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29 Pieces for the Microtonal Guitar Live at Knitti

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Audio CD, February 11, 2003
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Multi-instrumentalist Joe Maneri's recent release Angles of Repose demonstrated exactly how cogent his microtonal approach to improvisation has been, using extended techniques to expand on the sonic capabilities of more traditional instruments. Clearly inspired by Maneri, Sten Hostfalt takes the more rigid confines of the guitar and transforms it into an instrument equally capable of exploring the minute spaces between traditional notes by using altered tunings, mechanical preparations and electronically enhanced techniques. The result, 29 Pieces for the Microtonal Guitar , is an intriguing recording that shows just how far an instrument can be bent and altered to meet a more experimental and adventurous need. Clocking in at a brief forty minutes, the twenty-nine (well, there are actually thirty) pieces are extreme miniatures, many as short as thirty seconds, with the longest being a succinct three-and-a-half minutes. While Maneri is the clear primary interest, Hostfalt also pays tribute to Jimmy Giuffre on Eight Variations and Paul Bley on Major Changes ; both artists with whom he has also studied. And while, with a single guitar and minimal electronics, there isn't the same sense of drama, no microtonal work could avoid the influence of Gyorgi Ligeti, whose importance is felt to great effect briefly on Sarabande. What is surprising about the recording is how listenable it is. As alien as the harmonies are, as abstruse as the overall concept is, Hostfalt's approach draws the listener into its most extrinsic world. Even rapid-fire and more aggressive pieces like Micronic and Roll manage to lull the listener with a somehow hypnotic sensibility. The more processed pieces that comprise the five-part suite Alive on the Dead Screen may be more jagged and sharp, but they still create an ambience that is strangely appealing. This may not make fans of listeners with a more traditional allegiance to rhythm and harmony, but for those with ears broad enough to allow for the possibility that music can extend beyond the expected, and expand the potent boundaries of experience, 29 Pieces for the Microtonal Guitar constitutes a trip well-worth taking. Hostfalt takes you on a journey to a place where rules, quite simply, don't exist, and anything is possible. William S. Burroughs once wrote exterminate all rational thought and, while there is an unquestionable logic behind Hostfalts work, it is so rooted in the unusual as to have the appearance of complete abandon. --John Kelman All About Jazz, 2004

Sten Hostfalt has more than absorbed the teachings of some of the free-jazz New England-based musicians he studied with at the New England Conservatory of Music and Berklee; he has internalized their thoughts to come up with his own investigations, actually, into the theory of music. Initially, Höstfält worked with Boston- and New York-based leaders like Herb Pomeroy Guillermo Klein, Jimmy Giuffre and Gary Burton, who produced Hostfalt s first CD. But of late, Hostfalt has been exploring and presenting the theoretical propositions of Joe Maneri, who has identified 72 pitches within the octave, although traditional Western musical theory involves at most the 12 tones of the chromatic scale. All of a sudden, the addition of six times as many tonal possibilities has opened up new vistas for sonic expression as the nuances between the normally expected vibrations are stated, rather than being contained within temporary pitch-wavering allusions such as blue notes or vibrato. So what does all this mean? It means that Hostfalt now has developed his own repertoire that incorporates the microtones contained within expansion of pitches available to him. And his 29 Pieces For The Microtonal Guitar, which was performed live at the Knitting Factory in New York in 2002, consists of relatively brief components that accumulate thematically into relatively brief suites that are distinct and consistent in intellectual intentions combined with appropriate technical applications. That is, the longest of the 29 pieces excluding the final track, Icons, perhaps an encore of sorts is almost three minutes long ( Alive On The Dead Screen, Part IV ), and the shortest is a half minute ( Eight Variations, Tres Agile ). Tuning his guitar in intervals of a quarter tone and smaller, Hostfalt, through theoretical curiosity and perhaps to-be-influential open-mindedness, pays tribute to the equally tradition-shattering Guiffre with Eight Variations, each variation averaging a minute in length as Hostfalt sketches with his guitar, allowing the listener to connect the lines, rather than painting a mural. Slyly, Hostfalt refers to traditional harmonic conventions even as he microtonically upends them, removing the audience s comfort zone as he challenges its combined expectations with a genuinely innovative approach for guitar. In contrast to Hostfalt s solo work on Eight Variations and Major Changes, Lighters includes his interactive work with his own pre-recorded improvisation, his conversation with himself, as the pitches seems to slide although still combined within the 72-pitch spectrum and as the conversation appears to intertwine with the unpredictability of the pitch of the human voice, which, after all, doesn t remain within a pre-defined scale. Although listeners of traditional forms of jazz may prefer four-beat rhythms and classical European-based harmonies, in the future 29 Pieces For The Microtonal Guitar may be considered a groundbreaking work that expands the sonic continuum available to the guitar as Western musical theory catches up with the microtonality of Indian and Middle Eastern genres. --Don Williamson, Jazz Review 2005

