Loose Canons

Loose Canons
(1995) excerpt
Steve Mackey, Matt Wuolle, Mark Zaki, guitars

“Canon est regula voluntatem compositoris sub obscuritate quadam ostendens.”
(A canon is a rule which shows the intention of the composer in an obscure way.)

-Tinctorus, Diffinitorium (ca. 1500)

“What does it mean to engage in canon formation at this historical moment? In what ways does the prevailing crisis in the humanities impede or enable new canon formations?”

-Cornel West, Keeping Faith (1994)

Loose Canons was written in response to the music of Johannes Ockeghem (ca. 1410-1497) in particular to his Missa Prolationum, which consists of a series of canons in different time signatures and at different intervals of imitation. Ockeghem’s music has been described as idiosyncratic, without system, even as ‘sounding improvised.’ On the other hand, he has been characterized as a, “pure cerebralist, almost exclusively preoccupied with intellectual problems.”

Like other composers of the time, Ockeghem was trained as a singer and his music was vocally conceived. In our time composers are often trained, or self-taught, as electric guitarists and the electric guitar could even be described as the voice of our era. Loose Canons downplays the usual rock-star affect and pyrotechnics and focuses instead on sound.

Loose Canons¬†utilizes a device known as an ‘ebow’ (electric bow) which the guitarist holds above the strings, causing them to vibrate indefinitely without being plucked. Thus traditional contapuntal activities like passing tones and suspensions can be greatly prolonged, which both exaggerates and disarms their power and function. In addition, as the distorted guitar sounds interact with one another, rich patterns of overtones and dissonances are produced, beyond the written notes of the piece.


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