inkwell.vue.275 : The Life and Times of David Gans
permalink #0 of 637: David Adam Edelstein (davadam) Mon 12 Jun 06 08:13
    
Our next guest, David Gans, needs little introduction, so I'll let him do it
himself:

Musician, radio producer, author/journalist, semi-pro photographer - David
Gans has found quite a few ways to not make a good living.  But he's managed
to make a satisfying life of creativity, and along the way he's also founded
and hosted several conferences in the WELL - inkwell.vue among them.  Our
recently-retired cohost gave up his post in order to give more attention to
his musical career.  He's working on a new CD of guitar instrumentals,
tentatively titled "Cloud Surfing," that makes extensive use of digital
looping technology without giving up any of the lyrical quality of his
guitar playing.
More info at http://www.dgans.com

Leading the conversation with David will be Gary Burnett:

Gary Burnett, on the WELL since 1990, is an Associate Professor at the
College of Information at Florida State University.  His academic work
investigates the relationship between social interaction and
information exchange in virtual communities.  For the past three years,
he has chaired the Grateful Dead caucus at the Southwest/Texas Popular
Culture/American Culture conferences.  Recent travels have taken him
to Scotland and Mexico; his next big adventure will involve becoming a
grandfather in July.

Welcome, David and Gary!
  
inkwell.vue.275 : The Life and Times of David Gans
permalink #1 of 637: Gary Burnett (jera) Mon 12 Jun 06 12:35
    
Thanks for having me.  It's nice to be doing something that doesn't
involve reading and re-reading dissertation chapters by my students!

And Welcome, David!  I think we'll be talking about all of those
things in the first line of your introduction as we go along --
"Musician, radio producer, author/journalist, semi-pro photographer" --
but I thought that maybe we'd start with that new CD of instrumentals.

I've really enjoyed listening to you develop that digital looping
technique over the past few years, ever since I got to see you give
what I think was your very first public performance of a loop-based
instrumental "jam" down here in Tallahassee, Florida (a performance
that later ended up opening your "Solo Acoustic" CD, under the title
"Ask Your Dog!").

Could you tell us something about what brought you to this kind of
exploration, and something about the new CD?
  
inkwell.vue.275 : The Life and Times of David Gans
permalink #2 of 637: David Gans (tnf) Mon 12 Jun 06 15:50
    

I got the loop device as a way of enriching my solo performances.  I wanted
to be able to record the chord changes of the song so I could play a guitar
solo.  The first unit I got, a Line 6 delay modeler, maxed out at 28 seconds
- not long enough to get the whole structure of most songs.  But I was able
to record short passages, and that got me started on the technology.  I could
record the four-bar pattern in the middle of "Blue Roses" and improvise for a
while.

Not long after that, my friend and colelague Rik Elswit alerted me to a new
device, the Boss RC-20 Loop Station.  Eureka!  This was what I needed!
Couple of minutes of storage time, so I could stap ont he pedal while singing
the verse of, say, "Waltzing Across Texas," hit the "stop" button as I went
into the chorus, and then hit the "play" pedal after the second chorus and
play a solo over it.

Once I had that marvelous creative aid in hand and underfoot, I was off and
running.

By the way, "Ask Your Dog!" isn't a loop piece; it's an improvisation using
the echo feature of the Line 6 as a rhythmic aid.  These devices allow you to
tap a pedal in time with the music and adjust the volume of the "slapback"
and the number of times it repeats ("feedback"), so you can build a rhythmic
improvisation.


I'll post some audio examples of this music as the interview progresses.
URLs TK, as we say in the journo biz.
  
inkwell.vue.275 : The Life and Times of David Gans
permalink #3 of 637: David Gans (tnf) Mon 12 Jun 06 17:42
    

I've posted the two above-referenced pieces of music on this page:

< http://www.dgans.com/inkwell/ >

I'll post all links related to this interview there.
  
inkwell.vue.275 : The Life and Times of David Gans
permalink #4 of 637: Gary Burnett (jera) Tue 13 Jun 06 09:41
    
Correction re: "Ask Your Dog!" accepted.  That particular performance
just sticks with me because it was the first time I heard you working
with tools that would allow you to repeat elements of your playing, and
the first time I heard you build the capabilities of those tools into
your improvisations.

You mentioned "storage time."  Clearly, that kind of storage time (as
Waltzing Across Texas shows) allow you to work within song structures
-- to "be your own band," in a sense, and solo to your own
accompaniment.

