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Big | Brave guitarist Mat Ball announces debut solo record, Amplified Guitar, out on July 1st via The Garrote

The acoustic phenomenon of feedback is often taken for granted. But feedback is pretty remarkable, essentially self-generating, potentially endless, and, though unwieldy, possible to control. As Montreal guitarist Mat Ball demonstrates, it is even possible to use feedback in the service of something elegant and soulful. Plenty of bands have of course added to the collective hum and howl, from household names in rock and roll to mavens of the experimental underground like SUNNO))) and Earth. And since 2012, Mat Ball’s band Big | Brave has also captivated audiences with a refined balance of massive and fragile sounds, touring with Thee Silver Mt. Zion Orchestra and SUNNO))), collaborating with The Body, and releasing records on Southern Lord and Thrill Jockey. Today, Mat Ball announces his first full-length solo record, Amplified Guitar. And though it isn’t comprised entirely of feedback, it’s helpful to think about it in these terms. While listeners can enjoy Amplified Guitar at any volume, Ball was most assuredly turned way up when performing these pieces – each recorded in only one single take, live and unadorned, at Hotel2Tango in Montreal by Godspeed’s Efrim Manuel Menuck. Far from being a noise record, Amplified Guitar is an entirely musical and beautiful work and Ball’s use of amplified resonance and feedback often mimics the long gestures and sustained tones of bowed or woodwind instruments. Across the eight pieces that make up Amplified Guitar, Ball presents cascading tones in strokes: struck, strummed, and occasionally bowed guitar shifting overtones amid the frankly melodic wail of the amplifier, all utterly in step. For this, the guitar is turned this way and that, slowly, while the hands are turning otherwise. It is a sort of dance enacted by Ball, his guitar, and a combination of amplifiers. The result is somehow both sonically towering and stunningly intimate, physical. Each piece, executed in one take, has the sense of being an act as much as a song, however melodic these acts are.

“I rely on amplification for amplitude, but I also rely on it to bring out certain harmonic qualities and voices of the instrument,” Ball says. The instrument in this case is not just any guitar but an electric guitar, which Ball built himself in collaboration with Obscura MFG, only months before the recording. It is no wonder Ball is able to so effectively follow the contours of resonance, carving out melodies in a way that can only be called sculptural. The fact that Ball moonlights as a woodworker and that he carefully selected the wood from which to carve the guitar’s body is significant. Amplified Guitar’s complexity-carved-from-minimalism owes something to Tony Conrad but the sense of melody and the spirit of storytelling are reminiscent of Neil Young’s Dead Man score and the exploratory playing of Loren Connors and Henry Flynt. Ellen Fullman’s Body Music may come to mind as well, as the possibility of shifting timbres and textures over sustained tones is explored so deeply here. And of course, as a lifelong resident of Montreal, Ball has long been entwined with the city’s vibrant and varied music communities, from which he’s learned to follow his curiosity and seek what he calls “absolute freedom” in music. It’s easy to make noise, but it takes such curiosity and freedom to create something as refined and fearless as Amplified Guitar. In addition to this new record, Mat Ball will also be releasing a book, Accidents, which operates as a visual analog to the vinyl release of Amplified Guitar. The work in Accidents is also based on chance – chance in discovery, chance in process or chance in accidental results. Whether found at rest and documented in that natural/untouched state, or assembled/touched by Ball’s hand, the aleatoric element in each piece is vital.

Amplified Guitar will be released on July 1st via The Garrote. Physicial and digital pre-orders are now available here.

 

Photo credit: Stacy Lee

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