or the faint of heart, but more for those of us who think that the late great David Tudor got a bit 'easy listening' towards the end, and Derek Bailey may very possibly be the G-d that others of us used to think in the 1960s Eric Clapton was. Utilizing Joe Maneri's 72-tone 'micro' scale, Hostfalt lifts into Eliot Sharp Land and rips off a piece of it to make it his own. Alive on the Dead Screen shreds and distorts over a droning, howling background while Icons (track number '30' -- so much for truth in advertising) quick-picks through a seemingly decaying landscape, much as might Flatt and Scruggs on Mars for the first 3:22 after the oxygen ran out. Beyond rapturous. Dialogue from the Lighters suite pits Hostfalt improvising against a tape of himself (the live electronica mentioned in the credits, possibly - no, no 4/4 drumbeats! - but Chris Cutler has been known to do this as well, duet with himself from an earlier time frame, and to equally diverting effect), very sharp and on point, while the 'Major Changes' sequence moves more into John Fahey territory - thankfully previous to his discovered fascination with the slide method - with well-thought-out and absorbing results. In fact, this entire 40-minute live recording (from the Knitting Factory, NYC, 8-29-02) reaches that peak early and stays there with very little difficulty. Certainly one advantage of using a microtonal scale is that you will get new runs of notes, new chordal matrices (hell, how can you avoid them!?), thusly you're almost assured of never again seeming to have quoted Lush Life when you had no intention of so doing. As Frank Zappa might have said, So you get completely different entertainment every time! Works for me. For an illustration note Roll, last section of the suite Eight Variations, a furtively smooth run of cacophonous tones that fit together only because Mr. Hostfalt and the listener want them to. That's the only way I can think to describe it. Arbitrary? What art isn't? As I've said, those intrigued by the theory but horrified by the practice of Pat Metheny and Derek Bailey's THE SIGN OF 4 may be more 'up to' this simply becuse the pieces are much shorter and focused. High-density, highly logical in a completely different way and highly recommended. --Kenneth Egbert, Jazz Now 2005

Listen to Samples and Buy MP3s

Songs from this album are available to purchase as MP3s. Click on "Buy MP3" or view the MP3 Album.

Song Title Time Price
listen  1. I - Lighters - Sun Shot 1:42$0.99  Buy MP3 
listen  2. Dialogue 1:20$0.99  Buy MP3 
listen  3. Argument 1:24$0.99  Buy MP3 
listen  4. Monologue 1:07$0.99  Buy MP3 
listen  5. Epilogue0:42$0.99  Buy MP3 
listen  6. II - Major Changes - Spare Change 1:00$0.99  Buy MP3 
listen  7. Second Chance0:51$0.99  Buy MP3 
listen  8. No Chance 1:00$0.99  Buy MP3 
listen  9. Minor Change0:47$0.99  Buy MP3 
listen10. Major Change 1:18$0.99  Buy MP3 
listen11. The Boat 1:08$0.99  Buy MP3 
listen12. III - Eight Variations - Scope 1:02$0.99  Buy MP3 
listen13. Variation 1:11$0.99  Buy MP3 
listen14. Poem0:30$0.99  Buy MP3 
listen15. Sarabande0:59$0.99  Buy MP3 
listen16. Tres Agile0:31$0.99  Buy MP3 
listen17. Ballade 1:02$0.99  Buy MP3 
listen18. Micronic 1:16$0.99  Buy MP3 
listen19. Roll 1:36$0.99  Buy MP3 
listen20. IV - Alive On the Dead Screen - Part I 1:03$0.99  Buy MP3 
listen21. Part II 1:51$0.99  Buy MP3 
listen22. Part III 2:01$0.99  Buy MP3 
listen23. Part IV 2:51$0.99  Buy MP3 
listen24. Part V0:55$0.99  Buy MP3 
listen25. V - Diplomacy - Danse Populaire 2:01$0.99  Buy MP3 
listen26. Danse Venetiano 2:35$0.99  Buy MP3 
listen27. VI - Lighters II - Sun Shot Reale 1:09$0.99  Buy MP3 
listen28. Dein Mund, Wie Eine Dreiecke0:58$0.99  Buy MP3 
listen29. Closer0:38$0.99  Buy MP3 
listen30. Icons 3:22$0.99  Buy MP3 

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29 Pieces for the Microtonal Guitar Live at Knitti
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