imagesThe super-string theorists tell us that everything is  just vibrating strings. We are all just vibrations, everything is a frequency, a melody in the grand symphony of the universe.  Get your head around that one Pilgrim!  I do love it when sober-headed physicists talk like besotted mystics. If you play music, you know all about vibrations. If you play a stringed instrument, you spend lots of time tuning those strings.  Tuning is a subject that expands and gets more complicated the more you look at it.

That note you’re tuning to is not a particle, it’s a wave and it’s not something you can put in a box. The closer you listen, the more you hear, the less you know. Some notes are pleasing, some notes go well together, some notes are displeasing, and don’t go together. But it all depends. Western music, Eastern music, modern dissonance.  What is music? What is noise? It’s all in the ear and the brain of the hearer!

And what’s pleasing and displeasing may hold for other species too.  We live with two Cockatiels and a Parakeet and Puccini, U2, The Beatles even The Rolling Stones seem to agree with them.  But late John Coltrane, Nine Inch Nails, Metallica, and  The Who, well, not so much.

It seems like tuning should be simple.  But it’s not. There are all kinds of methods to get you to “standard tuning,” but there’s lots of disagreement on how standard, standard really is, and there’s many ideas about how to make your instrument sound pleasing to the ear.  You can tune up, and one chord sounds great, and another sounds off. Or you move up the fret-board and some notes are sharp or flat. If you have perfect pitch, like my friend, Mr. Mo Ukulele Raconteur, well a flat or sharp note, a poorly-tuned instrument, a badly-sung note can drive you to distraction!

So  famous guitar players like James Taylor have come up with their own tuning tricks.  Or Buzz Feiten  has designed a unique system that builds in “off-sets” that provide “tempered tuning,” across the fret-board. Then there is open-tuning (see Keith Richards), or alternate tunings (check out Jimmy Page), or down-tuning (think Jimi Hendrix or Death Metal)

And if you’ve tuned a guitar, you realize that you are trying to catch something not exactly catchable. If you own a strobe-tuner  you can actually visualize how elusive and slippery that note can be.  There is no exact point where you have arrived, there is only a continuum, a frequency, a vibration.  It’s like trying to catch a sunbeam. You can get close. You think you have it in your hand, it’s there, it lights you up, but it’s not yours to hold. There’s a lesson there… – Jammer

Postsrcipt: “The note is eternal.” Pete Townshend, like some of the  romantic poets, was actually ahead of the string-theorists on the mystical nature of the universal vibe. Here’s Pete from his song, “Pure & Easy:”

There once was a note pure and easy
Playing so free like a breathe rippling by
The note is eternal
I hear it, it sees me
Forever we blend as forever we die

I listened and I heard music in a word
And words when you played your guitar
The noise that I was hearing was a million people cheering
And a child flew past me riding in a star

Pete Towshend

We have been working on songs for this Saturday’s “Summer of Love Show.” Songs from 1967. I wanted to write about Jimi Hendrix, but everything I started to write seemed so cliche. Still, I’m sort of stubborn and obsessive, so I’m pushing forward anyway.

So much has been said and written about Hendrix and his music. He was a “boundary-crosser” and a channel. He was a lefty, who played right-handed guitars, backwards and upside down. He always down-tuned a step. The guitar he played was just an extension of his being. Hendrix conducted noise and volume like they were his wild little children. Feedback was always a prime sonic element.  He was steeped in the Blues and R&B, but his musical explorations transcended genre. He specialized in that “high, mercury sound” that Dylan talked about.

Psychedelic always comes to mind when you think of Hendrix, he was kind of a technicolor dream of a being.  And the definition of the word “psychedelic” describes Hendrix’ music quite nicely: “characterized by… distortions of perceptions, altered states of awareness.” The first notes from “Purple Haze,” an ode to LSD, the first single released by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, included the “Devil’s Interval”, the “Diabolus in Musica.”  So audacious and upfront. Breaking open the head with sonic waves!

I can’t say Hendrix was a musical “influence,” I play nothing like the man, but I have always been inspired by his fearless, sonic alchemy and his creative, tear down the walls, trail-blazing. Hendrix was a self-taught original. He played like no one else on the planet. This Saturday we are doing an acoustic version of his song “Little Wing.” It is a stunningly beautiful song. When I listen to Hendrix’ original, I just smile. Always. Always. Just smile! – Jammer