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Guitar Cultures

by Tom Mudd

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Ton Simple 02:00
Pluck Ritual 01:29
Oscillations 03:09
VLOF 05:58


With sound synthesis in general and physical modelling in particular, there is a deliriously tempting urge to push every parameter to materially impossible extremes as part of a broader effort to enter a kind of floating realm freed of the shackles of history. While this approach can certainly be generative, in Guitar Cultures Tom Mudd is ultimately more concerned with the unavoidable rootedness of sound, the place of the instrument as tool in a complex network of social relations; there is something more subtly profound about treating synthesis as a warped mirror in which is reflected our actual mode of being, which itself bears the obscured histories and origins of the sound-making apparatuses themselves.

In this framework, the material being unfolded—code—is certainly synthetic, easily loaded and transported on a thumb drive; at the same time, that material is already a distorted representation of a “real” object—in this case, the acoustic guitar—itself synthetic in its own way. It is in the tension and interplay between these two poles that the power of the music emerges: this is the sound of one tool actively impersonating another, establishing not so much a glossy uncanny valley as a deceptively intimate self-portrait.

There are shreds and scraps of the recognizable in these sketches: Bailey and Fahey runs, Nancarrow vortexes, and LaMonte Young’s famed piano. However, there is no trace of a flashy “look what I can do” gimmickry here; rather, Mudd seems intent on unfurling the experiment and its sounds in a most clinical and neutral manner—precisely to demonstrate the impossibility of true neutrality
for a tool that is embedded in a particular social metabolism, the very human ideas injected into and fixed within all tools and technologies.

It is in and through this firmly social and historical context that Mudd’s work distinguishes itself from its surface-level compatriots. To establish a tenuous spectrum, Guitar Cultures is neither a study of abstract sound-as-sound nor a milestone in a breathless technical quest for a yet more accurate and “realistic” sound-representation. Rather, in these etudes I hear both the comical absurdity and deeply serious potential in the collective efforts behind these algorithms—which then makes me consider that same dialectic embedded in more tangible instruments, and ultimately even music itself. In the pockets of unexpected beauty that emerge from these digital plucks and twangs, I hear, in distilled form, the joy we have all felt in observing real organization, ideas, emerging from a primordial sou —still in that gelatinous state, just before they ossify and become familiar, even ignorable, once again.

Sunik Kim


released September 18, 2023

Guitar Models: Stefan Bilbao, James Perry
Mastering: Russell Haswell
Album Artwork: Komx-om-Pax

Thanks: Adam Campbell, Tristan Clutterbuck, Maude Grenier, John Wall


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