But Ask Your Dog! suggests more open-ended uses of the tools as well. 
Have you also carried the looping capabilities into more free-form
work?  More spontaneous structures?
  
inkwell.vue.275 : The Life and Times of David Gans
permalink #5 of 637: David Gans (tnf) Tue 13 Jun 06 09:59
    

Oh, yes!  The creative potential was evident the minute I started playing
with the thing.

"Mud Wrestling Jam," on Solo Electric, is an excellent example of spontaneous
composition.  I started playing single-note melodies, grabbed a phrase I
liked, and then began building on it.  At about 2:45, the feel changes as I
add a rhythm guitar on top of the existing loop; that kicks the piece into a
higher gear.  This was an exciting moment - the piece took on a life of its
own, and I was in that happy place of being a delighted witness to the
creativity that was flowing through me into the guitar system.

The audio is posted at < http://www.dgans.com/inkwell/ >
  
inkwell.vue.275 : The Life and Times of David Gans
permalink #6 of 637: Gary Burnett (jera) Tue 13 Jun 06 10:21
    
There are a number of other guitarists using looping technology as
well -- people like Keller Williams, Bill Frisell, etc. -- but your
work has always sounded very different to me in the way you use the
tools to build multiple layers out of nothing (or out of a set of chord
changes).

What looping guitarists do you listen to?  Who do you consider to be
your peers (or your influences) in this work?
  
inkwell.vue.275 : The Life and Times of David Gans
permalink #7 of 637: Gary Burnett (jera) Tue 13 Jun 06 10:28
    
Oh, and a dumb question, perhaps, but I've always wondered:  with your
current guitar set up, how many independent layers can you have going
at once?
  
inkwell.vue.275 : The Life and Times of David Gans
permalink #8 of 637: David Gans (tnf) Tue 13 Jun 06 10:29
    

The only looper I listen to regularly is Keller Williams, and I can't say
he's much of an influence.  I love his work, but our styles are very dif-
ferent.  Keller fills the stage - literally!  He's got a bass guitar on a
stand and an electric guitar on stand, and a much more elaborate looping rig
than I have - and his sound guy, Lou, participates fully in his show.  Keller
does a lot of mouth percussion, which I haven't gotten into.

I haven't studied other loopers, because I want to develop my own style.
I've never been a guitar geek; I just want to make music.  I find myself
paying more attention to the technology than I used to, but I'm really more
interested in what I can do on my own than in cribbing ideas from other
players.
  
inkwell.vue.275 : The Life and Times of David Gans
permalink #9 of 637: David Gans (tnf) Tue 13 Jun 06 10:51
    

> with your current guitar set up, how many independent layers can you have
> going at once?

The RC-20XL allows overdubbing, limited by the available memory: the longer
theloop, the less time available for more layers.  I may be wrong about that,
actually: it may do the overdubbing by writing to the existing memory.  All I
know for sure is that I've never hit the ceiling on that.

I recently acquired another looping device: the Gibson Echoplex.  It's got a
lot more power and a lot more control.  You can program it to enable a
sequence of discrete loops: hit the "next loop" button and you're filling up
a new space.  If you've got it set for three loops, the next touch of the
"next loop" button puts you into loop space #3; if you're set up for two
loops, that third hit uts you back into loop #1.  You can also insert new
information in an existing loop, and you can "multiply" an existing loop,
adding new music over an arbitrary number of repetitions of the previous
material.  I'm just starting to get into the possibilities with this
excellent tool.

I haven't gone on the road with both devices yet, but I'm planning to.  What
I am doing at home right now is working with both the RX-20XL and the EDP.
With two independent loops (that cannot be synchronized), I've been
experimenting with what I call "clouds": building a loop of arbitrary
duration, with fat, sustained notes that I fade in with a volume pedal,
decaying naturally or faded out.  With upwards of half a dozen notes coming
and going, the effect is a "cloud" of slowly shifting harmonies.  Once that's
going good, I go to the other device and start something more structured.

On this page - < http://www.dgans.com/inkwell/ > - you'll find a sketch
called "Lenticular clouds" and an example of a composition using two loops,
"Quarter to Five."  The latter is a composition derived from a loop jam,
created several months ago.

