Frederic Chopin, the famously neurasthenic pianist, said that the only thing more beautiful than the sound of a guitar was the sound of two guitars. There’s a reason why, by the end of the twentieth century, this instrument had become the star of blues, rock and pop music. The best and the worst can expressed through it. In particular (in line with the unbearable clichés of Guitar Hero) vulgar bends and ultra-fast slides along the neck. Getting your hands on a guitar and strumming away does sometimes look like an act of self-indulgence.
Fortunately, many other guitarists took a different route, developing a far more introspective style of playing. In this way the guitar becomes what it was in medieval music and is now in the blues: an extension of the heart and soul. From this more sensitive approach emerge different atmospheres, all magical and deeply intimate. We find ourselves lulled into gentle solitude, reminiscent of the night, our ears easily following these meditations made up of simple chords and melodies.
Some guitarists turn to the guitar’s roots, traces of which can be found as far back as Ancient Egypt. Paolo Angeli uses a doctored Sardinian guitar to blaze new musical trails. Iranian guitarist Behdad Moghaddasi reconnects with Persian tradition, while the Portuguese musician Norberto Lobo twists flamenco into disturbing patterns, evocative of contemporary music. The legacy of the blues remains predominant, of course, and takes many forms. As Miles Davis once did in front of Louis Malle’s film Ascenseur pour l'échafaud, Neil Young improvises alone on his Les Paul while watching Jim Jarmusch’s psychedelic western Dead Man. Leo Kottke’s arpeggios are close to a lullaby in contrast to Jack Rose’s more incisive and violent playing.
How can one not be moved by the sincerity that runs through duets by Noël Achkoté, Marc Ribot, Loren Connors and Jim O’Rourke? As for the famous John Fahey, he gives us all a stunning lesson in economy, recording a moving improvisation based on a single bend. It’s so sparse! The art of the drone, magnified by Sunn O))), and developed here by O’Malley, Oren Ambarchi and Kevin Dunn, cannot be ignored. An army of amplifiers create infinite feedback, and your whole body is pulled down into the Earth’s core. By contrast, Robert Fripp creates angelic music, where all the known characteristics of the guitar are erased in favour of pure sound, boosted by a lot of effects.