The Nameless Guitar
For a long time now, my preferred tool for composition has been The Nameless Guitar, an old, wrinkled, destroyed Spanish guitar that has the strings a kilometer far from the neck. What such a sparse instrument does for me is "funnelling" me into composing at a "molecular" level, taking away a lot of the fluff.
I had the luck of my teen years coinciding with the rise of the first personal computers, whose primitive speakers (and the admirable creativity of people who made music for videogames) taught you inequivocally how any song, at its bare skeleton, is only a melody on front and a bassline behind. That's all you need.
In fact, whenever a new song "assaults" me in the middle of a walk or a shower, that's all I need to capture, those two lines of notes, and I'm certain that I will be able to get back to them at more propitious time.
So from that point of view, the Nameless Guitar is no longer sparse, we are going crazy luxurious here because you generate the melody by singing, plus, open the floodgates of abundance, you have access if you want it to six-notes-six simultaneously for your chords.
What you won't get with the Nameless Guitar is a delicate timbre, or swishing effects, or the bluring of electric distortion (so often used in a similar way to make-up on an ugly face), or the plugin of the month or the fancy polyphonic keyboards or...
In other words: if I get a song to sound killer in the Nameless Guitar, I'm more than certain that it has the "strong bones" I need; only then I'll move down the chain and add detail, arrange, improve the lyrics... (Additionally, in my case, another plus of such a shitty guitar is that playing it actually requires an extra degree of physical aggression, something that also helps in the style I practice :D ).
In addition to this general philosophy, however, I've recently discovered how well suited is the DAW as a composition tool for works of detail, once you've figured out the aforementioned "bones". I discovered this technique by pure chance, stumbling upon a need and then figuring out the best way to address it.
Here's the scenario: finding a certain section where I know I need further elaboration to pour everything I have in my head, and I cannot reach it through let's say conventional, linear methods.
In those instances I've found very useful to loop the section to be fleshed out, and record myself time after time after time, doing anything and whatever, and then listen to what I've recorded, collect only the findings, and discard the rest.
In many takes I don't have findings. In many others, all I get is one note. But one note is all it takes. It feels like being a detective who receives clues: "Hey, I like the sonority that dissonant note creates there, I'm going to explore in that direction". "That subdivision in thirds really felt unexpected, I like it". And of course, with this method, you expose yourself to all kind of happy accidents too.
Out of the accumulated fragments, a sort of "Frankenstein" emerges (you can physically see it on the screen as a "Frankenstein", a collection of patched parts). You repeat the process until all the "body parts" have been gathered, and then, you apply the proverbial "lightning of life" by finally rehearsing the whole part, and recording it from beginning to end.
That moment feels as if some mysterious composer had given me a gift. There is no way I could have reached the bottom of what I wanted to express with the tools we had say 20 years ago. In a way, what this technique does is taking me beyond myself.
And not only the results are sensational; the process itself puts you into a great state of "high", I guess because the iterations are so quick and vibrant; you play the part time after time after time, and there's no pressure to "do it perfect" because the part does not exist yet, so your brain gets all the soothing effect of repetitive tasks, but at the same time, there is a feeling of advance in each iteration, which keeps you engaged ("Come on! what's next? What's still missing? What do we try now?").
So far I've used this technique successfuly twice, once with a final guitar crescendo, and other time with a section of intertwined vocal harmonies, both of which needed delicate balances between ellaboration/not becoming too distracting. It can be applied to any sonic production that fits inside a DAW session, and I have a feeling this is going to be a keeper in my arsenal.
I have a guitar and I'm gonna use it