Monday, February 9, 2015

G. E. Stinson Tune Hear

Welcome to Tune Hear!

This is a weekly series to be hosted by Prepared Guitar. It is my hope that the following information would not only highlight the artist, their techniques, and their musical endeavors, but also cause others to reach for their own goals in a realistic way. It is my hope that this will be an international site where guitarists worldwide would not only have the opportunity to listen but also be motivated and inspired to follow their dreams.

“What Goes Around” comes around as the saying goes. But in this case, this is the first song that I ever heard by a band called Shadowfax. It was different and yet very catchy. I found myself listening to it quite a bit. In fact, the album from which it came from “Too Far to Whisper”, was really a launching pad toward a different genre of music, than what I was accustomed to.

But that was then and this is now. The guitarist that was behind a lot of this, obviously had his ear in many different sounds of the world, which brings us to the year 2015.

Just as in the 80’s when he was breaking new ground sonically, today we find him still creating some of the most interesting music to be found. So, without further ado, please welcome GE Stinson to Tune Hear!!!!

G.E. Stinson

Gregory E. Stinson, better known as G. E. Stinson (born in Kingfisher, Oklahoma), is an American guitarist and founding member of new age / electronic musical group Shadowfax. Inspired by blues masters such as Bo Diddley and Muddy Waters, Stinson experimented with blues, jazz and other musical genres before co-founding Shadowfax in 1974. He remained with the band for six albums. He departed Shadowfax after recording "The Odd Get Even" (1989), entering the Los Angeles underground music community to refine his 'extended technique' and 'frequency manipulation'. Since then he has worked with a number of musicians on various projects, including Napalm Quartet, Splinter Group, Stinkbug, Metalworkers, Alex de Grassi and others.

G.E. Stinson's exploration of American folk music forms began as a child immersed in the gospel music of his family in Oklahoma. He continued in Chicago, studying blues with Cash McCall, Hound Dog Taylor among others and eventually received a composition scholarship with William Russo at Columbia College.

In 1972, he co-founded the seminal fusion/world music group, Shadowfax. During his tenure with this group, he performed and composed on seven recordings, toured extensively in the U.S., Europe, South America and Japan including performances at Carnegie Hall, Kennedy Center, Academy of Music, and Wolftrap. In 1988, Stinson along with the other members of Shadowfax were honored with a Grammy Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences and the following year began a collaboration with Momix Dance Theater which culminated in a national tour.


1990 brought the formation of the G.E. Stinson Group in Los Angeles and the subsequent completion of a recording entitled "The Same Without You" in 1993. This was to be the first of many collaborations that would lead to Stinson becoming a prominent member of the Los Angeles New Music community. Among these projects are the Wayne Peet Trio recording "Fully Engulfed"; Adam Rudolph's opera "The Dreamer"; "Right of Violet" featuring Alex Cline and Jeff Gauthier; Unique Cheerful Events (an improvising collective); guitar duets with Nels Cline and A Thousand Other Names, a Stinson led group which completed a self titled recording in 1996 on Birdcage records. Stinson continues to compose for dance and has contributed to several motion picture soundtracks.

Stinson is a long-time Zen-practitioner.

 What led you to choose the guitar for your own musical expression?
I chose guitar after hearing Bo Diddley on the car radio when i was about 13 years old.  I had never heard anything that sounded that good so i was intrigued about how he got those sounds. I convinced my mother, who is also a musician, to buy me a guitar. 

Was there a particular guitarist, other musician, movie, art, sound, life event that caused you to hear music differently?
There have been too many to name all of them but, as i said above, Bo Diddley was the first pivotal influence on me.  Along with Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, Chuck Berry and many other blues and rock guitarists.  After the arrival of The Beatles, I was also influenced by many British guitarists.  Jeff Beck and The Yardbirds were perhaps the most influential of all those musicians because of their experiments with effects, feedback, sound, extended technique, etc.  Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Jimmy Page and other similar groups-artists were also very influential for me during that period.

Around 1970, i began to listen more seriously to jazz and improvised music.  I heard Ornette Coleman Quartet with Dewey Redman, Charlie Haden and Ed Blackwell live in 1968 which shifted my musical perspective.  I did not understand what Ornette was doing at that time but i was intrigued and curious. Around that time, hearing Miles Davis' Bitches Brew became another pivotal moment for me.  Not long after that, in the early 70s, I heard Weather Report, Mahavishnu Orchestra and, most notably, Don Cherry's "Relativity Suite" which could easily be called the very first "world music" recording.  And all of those artists were extremely influential for me and for the formation of Shadowfax.  A little later, I was introduced to the music of Oregon and Ralph Towner who were very important for me and during that period many of the artists recording for ECM records like Eberhard Weber, Jan Garbarek, Terje Rypdal and many others.  

All of the artists mentioned above share a similar aesthetic of attention to pure sound, texture, timbre as well as musical form. This, of course, became more and more prevalent as my interest shifted from popular-folk music forms to improvised music.  In the later case, there were numerous influences like the sound of Joe Zawinul's effected electric piano and other sound experiments on the first two Weather Report recordings, most notably "I Sing The Body Electric."


