February 21, 2001
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It's always slightly humorous to hear someone like Carlos Santana, Al DiMeola Jimmy Page or the latest Metal sensation described as a guitar hero. Good technicians they may be, but most of what they're doing is putting a faster, harder, tougher cast to the sort of sounds that have been around, at very least, since the 1950s.
True guitar heroes should be those who bring something radically different to the guitar. People like Charlie Christian in his day, Sonny Sharrock in his, and for past couple of decades Europeans working in the realm of uncompromising improvisation, like Britain's Derek Bailey or Germany's Erhard Hirt.
Hirt, who has long worked with the cream of EuroImprovisers including bassist Hans Schneider, drummer Paul Lytton, and synth player Thomas Lehn has also been giving improvised solo concerts since 1978. Over the years he has gradually added electronic sounds and treatments to his recitals as sort of an unpaid duo partner.
Recorded live in London festival, 25.5.1996 is four-track mini disc that could serve as Hirt's calling card. Tracks entitled "Drone" and "Percussion" are literally descriptive. The first offers up a mesmerizing sound midway between a band saw and a swarm of bees, while the casual listener would swear that the sounds on the later were being produced on a member of the percussion family. Here speedy reverberating tones vie for prominence with what could be the AC from an in-use electric chair, at least until the piece fades into gentle finger picking. Nostalgic for the sound of bells? "Kermesse", which gradually reveals itself to be the product of busy fingers on six strings resembles an entire carillon concert, at least if one was put together played by a very electronically oriented and pretty spacey ProgRocker.
Most of ACOUSTICS is more of the same, but with studio acoustics rather than those of a concert hall. Centrepiece is the 36-minute title track subdivided into eight sections, which could be subtitled eight different ways you can abuse your axe. Throughout, in the appropriate section, Hirt has his instrument looping out tones like a sine wave generator or producing vibrating sonics that sound as if they escaped from the cradle of early minimalism. But wait, as the notes decorate that line, here's a counter melody wrapping itself around the first.
Elsewhere he can scrape across the strings in such a way that you'd swear you were hearing an electronic organ, use a bow or sticks to treat the guitar like a stringed drum or weave the whirring hum of the amp into the tune. Later still, his tone is so matter-of-fact and simple that it could pass for that of a folk singer's accompanist at a particularly outside Hootenanny.
But the true showcase here is the nearly 15 minutes of "Cuba" recorded during a concert in a club in Holland in 1998. With digital processing, Hirt can sound like a flute one minute, a tropical bird the next or split his personality twice — sounding like an acoustic guitar quartet. More low key than on other tracks, he appears to put the drones and buzzes to better effect, keeping them wafting in the background as he pulls and prods unique rhythmic throbs from the bones and skeleton of his guitar.
Some may draw away from this heroic display and want something more familiar. Many more will listen carefully to discover how the whole idea of guitar playing is constantly being transformed.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 25.5.1996: 1. Drone 2. Percussion 3. Staff 4. Kermesse
Personnel: 25.5.1996: Erhard Hirt (acoustic guitar and digital processing)
Track Listing: Acoustics: 1. Intro 2. Short 3. A 4. B 5. Loop 6. Laut 7. Plasy 8. Reprise 9. Cuba 10. Lili
Personnel: Acoustics: Erhard Hirt (acoustic guitar and digital processing)