Saturday at the ND, Austin hosts something rare and likely beautiful. Guitarist/composer Fred Frith says the last time he was Central Texas was 1985 with the experimental NYC rock band Skeleton Crew. This time he’ll bring his “prepared guitar” for a night of improvisation.
Speaking from his home in the Bay Area, Frith admits that the economics of touring have kept him away.
“Sometimes it’s something silly like People’s Express disappearing,” he says. “That’s an airline that had cheap seats. From New York, you could fly to Houston for $39. When People’s Express went out of business, because there was a conspiracy by the other airlines, the economics of touring became more difficult.”
Originally from Sussex, England, Frith – 65 on Feb. 17 – came to prominence in the Seventies with jazz/prog rock group Henry Cow. Europe allows him a healthy touring schedule, simply because his native continent supports the arts in ways far different from here. That said, this show’s local promoter, Epistrophy Arts, is partially supported by the City of Austin Economic Growth and Redevelopment Services Office, Cultural Arts Division.
As to what to expect, Frith, currently Professor of Composition in the Music Department at Mills College in Oakland, claims he has no idea what will happen.
“The room, who is in it, and the sound system plays into what you do,” he explains.
With his early work on solo guitar, Frith attempted to reinvent the instrument. Over the years he’s played with Brian Eno, Mike Oldfield, John Zorn, the Residents, Jad Fair, and too many others to name drop. Hoping not to appear too naive, I wondered where the urge to do such a thing came from.
“I was exploring the notes behind the notes, among other things. I was seeing if I could turn the guitar into an orchestra. It was just curiosity. Curiosity drives everything. Humans are always asking questions. They want to know stuff. That’s how we’re wired. In a way, I was exploring a scientific aspect of myself.
“What’s the most obvious characteristic of a guitar?,” he asks. “You plunk a string and it goes plunk. My first job was to play the guitar and for you to never ever hear it go plunk.”
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