Monday, July 25, 2011

Space In The Song

In the process of recording my new album (which is about 80% done), my producer Jamie Mefford has brought several things to my attention. One of them is my tendency - developed through years of playing and performing as a solo singer/songwriter - to take up lots of space with my guitar playing. My style has evolved into an often busy network of Dave Matthews / Neil Young-style hammer-ons and pull-offs that sound fancy. I like playing that way and it has now become a comfortable groove.

As a solo artist this style is strategically understandable. But as I play more and more with the new trio, and record this new album, I have become acutely aware of the need to leave space for others. This of course brings up interesting things to ponder for me as I examine anew my personality outside of music. How much space am I leaving for others? As a therapist, husband, father, friend, and son I am certain I could leave more.

Musically, I am remembering that when space is left in the song, the listener can enter into the conversation. As a listener myself, I find that my mind/heart/soul fills the void - I hear overtones, echoes, other instruments and voices in the space - and I can take a breath. Denver Children's Hospital Music Therapist Tony Edelblute has writing succinctly about the topics of musical space and silence.

I contrast this with the music of bluegrass jam band Trampled By Turtles for example, whom I saw at Telluride this year. Their gig seems to be this: play as frenetically as possible for as long as possible and let the people dance. And no doubt they have devoted followers. But I'm not one of them. Listening to their music, I literally had to fight to breathe. There was no space. So like Elvis, I quickly left the building.

As I continue to write, record, and perform, my goal is to listen as much as I play - if not more. I enjoy the richness of sitting back and breathing into the song as the song breathes into me. Imagine if our world leaders left more space in their songs. How much space to you leave?

1 comment:

  1. Good post! For a band as a whole, it always a question of balance, I think. Not enough runs and fills sounds empty while too many that don't complement each other does not sound good either, as you witnessed. Most of all, leave space for the singer! Nothing worse than singing with all that stuff going on behind you. The best bluegrass band seem to have the correct balance. Check out Sleeping With One Eye Open by Daves/Thiele for a great richness of sound (but not too much) and they are a duo!