Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Tibetan Freedom Concert: Rock Guitar’s Watershed Moment?

Casual rockers will probably see the event as political activism taking over music, but is the Tibetan Freedom Concert a watershed moment that would send rock guitar into the 21st Century?

By: Ringo Bones

Remember the September 1997 Guitar Player magazine cover story “Who Killed Rock Guitar?” At that moment in time, rock guitar was fast becoming staid and hackneyed when record labels were busy signing copycat acts of leading alternative rock trendsetters like they were going out of fashion. Thus diluting the impact of alternative rock where a few years before record label execs and the music buying public seems to have reached a consensus during the first half of the 1990s. So rock guitar became bland and boring during the dying days of the 20th Century and most rock guitar enthusiasts were wondering whether it too would pass away along with the 20th Century.

Then came the Tibetan Freedom Concert where a new generation of creative guitarists made a collective voice that rock guitar won’t go away as passively as the 20th Century – so to speak. Or more accurately, the concert’s popularity around June 1998 where even the most casual MTV viewer eventually got aware of the politics surrounding the Free Tibet movement – in a musical way during its duration between 1996 to 2001. This concert organized by the Beastie Boys and the Milarepa fund eventually made the cause of Tibetan independence no longer a mere trivial matter to America’s MTV generation.

On the rock guitar front, one of the guitarists that pointed the way of the guitar’s future in the 21st Century was Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello. Whose unique playing style had served as a very creative backdrop in their efforts of spreading an idealized version of Marxist-Leninist socialism like Eisenstein’s Potemkin did decades before. They are one loud rocking version of Revolutionary Idealism.

Fortunately for a generation of kids weaned on David Geffen’s brand of alternative rock, the Tibetan Freedom Concert served as a surprisingly popular introduction to Tibetan culture. And more importantly to their spiritual leader – His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama of Tibet - into exile after the country was unlawfully annexed by the People’s Republic of China back in 1959.

The on-going popularity of the world music movement during the latter half of the 1990s eventually allowed traditional Tibetan musicians acquire a young American fanbase via the Tibetan Freedom concert. Like Yungchen Lhamo famed as the female voice of Tibet and Nawang Khechog, a famed Tibetan meditation music and world music composer and Grammy nominee. Chaksam-pa a non-profit traditional Tibetan dance and opera company based in the San Francisco Bay Area, California whose name means Bridge-Builder. And Dadon a three-member band being lead by Dadon Dawadolma – another female Tibetan singer who won the hearts of post-Cobain grunge. At least its better than that dog-and-pony show recently put forth by Beijing extolling how Tibet got better after they unlawfully annexed it back in 1959. Is the Tibetan Freedom concert music beyond rock guitar? At least it works like it says on the tin.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Mpingo: Viable Guitar Tonewood?

More famous in hi-fi circles as a resonance-controlling widget, does Mpingo qualify as a viable material to make good sounding guitars from?

By: Ringo Bones

The hype probably began in the 1990s where various widgets made out Mpingo seems to an inexplicable ability to improve the sound quality of hi-fi systems just by placing Mpingo made cones and other widgets strategically in various parts of your hi-fi. Some hi-fi enthusiasts have even suggested that a piece of Mpingo should be mortised into the bell of Miles Davis’ trumpet or he uses a mute made out of one. Maybe it works more being fashioned as a woodwind instrument like a clarinet to be played by Benny Goodman. With such impeccable credentials, does Mpingo truly be a viable source of tonewood in order to make a more musical sounding guitar for the 21st Century?

For those unfamiliar with the material, Mpingo is a dense African swamp-ebony hardwood that has been manufactured by hi-fi accessories makers – like Shun Mook for example - as a resonance-controlling widget like cones and LP record clamps. On their brochures, Shun Mook says Mpingo wood absorbs resonance, but I find this explanation somewhat inadequate. And as of late, there still is scant evidence that Mpingo absorbs resonance better than other hardwoods more commonly used in the guitar making / luthier industry like Honduran mahogany, ordinary ebony, or even nitrocellulose lacquered maple used in making Gibson Les Pauls.

During the early days when large-scale guitar manufacturing was at its infancy, Martin & Co. – famed for their acoustic guitars that are as expensive as entry-level South Korean made family sedans – used ordinary ebony as their original tonewood of choice back in the 1920s. But as time went by and due to the increasing scarcity of prized ebony, many luthiers / guitar makers shifted to using South American and South East Asian mahogany and other related tropical hardwoods. Currently, ordinary ebony had been dethroned by Hawaiian koa as the ultimate tonewood of choice. Mpingo, at present, is still untested as a guitar making material. But as you may know, both hi-fi enthusiasts and guitar makers probably already know by now that a prized dense African swamp-ebony hardwood called Mpingo is somewhat rare and a species has probably the fecundity of a great white shark. Which is probably the reason why it is not coomonly used as a guitar making material due to its rarity and expense. And also explains the reason why Mpingo is seldom seen in pieces larger than a bowling ball.