From Reed's internet post, end of 1999:
What's a guitar?
Over the years, as long-time readers of EMI might recall, I've rarely
touched upon this old standard in my articles.
And I've had scores of people ask "How come you don't bend thoseriff-sample
guitars poppin' up everywhere now?"
Of course, these things aren't guitars at all. They're sample players
that look like guitars. But they DO have inside, at times, nice guitarsamples
I play bass guitar. I've adapted acoustic guitars in various ways too.
Radical re-stringing, electronics/pick-up mods, fret adjustments, body
changes, such. I build guitar-type things from bits & pieces too, electronic
& acoustic. I also collect rare guitars; vintage guitars. I like guitars.
But guitars are... expected. So expected, in fact, that I've always
leaned toward other less-usual-looking targets to proto-bend when I
get the spare moment. However, I've been collecting these sample guitars
over the recent years, feeling I'd know when the time was right to get
The time is right. A number of events coincided and I gladly find myself
swept up in the synchronicity. Here's what happened.
I've always been keen on the idea of a group of musicians bringing onto
stage what the audience recognizes as guitars. Three or four people
facing the audience, holding guitars, or at least what seem to be guitars...
'til the performance begins.
Then the lights black out the moment these musicians strike old fashioned
kitchen matches, now the only illumination in the house. The musicians
bid the audience farewell and, lighting large green candles, begin.
This ensemble then, using only these guitar-things, creates a fantastic
soundwork, delicate & precise to intense engulfing passages, well composed,
and leaving the guitar expectations in the dust. I'd like that.
Recently, as a gift to Cindy Striley (see her sidebar to my SK-1 article,
EMI Vol 12 #2, Dec. '96), good friend and my chief web designer, I've
finally created such a "guitar", and it's fascinating! So much so that
I've decided to introduce a new circuit-bent instrument -- the Gaiatar.
Like Incantors, Trigons, Morpheums, Vox Insectas and Photon Clarinets,
this will become one of my series instruments.
Why the Gaia name? While I sat with the instrument, unnamed and in the
proto stages, the new bent sounds, slowed down and texture-modified
through bending, inspired images of a cosmic firmament. A thunderous
boiling of catalytic chemistry, assembling and disassembling like ocean
waves tumbling into endless sands. Like tangled voices of the cosmos,
weaving together, layering, hinting at secret musical fabric. But still,
organic/chaotic, even contemplative, as though a cabinet of creation-secrets
were being shaken.
Of course, I'm just a dreamer. With tinnitus.
The Y2K hype surfaces on many fronts. But it is a calendar event and
signifies, if nothing else, a recognized, even if arbitrary, threshold.
An opening door. And to we romanticists, an opportunity to place special
things on the special stage created by that year of our history, and
somehow address the reminiscing it will create. Like all new days throwing
morning light into my tent, I want to crawl out into this mist and take
in its offerings. And leave something in return. And celebrate it all.
I'd like to place on the special stage a special instrument meant to
provoke questions about the voice of art, its expectedness and surprise,
its meaning and value, its history and future. At this moment I'd like
to produce an instrument-artwork that coaxes a looking backward and
a looking forward at once.
The Gaiatar encapsulates this for me. The "Gaiatar 2000", in celebration
of us still being here and still having the opportunity for the care
and appreciation of this wonderful planet and each other, will be my
special instrument for the up-coming year. I'm sure these instruments
will vary in style as I find target units, but they will all be deep-end
instruments, with as many on-theme additions as I can design-in.
As benders know, it's not hard at all to find bending points within
circuitry. Personal Gaiatars are moments away from anyone with a warm
soldering iron and the malady of curiosity. I'll bet that most of the
below features from the first Gaiatar can be found on the majority of
Following are the features of the first Gaiatar. The original guitar
has 34 samples built-in, ranging from guitar and jazz organ riffs to
drum sequences to a few demos combining these bits. The original guitar
also has volume & speed/pitch controls.
1- Gold-plated RCA line out to feed effects, EQ & amp.
2- Speaker shut-off switch.
3- Reset switch (push-button, to remedy crashes).
4- Cadmium cell (CdS) switch (toggle on-off).
5- Laser switch (toggle on-off).
6- Laser. This projects a beam along the fretboard into a CdS cell within
the headstock. The beam is broken with fret (sample button) playing
(or otherwise by the fingers) causing the instrument's pitch to vary
wildly. At intense direct laser exposure the instrument at times is
thrown into hyper aleatorics. With the CdS cell turned off, the laser
flashes upon the player's moving fingers creating a strange, jumpy display.
A nice light show.
7- Headstock. Housing the CdS cell, this is an old doorbell switch from
the 1950's, complete with the low-beta-emitting classic BLUE glow-in-the-dark
plastic push-button. Remember?
8- "Resolve" dial. This is a master clock control giving range way beyond
the unit's built-in pitch dial. The knob is old, a rare green plastic
material with a basic black arrow across its face.
9- Three body-contacts. These, in differing combinations, will cause
electricity to flow through the player's body while affecting pitch,
tone and possible aleatoric response. Here is a real-time modulation
control, like the pitch-bend wheel on synths or the "whammy" bar on
guitars, except non-moving.
10- "Trance" push-button switch. Hitting this tiny white switch sends
a precise voltage burst into the central nervous system of the Gaiatar,
sending it into bizarre and varying aleatoric ramblings. These might
be on-going mixtures of on-board samples, "ring" modulated bits of these,
mixtures of these, perhaps time & tone adjusted, unrecognizable passages,
12- Pilot light eye. This is a medical-quality, prosthetic human eye
made for ocular replacement, and is hand-blown by a master maker in
Europe. Very real-looking. Unnerving. The eye is organically inset into
the case, the plastic now bulging out as though the eye were a real
growth. Two lights, from inside the instrument's housing, shine into
the eye illuminating it wonderfully. I half-fill this eye with alcohol
and seal it back up. Anytime the instrument is playing, a high-output
blue LED comes on behind the eye causing it to glow that eerie M. Parrish
shadow-blue that the subconscious sees along with the retina. And at
speaker volume peaks a bright red "threshold" LED flashes into the eye,
combining with the blue into vibrating plays of color -- violet, purple,
after-image trick colors. As the instrument is played, the alcohol sloshes
around inside the eye, catching the red & blue light sources and reflecting
them out through the eye in fascinating miniature waves.
13- Antique mother-of-pearl buttons have been added to the central sample
14- Black buttons with inset "diamonds" have been added to other of
the sample keys.
15- Housing has been re-finished in-theme with cosmos purple crackling-lightning
and new planet green, night-sky black reinforced by the starry effect
of the diamonds set into the jet-black keys.
16- Controls are re-labeled -- Instigate, Pulse, Resolve, Flora, Fauna,
Mineral, Treeline, Mycelia, Amanita, Boletus, Psilocybe, Morchella,
Trance, Tsunami, Cyclone, Avalanche, Rebirth, East, West, etc., as the
sounds inspired me.
While the instrument is the most interesting to me while tuned way down
into an abstract sound-form machine, tuning up to near-recognizable
samples allows the composing of some truly lugubrious, highly-detailed
never-never music of odd beats, stretched notes/moans/cries, human speech-things
and momentary emerging of recognizable instrument sounds, allowing the
musician to create and follow form.
As a lead instrument, for the forefront creation of expressive, alien
musical sound-forms, the Gaiatar will excel. The ensemble of Gaiatars
mentioned above, since individual instruments will likely contain percussion
and other accompaniment samples in addition to lead work, is, I think,
an intriguing possibility.