Although he hasn’t exactly been overproductive over the years, Gary Smith is not an alien who fell to Earth last month, as the surge of recent reviews and articles would have us believe. His music has absolutely nothing to do with Harry Partch, either (I fell off the chair laughing when I read that comparison on the web). But he can sure as hell IMPROVISE on the guitar, and SuperTexture – his latest solo outing – showcases the off-the-fretboard logic already in evidence when his Rhythm Guitar came out in 1991 and no one cared except four or five stray cats. Isn’t life always the same when the world “discovers” artists who have been around for decades?
This double CD set offers a black and white contrast between Smith’s stark style and other artists’ reshaping of this raw material. On disc one, thirteen solo improvisations take full advantage of the guitar’s components, as Smith – who only uses hands, a volume pedal and an amp – scratches, smashes, and plucks at the pickups, the neck, the bridge (I’m sure that if he could get at the pickup wires he’d use them, too) to bring out a series of discharges ranging from microscopic clicks and pops to a swelling wave of massaged glissandos that had me thinking of those pioneers – Reichel, Fitzgerald, Frith – who in the 70s tried to open the ears of listeners with treasures like the Guitar Solos series. And, of course, no laptop in sight here, just flesh, nails (maybe a thumbpick too), metal and wood.
The second CD consists of remixes by thirteen sound artists somehow connected with Smith’s work, from Bill Fay’s piano-and-synth simplicity (which, frankly, doesn’t work with the mangled guitar) to vocal interventions by David Tibet, who recites – rather than sings – over Smith’s abstractions. Elliott Sharp contributes one excellent track, as does an unrecognizable Bernhard Günter, who uses clean if dissonant guitar lines to pay homage to.. Derek Bailey. But my favourite pieces are the ones by drummer Charles Hayward, who manages to insert Smith’s sound into a – well, yes – robust, bouncing groove, and BJ Nilsen, who translates intricate webs of multidirectional shards into murky loops that could fool you into thinking that Smith was a founder member of :zoviet*france:. So don’t be surprised if you read that online somewhere in the future.