David Beardsley microtonal composer and guitarist

Rod Poole index

Drones and Dreams
May 15, 2002
by Tony Mostrom

WORLD OUT OF TUNE FESTIVAL at Highland Grounds, May 4

original article:

Most of the lineup here promised sure-fire microtonal goodness, including two of L.A.’s best exponents of the kind of Eastern-tinged drones and repetitive, trickling mallet-and-string minimalism one associates with microtonal composers like Lou Harrison, Harry Partch and Terry Riley. Then there was the wild card: the ominously unknown Microtonal Rock & Roll Act . . .

Arriving just before showtime, I find the place pleasingly noisy and packed; loud espresso noises hiss from behind the counter, while some cornball Pretenders-ish pop plays over the PA. First on the bill is the acoustic drone trio Voice of the Bowed Guitar, and I see San Franciscan Doug Williford (thereof) sitting cross-legged amid piles of gear, his violin bow in hand; attentive. Three shiny acoustic guitars lay on the stage.

Joseph Hammer walks in and crouches down, and once Rod Poole announces the “band” above the din of people talking, all is quiet.

Then it commences.

The drone: a huge, dark, buzzing-edged chord rises up from the three slowly bowed instruments, lush and tense, violin bows crawling back and forth without a break, scree-ing high overtones tinny in our ears, above the one dark note. It’s a loud, densely layered forest of harmonies; buzzes and high squeals hover above, then get lost again in the resulting distilled chord that plows consistently on.

Some people sit with eyes closed, letting the gigantic, overlapping sighs envelop their faces and the room: ssshhhhiiiisshh . . . It’s menacing and satisfying. (Later:) What time is it? Who knows? But suddenly the sawing becomes insistently louder (and I cup my ears, and it becomes even sharper and more powerful). Standing up to sketch the crouched-over trio, I see they’re sawing the guitars faster now, but who would’ve known? Then, one by one, it ends. Audience pleased, ravished.

Following some overwrought and out-of-place ’70s rock by Swallow (of New York) that goes too long and empties the place, the 10 or 12 of us who stay are rewarded with the incredibly beautiful, dreamy, wind-chiming, abstract, bell-like flutters and swirling patterns of a gorgeous Kraig Grady piece for two vibraphones. Bong . . . It ‘s the only piece that gives me hallucinations: bursting magenta flowers, dreams inside a Japanese children’s book. It feels like water.

Last up: David Beardsley (of New York) plays a short piece of humming, layered tones on his densely fretted electric guitar, bravely competing with the cashieress, who, oblivious, loudly closes down the register. Pissed at her, but we like Beardsley.

From the Prepared Guitar Blog, I’m republishing this interview here.

David Beardsley 13 questions
Sunday, November 17, 2013

Which was the first musical sound do you remember?

The house I grew up in always had music. My parents enjoyed classical music, my sisters listened to the popular music of the day and we sang in church….I was fascinated with changing the speed on turntables and I broke a few of ‘em.

Which was the last record you bought with your own money?
The latest CDs were a Harold Budd album, Jane 1-11, Matt Mitchell’s Fiction, the new one from Tim Berne’s Snake Oil and some chamber music by Debussy.

So why did you decide to pick up the guitar?

I had piano lessons when I was young, 7 to 10 years old. I got to the point where I was playing arrangements of popular music like the Beatles with both hands. But I was easily distracted, I didn’t want to practice and my parents stopped paying for lessons.
When I was 13, my mother brought a small student size classical guitar home from her aunt in Germany. Later, friend at school had an electric guitar and I wanted one too. The first thing I did when I tried his Univox was try to get some feedback, then next I was testing out some slide guitar sounds. I asked my father for an electric guitar, but he said I had to show some commitment to the instrument. I taught myself some melodies from a book of fiddle tunes and convinced him to buy an electric guitar for me. I still have that Gibson L6-S. Eventually I got more serious and started to learn rock guitar off records.

Which work of your own (or as a sideman) are you most proud of, and why?

The string quartet as beautiful as a crescent of a new moon on a cloudless spring evening (2004, for string quartet) is a high point. Christina Fong recorded all the parts and I’m still really thrilled with the performance. I’m always thinking about writing the next one, it was a great opportunity.

In 2007, Kraig Grady asked me if I was interested in playing the late Rod Poole’s Voice of the Bowed Guitar (for acoustic guitars). Along with a few other guitarists, we played one of the pieces at Downtown Music Gallery on a Sunday evening when they were still located on 3rd Ave in the East Village.

What are the pros and cons of today’s digital music scene?

Digital recording is a stable medium; there are no fluctuations in the pitch like there are with magnetic tape and vinyl….perfect for static, minimal, microtonal music.

Anybody can make a recording and put it on line, so there’s plenty to choose from, but it’s easy to get lost in the crowd. For now at least, the internet really changed the music business.

Nada Brahma

The world is sound. Sound is the world.

What is the space of microtonality?

Microtones are the pitches between the keys of a piano…just intonation is the tuning system using intervals from the harmonic series represented by ratios. In 1980 I heard Terry Riley’s Shri Camel and knew that I’d found something interesting. Another 13 years passed until I was motivated to learn the mechanics of just intonation and use it in my own music. There’s a wealth of new harmonic colors waiting to be used. Beatless large intervals and sparkling tiny intervals make musical textures exciting. Microtonality isn’t a style of music, I just happen to be interested in composing in a minimalist style now.

What’s the difference between a good guitar and a bad guitar?

A good guitar plays in tune!

Tell me something you love in art and why?

I love creativity and the thrill of discovering something new.

Define the sound your compositions are still looking for.

Sonic adventure.

Why and how do you use extended techniques in guitar?

For my microtonal guitar music, it’s all done with the tuning and a hardware looper – echoes and feedback. It’s a great way to perform solo.

Which living artist (music, or other arts) would you like to collaborate with?

I’d like to have a band again; it’s just a question of the right people.

What dead artist would you like to have collaborated with?

Mark Rothko.

What’s your next project about?

I want to finally record my microtonal guitar album. Life got in the way, now is the time.

New York, NY
Sunday, March 27, 2011

There was a long gap of time where I didn’t perform any solo concerts of my microtonal guitar music. Seven years to the date.

Here’s what it looked like. Listen and hear what it sounded like…not a loud recording, so you’ll have to turn it up a bit.

13 limit just intonation guitar. Thanks to James Ross who set up the concert and recorded video.


Moon_Venus_conj_20A rare case of self promotion here, I don’t know if this will be a regular feature or not.

Venus and a Moon setting in the West, a view through the trees (1999)
David Beardsley

Synthesizer improvisation, 1999. Korg 05R/W tuned in the system of intervals from the harmonic series known as just intonation.

Listen here.

…and there’s a few hours of music here too.

I don’t know how long this track will be on line, so check it out now.

photo: Johannes Schedler, Panther Observatory


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