("Quarter to Five" is dedicated to my dear friend Tina Loney, who died last
week after a long struggle with lung cancer.  The forthcoming CD is dedicated
to Tina's memory, and much of it was created during her last few weeks of
life; I felt a strong creative impulse while we were supporting her through
her illness, and this recording in particular expresses my grief over her
loss and my appreciation for her love and frienship over the last 20 years.
Tina was one of the first friends I made here in the WELL, and we remained
very close until her death.  You can see a photo and read more about Tina on
my blog:  http://gdhour.com/logblog/?p=126 )
  
inkwell.vue.275 : The Life and Times of David Gans
permalink #10 of 637: David Gans (tnf) Tue 13 Jun 06 11:27
    

Clarifying my previous post: Neither of the loopers I hav enow allows
independent control of the layers.  You can add material at will, but you can
only remove the most recent track.  There are other devices on the market -
the recently-introduced Boss RC-50 and the Looperlative - that I'm told allow
independent treatment of tracks, but I haven't seen them yet.

By the way, there is a web site devoted to this technology: Looper's Delight!

http://loopers-delight.com/loop.html
  
inkwell.vue.275 : The Life and Times of David Gans
permalink #11 of 637: Gary Burnett (jera) Tue 13 Jun 06 12:10
    
That would be a cool addition -- the ability to morph individual
layers independently from all other layers.

It seems that one of the challenges of this kind of loop work is that
it can run the risk of becoming overly repetitive.  In using loops
within structured songs (to solo over yourself, or to create
multi-layered backings for vocals), you have an automatic "out" (when
the verse moves to the chorus, say).  But in more open-ended ipieces,
how do you work with the repetitions to keep things interesting and
fresh?  Do you find, when you're working at home on new pieces, that
you end up discarding a lot of them because they don't break free from
the repetitions?

There are some interesting similarities here with a genre of music I
know you don't care for much: techno;  good techno offers a kind of
infinite variation within infinite repetition, while bad techno is just
the same thing over and over and over again.

Of course, repetition is not inherently a bad thing -- witness the
Beatles' Hey Jude, which makes a positive virtue of it!
  
inkwell.vue.275 : The Life and Times of David Gans
permalink #12 of 637: David Gans (tnf) Tue 13 Jun 06 12:45
    

> how do you work with the repetitions to keep things interesting and fresh?

It's a struggle!  Sometimes the natural transition point is 15 bars away, and
you just have to try to keep it interesting until you can move or mutate.
Sometimes a desperate act takes you into a new place.  And sometimes when you
listen back to it, it feels tedious as hell.

You just gotta give it your best and stay on your toes.


> Do you find, when you're working at home on new pieces, that you end up
> discarding a lot of them because they don't break free from the repeti-
> tions?

Oh yes.  And yet, I'm surprised at how much of the work I do at home is valid
and useable.

Regarding Techno, Ambient, etc.  I never felt much of an affinity for that
style of music, and now I are one.  Go figure!
  
inkwell.vue.275 : The Life and Times of David Gans
permalink #13 of 637: Gary Burnett (jera) Tue 13 Jun 06 13:44
    
Well, not really, since your work with technological enhancements and
digital tools (your "electronica" work, as it were) takes place within
a context that also includes other musical tools that don't really form
a significant part of most techno or ambient stuff -- and that's the
context of the SONG.

I get the sense that, even though you're working on a new CD that
focuses on the capabilities of looping, such work is never completely
divorced from things like melody and, especially, WORDS.  That may be
why the looping pieces I've heard all maintain a strong commitment to
lyricism.  Certainly in performance, looping pieces (and other
instrumental pieces) can never be disengaged from the songs that
surround them.

Which is also true of lots of other bands that I know you and I both
love (obviously the Grateful Dead, but also more recent bands like
Donna The Buffalo, Railroad Earth, and the Waybacks).  The
experimentation and "jamming" that is there is always at the service of
the song, and never just wanking for its own sake.  

Even though some of your loop pieces are stand-alone works, they never
seem disengaged from the rest of your work to me.  Or am I barking up
the wrong tree here?  Do you see them as separate or of-a-piece?  And,
if they are of-a-piece with the rest of what you do, are you able to
articulate the connections?
  
inkwell.vue.275 : The Life and Times of David Gans
permalink #14 of 637: David Gans (tnf) Tue 13 Jun 06 21:54
    

I am, first and foremost, a songwriter.  I was never even much of a fan of
instrumentals - I've composed a few over the years, but not many.  I never
thought of myself as been such great shakes as a guitarist, either, until
recently.  Now I'm still not sure I'd be too aggressive in declaring myself
to be a guitarist worth listening to, but I am starting to get the feeling
that I have something unique to offer when you look at the whole package.

I had a conversation with a friend today about this very subject.  Without
ever intending to, I seem to have migrated to that obscure corner of the
musical map that's occupied by the Grateful Dead and very few others: the
thin region of that big 3-D Venn Diagram where simple, melodic, country/folk
intersects with weird, sometimes scary psychedelic music.

