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MacLean, Steve: Frog Bug Guitar Computer

This is an odd one. I've given it a low score, one of the lowest I've allocated so far here, so I'm breaking with tradition and am going to replicate a large part of Steve MacLean's own notes in his promotional material, so that you can compare what he has to say against my own opinion and assess better for yourself whether you're likely to enjoy this album. I'm doing this partly because I feel I should enjoy listening to this more than I have done so far. Here goes, me first....

I would describe Frog Bug Guitar Computer as a cross between an ambient music album and sound experimentation. For me, it falls too far into the latter camp, so that there is little of what I would actually call music to enjoy. There is no singing or vocalisations on the album, the disc consisting purely of natural (but as it turns out processed) sounds and, occasionally, a few bars of conventional music playing on acoustic guitar or a few bars of recognizable rhythmic patterns.

The two - too few - exceptions are "Communications" which, with its pretty guitar phrasing and mellow, simple keyboard backing acts well as an ambient music piece; and "The Food Chain", which develops a good rhythm towards the end. Elsewhere, the incessant susurration and croaking of cicadas and frogs dominates the soundscape. There are, of course, many CDs available, usually marketed as an aid to relaxation, which combine animal sounds with music - in our own house we have dolphins and wolves! The point is that they do usually combine the animals with pretty music, not leave the natural soundscape so isolated. Overall, this sounded to me like an experiment to replicate the "music" of the natural world in the studio, only with limited success and, in any case, in my opinion, you'd be better off taking a walk in the countryside than listening to this CD!

Anyway, this is what Steve says....

"Frog Bug Guitar Computer represents a completely new musical format: a collaboration between acoustic guitar and ensembles of frogs and insects in which the guitar has to adopt to natural forms, while the bugs and frogs adjust to the times and frequencies of the human domain of 'music'. This is where the computer, with its massive power to analyze, process and recombine materials enters the equation, enabling the insect and batrachian collaborators to be time - and pitch - shifted in order, under rules compatible with human musical discourses, to converse with the guitar."

"The guitar heard here was played solo, mostly outdoors and in complete solitude, responding only to the static, but constantly shifting, murmurings of the earthly nightscape. Most of the bugs and frogs were recorded separately on different nights. Then, for the next few months, MacLean struggled with the symmetries and time/pitch patterns of his virtual natural collaborators, which, although they retain their exact real world time relations, now also acquire substitute instrumental qualities, suggesting pitches and patterns assigned to drums, bass and guitar; sometimes being translated directly into the pitches and rhythms played by other instruments."

"Together these pieces explore the similarities and differences between the three compositional elements: frogs, bugs and guitar. Is there a universal language or have we invented the one we inhabit? There has never been a record like this for the simple reason that, until very recently, such complex calculation and reintegration was technically impossible; so this CD is a first: a meeting of cutting edge audio-processing and recording technology, with its diametrical opposite: the natural world of sound, here represented by bugs, frogs and unmediated guitar improvisation captured in situ as it responds subjectively to the moods of the night"

Track Listing:-
1) Night Time (5:24)
2) Reflections on the Bay (4:09)
3) Bug Time (3:55)
4) Dream Time (2:46)
5) Pond by the Sea (4:48)
6) Communications (5:22)
7) Translations (3:23)
8) Frog Song (1:34)
9) The Food Chain (3:07)

Added: October 10th 2008
Reviewer: Alex Torres
Related Link: Steve MacLean's Website
Hits: 2254
Language: english

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» Reader Comments:

MacLean, Steve: Frog Bug Guitar Computer
Posted by Steve MacLean on 2008-10-13 10:00:21
My Score:


I can understand why you'd find some of this hard to hear and listen to casually...

One of the main focus points for the project was to hear the "notes and rhythms" for several conventional instrument ensemble pieces chosen by "frogs and bugs". Since this was done using technology it made sense to use even more technology to get inside these source recordings... and play with them. Often the end result was surprising and it seemed best to keep these shorter. I found the combination at least made for some very "alien" music, some things I'd never heard before so of course this is a good thing! Because of this, I attempted a structure allowing each piece to lend another reference point, conditioning and leading the listener toward the more unusual outcomes of the processes. In this light, "it is what it is" and I can't take credit for choosing the notes or rhythms in so many places!

I'd also like to add that you missed a key point about the solo guitar pieces. There are no keyboards or overdubs at all, instead the same processes were used to create another line derived from the guitar playing itself, essentially another live performance to create a duet.

Finally, the track from your review listing omits the final track called "The Long Road Home"

This one finally blends all elements of west coast frogs meeting east coast bugs and my guitar in both places. It uses a convolution process creating a thick harmonic system as a total reprise of what has been heard throughout the entire record and is a cool wrap-up...

Thank you for the review! It is very insightful... I value your opinions and observations!
My next projects will be entirely different but this was a fun 6 month project for me..Cheers!

All my best, SM :)

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