Derek Bailey

String Theory

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Well, here's one release to put lie to the criticism that all Bailey albums sound alike. On each of String Theory's 14 tracks, the master of avant guitar uses only feedback as a sound source; one listens in vain for his idiosyncratic picking, strumming, or flailing. Certainly, Bailey has utilized feedback as a major part of his sonic arsenal for over 30 years. Indeed, saxophonist Evan Parker credits his formulation of cyclic breathing techniques to the necessity of having to match Bailey's extended feedback tones in their early work together. But on String Theory the focus is entirely on this one aspect, with some vocal accompaniment on a few pieces.

As anyone familiar with his work might expect, Bailey exercises the same intensity and clear-headed care in evoking feedback as he does in his more "normal" guitar pieces. There is always the sense of control and subtle adjustment attending to near indistinguishable sound values; Bailey often seems as though he's seeking to straddle a fine line between two competing sonorities, resulting in a fascinating flicker back and forth across the complex dividing line. There are no Dionysian extravaganzas here, more a lucid study of one of the more arcane properties of the amplified guitar. Not every piece succeeds; sometimes, well, it just sounds like feedback. But more often, there's clear evidence of Bailey's unique, probing intelligence at work, ferreting out relationships among tones that other guitarists only dream of.

On several tracks, he is joined by vocalist Vanessa Mackness. These pieces are reminiscent of Alvin Lucier's experiments of the '70s in which, for example, a vocalist would try to imitate a sine wave as closely as possible, with the resulting differences creating an unpredictable pulse pattern. The final, humorous cut appears to be a phone call from saxophonist and sometime collaborator Alex Ward interrupting Bailey during one of these feedback sessions. Longtime fans of Bailey's art will want to add this to their collections, both as an often beautiful document in its own right and as an unusual "of a piece" sampling of this area of his work. Newcomers might be put off by its single-mindedness, however, and would be better advised to choose one of his "standard" solo efforts as an introduction.

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