I don't think I'll ever give up songs.  I've been writing songs since I was
15, and I still consider that the basic unit of musical communication.  I am
enjoying this new mode of composition, and I suspect that my shows this sum-
mer will have more improvisation and few cover songs, but even when there are
no words, I still feel that my performances have a narrative structure, and I
am a word guy from the git-go.
  
inkwell.vue.275 : The Life and Times of David Gans
permalink #15 of 637: David Gans (tnf) Wed 14 Jun 06 00:32
    

I should also say that I'm probably never going to stop doing the simplest
and most satisfying thing: singing and playing the acoustic guitar.  I'll
always perform "Falling Star," "Popstar," and "Lazy River Road" without
technical assistance.
  
inkwell.vue.275 : The Life and Times of David Gans
permalink #16 of 637: Gary Burnett (jera) Wed 14 Jun 06 12:02
    
When you say that you feel that your performances "have a narrative
structure" even without words, I wonder how you mean it.  Not, I
suspect, in the sense of there being a specific "plot" with a
beginning, middle, and end, but perhaps more a sense of an arc of
development through a show from, a sense of going someplace ...

I know that you don't typically pre-determine setlists, but do you
have a sense when you start a show of where it's going to end up, what
the narrative direction is going to be?  Or is it something that
unfolds as you go?  Or something you're more aware of after the fact?
  
inkwell.vue.275 : The Life and Times of David Gans
permalink #17 of 637: Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Wed 14 Jun 06 12:21
    

(Note: offsite readers with comments or questions can send email to
<inkwell@well.com> to have them added to this conversation)
  
inkwell.vue.275 : The Life and Times of David Gans
permalink #18 of 637: David Gans (tnf) Wed 14 Jun 06 12:41
    

It's kinda hard to say exactly what I mean about that narrative thing.  It
may be changing as the instrumentals creep into the repertoire - but maybe
not.  Instrumentals have emotional content, and even drama.

I discovered, over time, that there is an overarching story that I'm trying
to tell.  I can't tell you what that story is, but there are some specific
emotional notes that I've been trying to strike.  I figured out that the
songs by other composers that stick in my repertoire are ones that further my
own narrative.

It's not a story with a plot, but it's a - jeez, I'm not sure if I can ar-
ticulate this - it's a moral thread, maybe?  An emotional progression?

I know that in the last few years the focus of my songwriting has changed.
Having attained a reasonable degree of integration and stability in my own
life, I've been writing songs that address larger issues.

I think "Surely You Jest" ( http://dgans.com/lyrics.html#Jest ) was a turning
point for me.  Although though it wound up being its own world, as these
tings tend to do, it began as an expiation of a personal struggle - not with
a specific person, although several specific people were being addressed, but
of an ongoing difficulty in my professional life.  My usual introduction to
the song is something like, "I worked for years in a place that was a weird
combination of Dilbert and the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, with a bit of
Reservoir Dogs thrown in.  You ever have to work with somebody who's just a
total dick to you for years and years, and then they ask you for a favor?" It
wasn't any specific event that precipitated this, by the way, but a certain
behavior pattern in the culture I'm referring to.

The song took on a life of its own, and the story that's implied in this
series of hallucinatory verses - I've also introduced it as "a crazed rant in
the voices of two or three different people, one of whom was me" - doesn't
really address the real-world inspirations for it.  But that's fine - the
song works, and it represents a stylistic breakthrough for me on the lyric
front.

The reason I mention "Surely You Jest" here is that the wrting and performing
of it seems to have healed the long-term ache I set out to address.  Maybe
I've offloaded the anxiety?
  
inkwell.vue.275 : The Life and Times of David Gans
permalink #19 of 637: Gary Burnett (jera) Wed 14 Jun 06 12:56
    
I like the idea of narrative as "moral thread" rather than linear
story-line -- that makes sense.  

The poet Robert Duncan worked on several long poems that were not
linear in any real sense, but were, rather, built up out of what he
called "Passages" (the title of one of the long poems).  He used the
open form as a place that could accomodate all of the disparate things
that concerned him over time because of that "moral thread" or because
of his intellectual engagement with the ideas with which he worked. 
So, bits & pieces of his reading made their way into the poem, as did
fragments of narrative, philosophy, etc.  The long poem definitely has
a shape and a structure, but it is one that isn't predetermined.  It's
held together by the focus of one man, working on his craft.

That's a long-winded way of saying that maybe the way "narrative"
works in musical form can be similar.  Because it's *you* bringing all
of these things together -- guitar work, your own songs, cover songs --
there is a coherence throughout.

