The Magician Of Chords (Guitarre Live 2005)

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Allan Holdsworth

... the magician of chords


MACHINE TRANSLATED VERSION OF Le Magicien Des Accords (Guitare Live 2005)


Guitare Live magazine n ° 5 - April 2005

A slender figure, very "British", he apologizes while sitting at the table. "I'm sorry, there must be a mistake, I do not know how to do a master class". Welcome to the world of Allan Holdsworth, musician despite himself, guitarist dreaming of playing the saxophone, claiming his ignorance while having influenced several generations of musicians in search of atypical and virtuoso music. On the occasion of a meeting in public at the Jam in Montpellier, meet one of the pioneers of jazz rock.

What were your musical influences?

From the age of 3-4 years, I bathed in a musical environment. My father was an excellent pianist. He used to play swing, and he owned a huge record collection, which went from classical jazz to Debussy. By the way, the latter is surely my favorite composer. I never wanted to be a musician. I wanted to be a music lover, and work in electronics. I like music, some songs move me to tears, but playing an instrument did not interest me. I was interested in the saxophone, but my dad gave me a guitar. So, rather than playing, I wore it looking at myself in the mirror, dreaming that I was Elvis. When I started playing, my dad bought me books, and he learned to play the guitar himself. But as he was pianist first, much of what he taught me was transposed directly from the piano, at the level of harmony for example. After a few years, I played in local bands, until the day I woke up and got paid to do it. And now I'm here, it really fell on me. But it was completely by chance, all that is an accident. [Machine back translated.]

Have you learned standards for playing Jam-Sessions?

No, I do not know any. Everyone I learned was for me like a new piece. On the album "None Too Soon", I learned the songs for the album because I had never played them before. So I do not have a repertoire of standards as jazz musicians can. [Machine back translated.]

Did you work a lot on the guitar?

Not at first, because the guitar did not fascinate me. Then, when my father started, I spent hours with it. I had periods, or I worked something specifically, and sometimes I did not play for three months. But it was healthy because it gave me fresh ideas. I wanted to be connected to my brain, not my fingers and this approach allowed me. [Machine back translated.]

Exactly, what did you do, since you did not work standards?

I did not play pieces, just scales, different fingerings. Then other more technical moments to try to get something out easier. Sometimes a phrasing that I'm working on will come out some time later, and that's part of my playing. If it comes out too early, it sounds hard, so I try to work and then move on, and it will come up unconsciously. I do not know if it's understandable (laughs). [Machine back translated.]

Does your mathematical approach to finding scales also apply to your composition process?

I actually used the math, I looked for the scales at 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 notes, in all possible combinations on an octave. Many are useless, but others less. So I named the one I liked X, as in physics because what is not yet certain is decked out with an X, for "experimental". For the compositions, I leave only a range[scale?], which for me is a color, an atmosphere. “Je joue une guration d'accord” [I play an inversion of the chord/harmony?], which I transpose diatonically way across the range[neck?]. Maths only intervene in the initial search of the range[scale?]. [Machine back translated.]

So you improvise and if you like something, you keep it, or do you hear in your head what you want to play?

I do both. Sometimes I play a little, and I stumble upon something that I like, that I try to develop, and sometimes, I hear pieces in my head, that I must learn to play on the guitar. [Machine back translated.]

But when you modulate, you try all possibilities?

For me, it's so normal, I do not think about it. I simply see the harmonies, and I feel like melodic lines passing from one to the other, with steps or not. It's just like juggling, but I often drop balls. [Machine back translated.]

You always talk about ranges [scales?] for your improvisations. Does each note have the same importance for you, or do you use target notes in these scales?

For me, at the origin of the range [scale], they have the same importance. A range[scale] has neither beginning nor end, it's just a loop. However, in a song, depending on the modulation, each note does not have the same role, because each sounds differently depending on the context. During a change of harmony, I will rely on the notes that are in common. [Machine back translated.]

Do you hear everything when you improvise, or are your fingers wandering?

Yes, I hear everything, that's why I make mistakes, there is always a chance to pick up, my friend Gary Husband always says that you can not dig a hole without ending up with the dirt on your hands. In improvisation, there is always a possibility to find yourself in a place where you do not want to go if you do not play by ear. [Machine back translated.]

You say that sometimes you have trouble improvising on your own songs the first time. What is your approach?

When I compose, I do not exactly think about what I play. Only after I analyze. And I happen to evolve what I play over my own compositions, but as can be done with any music. [Machine back translated.]

You do not write music, how do you communicate with your musicians, especially on new songs?

We communicate music through music. I just play them the song, or I record it, then I give it to them to learn. I do not know how to read or write, I do not know anything else. [Machine back translated.]

When you compose, how do you decide on the metrics [meter/rhythm/beat?] and its changes?

In fact, when I play a song at the beginning, I do not see it at a particular pace. It is only once it is written that I ask myself the question. I do not think in terms of measurements, but simply as being a pulsation or a subdivision of this pulsation. It comes to me in the form of phrases actually. I'm very interested in the recordings that my musicians have created, because sometimes they did not write the same thing, and yet they play exactly the same music. [Machine back translated.]

The metric [meter] of "Secrets" precisely, what is it?

It's a 4/4! Gary Husband, who wrote the piece, saw a transcript, and it was nonsense! Everything was offbeat! [Machine back translated.] [The interview is probably referring to “City Nights” here.]

