Solo Acoustic Guitarist | African and Contemporary | Composer and Performer

The Sound of Water (2011)


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“One of the things that allows Gripper to stand out against the crowd of modern guitarists, are the vast array of sounds that he can draw from the instrument…Gripper is able to transcend the instrument with his performances…[his] ability on the instrument…is absolutely world-class…his voice is so personal, so unique, that it leaps from the speakers and goes beyond the instrument itself.” [Matthew Warnock, Guitar International. Read the full article.]

Cover artwork: Blue Head by Wliiam Kentridge is an original limited edition etching published by David Krut Publishing, originated in 1993, and editioned at 107 Workshop, Wiltshire by master-printer Jack Shirreff. 

Derek Gripper’s powerful recording juxtaposes his multi-layered compositions for solo guitar and voice with compositions by iconic Brazilian composer and multi-instrumentalist Egberto Gismonti.

From Joni, the expansive 15 minute opening track, to the explosive bass of Dance of the Heads, the hushed, jazzy tones of Ano Zero, and the evocations of the Kalahari in Copenhagen, The Sound of Water takes the listener on a journey that transcends the accepted notions of what a guitar can do.

Butcher’s sound engineering has revealed a new power and depth with The Sound of Water, a departure from Gripper’s previous recordings which were characterised by a raw and elegant minimalism.

From the liner notes:

There are three ways of playing represented on The Sound of Water: composition, improvisation and transcription. A composition is something which is fixed in some way. Improvisation is exploration of the unknown. Transcription is simply a translation from one medium to another, or from one person to another. These three expressions weave together in configurations that are indistinct and fluid. They evolve as a dance of the mind.

So the starting point of this one afternoon in a studio in Knysna, was a group of compositions by three composers. These compositions had melodies, harmonies and basic structures. They were translated from a variety of instruments, and a variety of types of guitar. The next step was to use the studio as a means of exploring this music in new ways, and in so doing to reveal new facets in the possibilities of the six-string guitar. This was an interesting project, because this one little moment became extraordinarily important, enshrined in the medium of recording. Something which was of a single time and place will be heard over and over again. The conductor Erich Kleiber said in 1929 that the trouble with the recording process is that

“it fixes forever a certain performance, a unique emotional moment when, really, never two musical performances are the same. One day I feel the music in one way, next day it is otherwise. Which is the true one that should remain on the record? It’s a matter of state of mind. Blood doesn’t flow every day at the same speed. A record fixes that which is versatile, the living thing.”  

Egberto Gismonti

Egberto Gismonti was born in 1947 in Rio de Janiero, Brazil. He is a fabulous pianist who studied classical music for many years while courting popular music, which inspired him to learn the guitar. When he was in France, working as a conductor and orchestrator, he met and studied with Nadia Boulanger (who taught composers such as Astor Piazolla, Phillip Glass and Aaron Copeland) and Jean Barraqué (who was taught by Schoenberg). Both of these teachers convinced him that a Brazilian creating a style of music based in the musical traditions of Brazil was more valuable than a Brazilian creating music with the voice of a European.

He returned to Brazil and embraced the music of his homeland. Later, a chance meeting in Norway with Brazilian percussionist Naná Vasconcelos resulted in their first recording for ECM, Dança das Cabeças, which Gismonti discribed as ‘the history of two boys wandering through a dense, humid forest, full of insects and animals, keeping a 180-feet distance from each other.’ This inspired Gismonti to delve even deeper into Brazilian folk-lore. His work since then has been a comprehensive and inspiring journey through Brazil, as well as a re-evaluation of modern music, an energetic revival of classical music, and a creative transformation of jazz.

Beyond the stylistic realm of nation, genres and musical forms, the polar extremes of Gismonti the musician seem to be represented in his two principle instruments: piano and ten-string guitar. His piano playing begins as pristine serenity, but moves towards rolling thunder and expansive improvisation. His guitar playing begins as a raw and untamed explosion, but reduces itself to impossible fragility. You can hear this in the contrast of works such as Ano Zero and Dança das Cabeças.

I think I was first introduced to Gismonti and Vasconcelos by South African trumpeter  and accordionist Alex van Heerden. Alex was a musician like Vasconcelos who was steeped in the folk, popular and jazz traditions of his country. I, like  Gismonti, was a ‘classical’ musician who had spent most of my formative years playing popular music (which also brought me to the guitar). Alex and I worked together for a little over ten years, and during this time our inspiration was both the music of South Africa, especially the Western Cape, and the innovations of Naná and Egberto who reminded us that our local traditions could inspire a deeply personal music; a music without boundaries.

The tracks on The Sound of Water are as follows:

Joni (Derek Gripper) was originally played in a hotel room in Aarlburg, Denmark, in 2009. Its original inspiration was the banality of parking lots, and Joni Mitchell’s line from Big Yellow Taxi: ‘they paved paradise and put up a parking lot.’ Its a funny thing, but when I left that hotel and got into a taxi, that song was playing on the radio.

Vanilla (Derek Gripper) is for a little girl called Vanilla who left too soon.

Salvador (Egberto Gismonti) was originally recorded by Gismonti on an 8-string guitar. My version simply translates the unique resource of Gismonti’s guitar onto the conventional six-string. Dança das Cabeças (Egberto Gismonti) was for ten-string guitar, using a special string-ing and tuning unique to Gismonti. To adapt this to six-string required a very low tuning of the bass string, far beyond what is usual for the six-string. This version has also simplified the structure of the piece since it came quite spontaneously during the session and hadn’t actually been on the list of pieces to record.

O Trenzinho do Caipira (Villa-Lobos) was written for orchestra. I first heard it as Gismonti’s ten-string guitar version. Later I heard the orchestral version which makes a very convincing sound of a steam train. It has had words set to it by Ferreira Gullar… I am intrigued by this composition’s similarity to the Cape koortjie, a cyclical musical song sung and played in churches in the Western Cape of South Africa; a meeting point of European Christianity and African trance dance.

Ano Zero (Egberto Gismonti) is a solo piano work from Gismonti’s 1978 ECM recording, Solo, a track which the reviewer Tyran Grillo calls ‘a song to the skies.’ I treated the original sound recording as a score, like a piece of Bach, because I enjoy compositions that grow out of instruments. This approach to composition takes one back to a time when composers were saturated in the languages with which they composed. There is a feeling that the body is far more involved.

Copenhagen (Derek Gripper) was played a few days after Joni in the airport at Copenhagen. It was a couple of months before the climate change talks in Copenhagen in 2009. I was feeling the immensity of this beast: the airport.

Sete Anéis (Egberto Gismonti) was originally for piano, cello and synthesiser. It was aintriguing challenge to find ways to express this rather large-scale work on a six-string guitar.

2 Violões (Egberto Gismonti) is originally for two guitars. This new version is close to the original, but altered in places to make it possible to play on only one guitar.

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