Tuesday, June 13, 2006

On Influences

Is art influenced by life - or is life influenced by art? Better yet, are they both the same thing? Artists often over the centuries thought about this very fact. Is art a reflection of life -or is it a distortion of life? As a musician, when we meet one another - who do you listen to - is often a question we ask. Most of the time we look for something or someone we know - so that we may exhange ideas - or even see whether we have a common opinion in music. Musician often react warmly when they find someone who knows a particular artist they love and adore - the more obscure ones particularly being a novelty.

I'm the same. When I find someone who has listened - and had a similar response to Ben Monder for instance - I go completely bonkers. It's more of rarity to find another Monder-head in Kuala Lumpur - at least so far - but he is quite the hip thing to be into in Berklee as of late. I initially discovered his playing via his recordings with The Maria Schneider Orchestra many years ago. From the first time I heard "El Viento" off Maria's 1996 "Coming About" album I was completely entranced with Ben Monder's style and playing. He had a beautiful sound and his guitar spoke to me.

Funnily enough, one of the first times I had such an experience was when I was first exposed to Kurt Cobain's guitar playing in Nirvana. It was the extreme opposite of course. Ben has a very polished and emotional sound - Kurt on the other hand was pure angst and rawness. Sometimes people put down Kurt as a guitar player but to me - until this day - he is one of the greatest influences I have had as a musician. In fact, if it weren't for Nirvana, I wouldn't have started playing guitar.

When I first picked up the guitar, I was completely clueless. All I knew was that I wanted to learn it and that the sound of the guitar was magical. Therefore, when my grandmother agreed to buy me my first guitar - I was probably the happiest kid in the universe. I still remember my grandmother giving to me that money - it was around 60-80 Ringgit (approximately 15-20USD in today's exchange rate) - and there I went with a few friends to a local departmental store. Yup, it wasn't even a guitar store. We found a blue sunburst kapok - a cheap Chinese-made guitar that everyone who played guitar typically started with - and I was sold. Me and my friends brought home the guitar and then my first problem came into play. I didn't know how to tune the guitar. In fact, for the first day - I left the guitar with a friend so that he could tune it for me. (Now that I think about it - he probably had a blast "seasoning it in" before I started on it.)

The next day though, I got back the guitar and still there I was trying to figure out what to do. I had no idea whatsoever. My other memories of my early learning experiences include my dad buying me guitar magazines - one was a "Guitar World" issue with Metallica on the cover (somewhere around 1996) with an "Enter Sandman" transcription and some other ones included early issues of "Guitar One" and "How To Play Guitar-Rock". I basically started off trying to understand terms like "G#5", power chords, palm muting, alternate picking, open string licks and minor pentatonic - among other things. I was fresh into my kapok and this was all Greek to me. The one thing that kept pushing me to continue to read all the articles - even though I didn't understand a thing was an advice my dad gave me. He said,"If you're going to learn something, make sure you go all the way."

In many ways, this was the sail that kept my metaphorical ship - of guitar playing and learning going. A few years prior to that, I was a complete computer geek. I had tons of computer magazines with all those old DOS, spreadsheets, word processing and OS utilities floppy discs and 3.5 diskettes (and eventually CDs) with them. I remember trying to figure out what was special about Windows 3.0 and how one day I dreamt about owning something with a Graphical Interface rather than just a A> prompt based DOS interface. Windows 3.0 was a dream. A 286 or 386 computer was the reality then.

My point is, my dad always encouraged me to go all the way. He supported all my endevours (which meant a lot of cash out of his pocket) whether it was my love for comic collecting, my craze for toys, my geeky computer side and console gaming (this meant the Atari, NES, Sega Genesis, Super Famicom and Super Nintendo period of gaming - oh what glorious years those were!) Through his continuous support (and my mom's logical rationalizations and talks with me) I eventually learned quite a fair bit on my own - and then later with several teachers at a local guitar shop. Motivation to learn was a big thing for me and they - both my parents and my grandmother - were instrumental in teaching me about going for what I wanted out in life.

In the end, here I am - after playing for 10 years plus, still crazy over the guitar and all it's mysteries. I do get stuck at times - frustrated even - but their support - and the inspiration from all the great people I've met and listened to - keep me going.
Sometimes, musical influences mean a lot more than just the list of virtuosic players than awe us. Influences can come from unexpected places - sometimes from the people around you - sometimes from a really rocking album. Nowadays, I try to keep an open mind (as well as open ears) as I begin to see that Ben Monder, Kurt Cobain, my grandmother, my parents and Kapok guitars may have something in common after all.

This post is dedicated to my grandmother who passed away earlier this year while I was back in Boston. She remains an inspiration to me. I love you grandma.


At 1:27 PM, Blogger Deano said...


I'm also a great fan of Eric and Thomas's. Haven't had time to try to understand your blog yet - I'm more of an intuitive guitarist.

Good to know there's someone else out there with great taste!!

At 12:37 AM, Blogger guitarharmony said...

Hi Deano!

Great to hear from another fan of Eric and Thomas. They're amazing guitarists and all-around fun guys. I met them during Eric's first Residential Guitar Workshop in Newton Ferrers, Devon many years ago. I still keep in touch with Thomas.

Take care and do drop by again! I'm going to post more fingerstyle based stuff soon too.


At 11:50 PM, Blogger Maslina Mahbu @ Armiza Nila said...

Salam untuk Az,

Tahniah, kerana salah seorang lagi anak Datuk A. Samad Said yang berjiwa seni mulus. Teruskan cabang kesenian anda.

At 11:52 PM, Blogger Maslina Mahbu @ Armiza Nila said...

Tahniah Az!

Semoga anda terus gah melangkah dalam cabang kesenian ini.

At 11:04 AM, Blogger guitarharmony said...

Terima kasih Maslina!



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