In your phrases, you also use particular groups: quintuplets, septuplets?

But it's natural for me. I only think of a period of time and what I want to get into. [Machine back translated.]

Many guitarists were influenced by your use of the vibrato bar, how did you develop this technique?

I love the pedal steel (ed. note: 10-string guitar, played flat and slide, typical of the country) I had two very good ones, and I learned to play. I liked that sound, the way we could slide to a chord. Then I started doing it in my solos. But after a few years, everyone started doing the same thing. So I stopped using this technique, thinking that it was probably a little hollow, since it was so easy to do for everyone. I still use this technique sometimes, but not as much as before. [Machine back translated.]

Have you learned other instruments?

Yes, because I wanted to know if one or the other was more difficult. I played clarinet, oboe, violin. On the clarinet, I found it very easy to read the music, because a note corresponds to a fingering. While on the guitar, we have too much possibility. I would have gladly continued playing the clarinet, but I was hurting my eardrum because of the pressure to blow in it. The problem with playing guitar was that my dad taught me to read the music, but I just memorized the songs after hearing them several times. So I told myself that I did not need it. Music writing is a means of communication between musicians, which has the advantage of being fast. Django could not read, the language of music is the one you hear, not the one on a page. All I can read is what is written as in contemporary music, where every sharp and flat is written for each note, that way it makes perfect sense to me. [Machine back translated.]

Has the practice of these instruments changed your approach to the guitar?

My father, when he taught me scales, never taught me anything with open strings. Generally, when you are taught the guitar or the violin, you are taught the open strings. Me no, unless it was the mid-low or high. It's him who showed me how not to stay connected in a small space, but rather to widen my field of action on the neck of the guitar. He also taught me to play my scales without the index [finger?], just because it was a way to learn piano, it had to help. [Machine back translated.]

Compilations, "tributes" with guitarists who quote you as a great influence come out, and you do not go on the guest list. Is it because we do not call you, or because you refuse to participate?

They never called me! [Machine back translated.]

Do you think that music makes you feel good about what you give it?

I do not like to go on the road anymore. Currently, I'm not happy, but for personal reasons, not musical. Being young, I wanted to go play, go and play. But I can only make music when I feel good. This tour is trying for me, I'm tired of it. All that makes no sense, I will continue, and then I will go home. It's like asking, "Why do you want to play," for me, it's not about leaving, leaving those I love, feeling alone on tour, but I will not be really happy until I'm at home me. [Machine back translated.]

Do you feel the influence you have on the guitarists, do you feel deprived sometimes of your playing?

No, I appreciate that people like what I do. But I can not know the influence I have, because I can only see it from my point of view. Sometimes I do not like myself what I did, so I wonder why others like it. [Machine back translated.]

And the guitarists who make covers of your songs?

It's a lot of fun, but in my opinion, it's better to spend time developing your own vocabulary than trying to sound like someone else, it's a waste of time. We must be content with what we have. Otherwise it's like cosmetic surgery, to look like someone else. [Machine back translated.]

Do you have other hobbies?

I did a lot of cycling. After my divorce, I slowed down a bit. But I intend to get back to it. [Machine back translated.]

Do you listen to the music you were listening to earlier, or do you listen to the music today?

I do not listen to my old CDs, because I have them in mind. The musicians I work with listen to CDs that I love, there is rock, grunge, which I really enjoyed. Every 3-4 years, I sometimes want to listen to what I had listened to a long time ago. [Machine back translated.]

Are there any live or dead musicians with whom you would like to play?

Elvin Jones (ed. note: Coltrane drummer among others). But the others I would like to play with would probably refuse to do so, so I do not think about it. [Machine back translated.]

You participated in Derek Sherinian's album, did you enjoy this experience?

Yes, because I like doing what I would not have done alone. He wanted me to do the entire album, but I did not want to play that kind of music, although I enjoyed participating. I'm too old for that! [Machine back translated.]

And the Mike Varney Project with Frank Gambale?

They just sent me the tapes, I played over, mixed, and I sent it back. But I liked doing it. [Machine back translated.]

And the album produced by Eddie Van Halen?

Eddie only introduced me to Warner Bros, but once the album was released, I saw that they wanted to impose on me what I had to do. We ended up with only six tracks. They wanted to change drummers, I had to fight against all that. It was not Eddie's fault, Warner Bros dropped the project. [Machine back translated.]

Do you have future CD projects?

I have three albums currently unlisted[?]. But I'm bored quickly. At this moment, I want to stop making music. When I'm on tour, I only think about one thing, how many days I have left to go home. When I started, I did not want to be a musician. And even today, I do not want to be. It's cyclical. [Machine back translated.]

Taking a step back is sometimes healthy?

Yes, but we do not always have the possibility to make this decision. And I do not like it, because it's not music as I see it. My goal is not to play because I am paid to do it. Music is what I feel. Do I feel good? Do I want to go to bed? Do I want to drink or smoke? [Machine back translated.]

Being paid for making music is very odd, because all of this is completely fortuitous for me. The musicians I play with are professionals, they come to play as they go to work, play, receive their pay, and then go back to another formation. For me, playing because we want it, or because we have to, is an essential difference. But it's just my conception of music. [Machine back translated.]