The Stroke That Kills
New World Records

Seth Josel, electric guitar, electric bass 
Cat. No. 80661     Release Date: 2008-01-01

Liner Notes

available from New World Records

Over the past twenty-plus years, Seth Josel has established himself as a leader in helping to shape the electric guitar’s burgeoning future as a “classical” instrument. This album is a statement not only of his artistry as a performer, but also as a curator of new music for the guitar. The six pieces on this recording demonstrate a variety of means and approaches spanning the reified electric flamenco of David Dramm to the sound-art abstractions of Gustavo Matamoros. 

David Dramm‘s (b 1961) The Stroke That Kills (1993) is rooted in the fierce rhythmic strumming of the flamenco style, but its translation to the electric guitar propels the music to a harder, more vicious place. Michael Fiday‘s (b 1961) Slapback (1997) is inspired by a live recording of The Who in which the guitarist Pete Townsend plays a duet with himself as his sound echoes off the arena wall. In Slapback, the guitar performance, heard in the right stereo channel, is repeated, by means of an electronic delay unit, one eighth-note later in the left stereo channel. 

Like SlapbackEve Beglarian‘s (b 1958) Until It Blazes (2001) utilizes an electronic delay to augment the guitarist’s performance, but unlike in the Fiday, Beglarian’s use of echo does not create a separate contrapuntal line. Rather, it helps create a soundspace in which the delay effect promotes a sense of ambient depth and a more subtle sense of syncopation. Tom Johnson‘s (b 1939) Canon for Six Guitars(1998) is a process piece where rigorous adherence to its initial conditions of pitch and rhythm ultimately produces something of a commentary on itself. 

The idea of building a composition around a formalized exploration of the guitar as a harmonic medium is also taken up by Alvin Curran (b 1938) in Strum City(1999). The first movement is relatively straightforward and presents a long series of chords, not unlike a chorale, through the aural gauze of the strum. While Strum City‘s first movement is uncritically and unabashedly strum-centric, the second and third movements break apart the strum’s dual temporal nature, each focusing on one of the strum’s dual aspects. 

Gustavo Matamoros‘s (b 1957) Stoned Guitar (2005) comprises two separate sub-pieces: Stoned Guitar and TIG Welder. TIG Welder is a recording of the eponymous device that is played simultaneously with the performance of the Stoned Guitar score. The balance between guitar and recording is determined by means of external electronics as stipulated by the composer.


note from the composer

( L to R ) me, Russell Frehling, Davey Williams, and Rene Barge after a four guitar quadraphonic version of the piece. 2009, Subtropics 20.

I’d like to make a comment in the spirit of sharing something amusing.

Like my friend Pat Oleszko, I also like playing with the sound of words. Now, the name I gave the piece in this post is Stone Guitar. This is because a stone, in place of a pick, is required to play the piece. I was thinking of the word stone as a noun.

For some reason, the name Seth used in this album and in concert programs is Stoned Guitar. I don’t really mind, and I get it, it works well with the title of the album, The Stroke That Kills. But playing my piece does not require striking the guitar with the stone. The technique required is more like a tickle. I wonder if Seth was thinking of the word stoned as a verb like in “Seth stoned the guitar in order to play the piece.” That covers tickling the stone while resting on the strings. That’s what we really hear.

Obviously, there is also the metaphorical idea of a guitar being, or sounding as though it is stoned. I think at least I should make sure that you know Stone Guitar works, not by striking, but by caressing the guitar strings using a stone. No guitars have ever been damaged in the course of its performance.