present day stars did not and do not have high technical abilities, but rather rely on "raw creative talent" (and some don't even have much of that).

Yet, folks like Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix, who were impressive "technicians" for their time (Eric Clapton's nick name "slow hand" was because he played seemingly so fast; yet compared to many rock players today, Clapton is indeed a turtle!) pushed "rock guitar" in the direction of technique or "look what I can do, but you can't." But they also made great music. And Clapton absolutely regrets the technical innovation that he may have helped to set off. (I've read an interview where Clapton reacts to Eddie Van Halen's referencing Clapton as a major influence, that VH learned practically every Clapton lick, "note for note." Clapton's remarks were something along the lines of "don't blame me for that.")

Folks like Eddie Van Halen and Randy Rhoads pushed on and explored the waters of "virtuosity" in rock music, waters that had been long explored by jazz and classical musicians. Indeed, they weren't even the first "rock guitar" virtuosos. John McLaughlin, Al Dimeola, Steve Morse and Alan Holdsworth -- the 70s "fusion" guitarists -- covered that ground before Van Halen's first album came out. Since Van Halen, though, rock guitarists were trying to play "catch-up" to the 70s fusion guys. And by the time Paul Gilbert hit the scene in the 80s, rock guitar had caught up!

And I thought Gilbert was fast. That is, until I saw this guy, Scott McGill (I think the following clip may have been artificially sped up). I think we've reached a point where we have to say "enough is enough"; you are just playing too damn fast, a "reductio ad absurdum" of shred.

Seriously though, this guy does make good music (see below) in the fusion tradition of McLaughlin and Holdsworth. That above clip I think is just to show, "hey look what I can do."


Swave67 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Swave67 said...

I prefer Tuck Andress, Reckless Precision, remember that?

Laurie Monk said...

Is there Truth In Shredding?

Jonathan said...


Yup, I remember you playing it in your car.

Lots of folks at Berklee liked Tuck Andress.

At Princeton, I saw a guy who played in a similar style, Michael Hedges, who unfortunately died in a car accident a number of years ago.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Frank Zappa, in reference to Steve Vai, called it "stunt guitar."

Jonathan said...

I miss Frank. He always had the perfect thing to say.

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