David Torn prefaced his solo guitar performance last night at The Monastery in Cincinnati with an eerie tale told with considerable jocularity.
The story dealt with a premonition so strong that it caused Torn and his wife to walk out of a hotel restaurant in Woodstock, NY for fear of an impending calamity. Later that evening, a murder was committed in the hotel.
A veteran of prog-related collaborations, film scores and guitar innovations for more than three decades, Torn told the story with such a wicked grin, almost like an aside, that you couldn’t doubt the authenticity. The same held true for the performance, Torn’s first ever concert in the region. For all the turbulent layers of manipulated sounds he created through an arsenal of pedals, knobs and electronic gadgetry, there was considerable animation at work. Talk about your premonitions.
Torn joked early that describing the onstage process of his playing was next to impossible. “Good luck if you’re hoping for an explanation.”
In essence, he simultaneously recorded and played. Certain riffs and melodic fragments became loops, although that process was used sparingly. More often, the recorded parts were processed electronically and regurgitated in a variety of ways.
In some instances, the sound returned in waves of choral like ambience that seemed to converse in call-and-response fashion with the live guitar playing. At other times, the sound was far more corrosive, tinkering with the very tonality and pitch of the music.
There were times when the electronic enhancements subsided to where an almost folkish lyricism peaked through. But one long improvisatory passage instead concluded with wildly oscillating guitar frenzy that coalesced into a blast that sounded, quite literally, like an explosion.
As a reference point for unsuspecting listeners at The Monastery (a renovated church now operating as a recording studio), Torn offered a bit of familiarity with the Johnny Nash reggae-pop classic I Can See Clearly Now. But his version was anything but obvious. Torn deconstructed the work, elongating and rewiring its sunny melody with the kind of stylistic curiosity one would expect from Bill Frisell. But Torn’s mechanics made it sound like an entire infantry was converging on the tune.
“I think of these technologies as instruments,” Torn said with another grin. “Until they break.”