And, of course, a fair number of the songs you choose to cover invoke
narrative episodes that don't resolve easily -- I'm thinking in
particular of "Pancho and Lefty," which is a narrative in which the
single most important event in the story is left unstated.

And a song like "Surely You Jest" certainly depends on narrative, even
as it explodes any simple understanding of what narrative is -- those
two or three different voices hang together.
  
inkwell.vue.275 : The Life and Times of David Gans
permalink #20 of 637: David Gans (tnf) Wed 14 Jun 06 14:40
    

> "Pancho and Lefty," which is a narrative in which the single most important
> event in the story is left unstated.

That is one of the greatest songs ever, and the holes in the story are part
of what makes it so.  That quality is shared by Elvis Costello's "Watching
the Detectives" (which I have also performed from time to time), and of
course any number of Rober Hunter lyrics.  "Jack Straw," from the Grateful
Dead songbook, shares that quality: you see shards of story but they can be
put together in any number of ways.  The beholder's imagination does the
rest.
  
inkwell.vue.275 : The Life and Times of David Gans
permalink #21 of 637: Steve Silberman (digaman) Wed 14 Jun 06 16:31
    
David, nice to see you here, and I look forward to hearing your new music.  
I have a less "loopy" question.

Could you please run down a list of the songwriters who influenced or 
inspired you, and a little precis of what you feel you learned from each 
one?

Thanks!
  
inkwell.vue.275 : The Life and Times of David Gans
permalink #22 of 637: David Gans (tnf) Wed 14 Jun 06 17:01
    

That's the sort of list I could cogitate on for hours, if not days.  Off the
top of my head, and in no particular order (i.e. neither chronological nor
"order of importance"), I'd say my role models as songwriters include: Bob
Dylan, the Beatles, Jackson Browne, Steve Goodman, John Prine, CSN, Willie
Nelson, Merle Haggard, Smokey Robinson, Gram Parsons, Jeb Puryear, Elton John
& Bernie Taupin, Robbie Robertson, the Grateful Dead.  And when I say "Smokey
Robinson" I mean Holland-Dozier-Holland, Mann & Weil, Neil Diamond, Carole
King, and the rest of the early''60s Motown and Brill Building geniuses who
filled my head with magic in the days before I picked up the guitar.

Someone somewhere said that if you learn the Beatles' book, you'll know
everything you need to know about chords and harmony.  There's great truth to
that: the most important thing I learned from the Beatles was to do the unex-
pected.  Take that middle eight into a surprising key and then find an in-
genious way to get back to the verse.

From Bob Dylan, I learned to make the imagery vivid, don't be afraid to bury
the lede in a few layers of provocative hallucinations, and make a marriage
of the words and melody.

From Van Morrison, I learned that the voice can be a rhythm instrument.  I
don't sing the Dead's song "Bertha" very often any more, but there's a place
in the second verse where I sing as though I were playing a drum fill: "Then-
I-got-this-feelin'-I-was fallin'..."

My first musical influence was Al Jolson.  in LA when I was a kid, we have
the "Million Dollar Movie" on Channel 9 that they showed every day and I
think twice on weekends.  I got hooked on "The Jolson Story" and my parents
bought me some of those records.  "Avalon," "You Made me Love You," Rock-a-
Bye Your Baby," "April Showers" - I had the craft of songwriting in my bones
at an early age.

Steve Goodman and John Prine set an example of warmth, sincerity and humor.
Prine is the absolute master of bittersweet; there are songs in his book that
will make you laugh while you're crying.  "Chain of Sorrow (Bruised Orange,"
from the album "Bruised Orange, never fails to choke me up.  That's not a
funny song, but it's as poignant as anything I've ever heard.  Plus, Jim
Rothermel's soprano sax at the end will make you use up whatever Kleenex you
have left after Prine's done singing.
  
inkwell.vue.275 : The Life and Times of David Gans
permalink #23 of 637: Paul B. Israel (pauli) Wed 14 Jun 06 17:02
    
What diga asks.  Also wondering how the song writing process works with you.
And does that influence how you think about more improvisational efforts?
  
inkwell.vue.275 : The Life and Times of David Gans
permalink #24 of 637: Steve Silberman (digaman) Wed 14 Jun 06 17:03
    
Great, thanks Dave.
  
inkwell.vue.275 : The Life and Times of David Gans
permalink #25 of 637: Gary Burnett (jera) Wed 14 Jun 06 17:11
    
You commented on some of those songwriters.  But what about others
among them?  What did you learn, for instance, from Smokey Robinson or
Elton John & Bernie Taupin?
  

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