Most important are all the amazing musicians that I have met and collaborated with in Los Angeles who have been major influences on my music. I was introduced to Nels Cline by the percussionist, Adam Rudolph, around 1988. Nels and I became friends and eventually he introduced me to his brother Alex Cline who has become my close friend and cherished comrade in sound. Nels and Alex then introduced me to many of the artists of LA music improvisation community who would become my musical family. Of course, Nels Cline and i were also collaborating throughout the late 80s, 90s and early 2000s until he moved to New York. We were involved in several groups together and also duo performances and recordings. Steuart Liebig, the astonishing bassist-composer, stands out as worthy of special mention. Steuart has been one of my closest friends and collaborators on many projects for several years now. Also Phillip Greenlief, Jeff Gauthier, John Fumo, Kaoru Mansour, Joe Berardi, Vinny Golia, Brad Dutz, Miya Masaoka, Jeremy Drake and many others. I would also be remiss if i did not mention the incredible drummer, Gregg Bendian. Although he lives in New Jersey, Gregg has become a regular non-resident member of the LA improvising community.

Art, film, literature have also been important influences for me.  But the single most influential event was my discovery of Zen Buddhism as a spiritual discipline.  I had been investigating mediation and spiritual practice for several years and many musicians were helpful in providing encouragement and suggestions in terms of reading material.  In 1976, I formally took vows as a buddhist at the Zen Buddhist Temple of Chicago with Kongo Roshi.  I have remained actively engaged in Zen practice ever since practicing for last 14 years with Nyogen Roshi at Hazy Moon Zen Center.   

What specifically about that appealed to you?

Looking back on it from the perspective of time, I think what appealed to me about certain music, art, literature, spiritual practice etc was an aspect of singularity or uniqueness. Something that jumped out and grabbed me in a way that nothing else had before.  Interesting sounds, the use of texture, timbre, sonic color, sounds that stretched my imagination and triggered a desire to do something creative myself.  My musical life has mostly been one of searching and exploration. Somewhat restless, unable to settle in one musical landscape and stay too long, I would find myself getting bored and wanting to hear new things, try new things and create something i had never heard before.

As you were trying to find your way, were there particular sounds or gear that helped you to achieve your sound?
Early in my musical life my sound was very spare and essential. But at some point, in the 70s, I began experimenting with different effects and extended techniques. I can remember hearing an African string instrument called the Doussou ngoni and trying to mimic the sound by putting fabric on the strings to mute them and a piece of tin foil on the headstock to imitate the sound of rattles that are often built into the Doussou ngoni. Similarly I would use whatever effects I could afford at the time to imitate sounds i had heard on records.

Sometimes I was attempting to imitate a keyboard instrument. Other times, I would be imitating the sound of some exotic instrument from another country. As my sonic palette expanded, I began using many electronic effects to achieve an orchestral sound from the guitar. I was using quite a bit of reverb (Lexicon PCM-70) and other effects. Also, I began using a Lexicon PCM-42 which had been altered to do looping. Putting these effects together with extended techniques like paintbrush, arco devices, dental tools, egg whisks, etc.

Can you give an example of your work where it (pedal or technique)is being utilized?

How have you been able to build upon those early experiences to what you’re doing now?

I see it as simply part of the long arc of my evolution as a musician and sound artist.  Most folks might find it hard to hear but i see much of what I was doing playing blues slide guitar in the same way i see my present use of extended techniques, electronics and effects.  Each one is simply another color in the spectrum and the spectrum has expanded to include almost any sound.  It is obviously much more open now than it was when i was a younger musician. 

Similarly, my use of computer and sampling has become another aspect of my total sound.  Now i will often use the computer to create pulses, beats, sounds combined with improvised guitar.  I embraced the electronic DJ methodology quite a while ago.  For me, that approach to making music was one more moment of hearing something and being intrigued by sound then wanting to find how it was done and being motivated to use that methodology myself.  This has led to many very satisfying collaborations including coded source, .5mnk, the velvet frequencies, skeleton wire and others. 

Let’s take a moment to highlight some of your current work.

Is there a sound you’re still trying to achieve or are you satisfied with where you are now sonically?
I have a fairly extensive sound palette but I am always looking for new ways of making sound and texture. Right now, I'm considering incorporating iPad as a way of doing effects for guitar. I've been using numerous digital plugins while recording, many of the sounds cannot be duplicated with guitar pedals. So I'm interested in using these digital sounds in a live setting as well. The computer world has opened an entirely new landscape of sound possibility. I will continue my sonic explorations in that realm as well as the continuing exploration of guitar hardware.

What can we expect to hear from you in the future?

I'm continuing my present solo projects like .5mnk and collaborations with the many musicians who continue to inspire me, some involving electronic pulses-beats, others in more traditional configurations.  The Velvet Frequencies is a project of electronic groove based pop music with Karrie Benoit, who sings with Smokey Robinson.  Some of the groups I will continue to be involved with are Skeleton Wire, Tone Drift Trio as well as others.

If readers are interested in checking out your work further, where can we direct them?
I have many websites and sound pages but the G.E. Stinson Facebook page is where I post most notifications of performance and recordings.  Here are links to some of the music. 

Thank you very much for your time and participation in Tune Hear.
In closing, one final fun question:

If you had an opportunity to ask any guitar player a question, who would it be and what would you ask?
Most of my questions have been answered through my own exploration of music and sound.  i don't have any questions but i would simply express my gratitude to all the amazing guitarists and musicians who have inspired me.  

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So TUNE HEAR for your sonic journey!!