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The Prodigal Son Comes Clean
I interrupt my sporadic bitter web archive lurking to resubscribe and
interject a wholly unsolicited commentary.
See, I actually went to school with Larry Cooperman about a decade ago -
I had just showed up at CalArts as an undergraduate in the guitar
program, and he was getting his MFA there. I remember him as an
extremely accomplished classical guitarist and composer, a guy who did
some interesting things with electric guitar and electronic processing
(including loops), and an extremely confrontational and prickly
I remember one particular discussion in Guitar Workshop (the weekly
guitar department hang session) where an electronic performance of
Larry's was being discussed. Stuart Fox, the head of the program (and a
very serious classical guitarist who is also quite involved with
applying the guitar to electronic music) was asking Larry a question
about how he was using the loops on his JamMan.
At one point, Larry made a comment about the limits of the JamMan by
stating, "You know, they're LOOPS." The point being that there was a
very implicit set of fixed parameters and limitations to it.
This was probably a year or so before I bought my Echoplex, but every
now and then Larry's comment - "they're just LOOPS!" - has echoed in my
head (no pun intended) over the last ten years, as I've worked with the
Echoplex and tried to find ways of confronting whatever built-in
preconceptions I might have had about the possible limits of working
So, I remember Larry as being a very intelligent guy, with a lot of
talent, who seemed to have a pretty skeptical opinion about the
potential range of looping, and who had a serious knack (and possibly
even a healthy amount of glee) in provoking people.
Some things never change, I guess.
Larry is clearly not prepared to take serious criticism from people who
lack the kind of musical understanding that he holds so dear to himself
and his estimable background. That's certainly his right.
By that same token, I'm not sure I would be prepared to take criticism
about looping seriously if it came from a guy who has had clearly stated
reservations about the approach for at least the last decade, and who
apparently can't work through the manual for an Echoplex Digital Pro.
I wouldn't even begin to take myself seriously in assessing the
originality or uniqueness or "meaning" of a classical
guitarist/composer, as I lack any meaningful understanding of the
specific world you inhabit. So I'm not sure where a person with Larry's
background is coming from in saying (for example) that a fantastic,
musical, expressive player like Bill Walker doesn't have his own voice.
Bill's operating in a context with a musical lineage that can trace
itself to people like Paul Dresher, Michael Brook, David Torn, Robert
Fripp, and Terry Riley, just to name a few of the most obvious
touchstones. From that point of view, I've heard Bill do some extremely
creative and unique things as a player.
If you're going to judge somebody's work - and especially if you're
going to make conclusions about the meaning of their music in the
context of their life in general - then it seems to me that the barest
minimum requirement is to judge it in the appropriate context.
And that context is not about what kind of degree you have, or whether you
hang out with Segovia's ghost at the local Ouija board house. It's
about understanding the particular musical dialect a person is speaking,
and knowing the proper historical context for that dialect. (And maybe
even being able to speak it with a fair amount of fluency onesself.)
Stirring shit up is fine, as long as you're willing to spend time
picking turds out of your beard. Recognizing and acknowledging the
immense limitations of one's own abilities, when compared to the vast
and unknowable immensity that is the world of music, is a really healthy
and sobering thing, though it tends to sound a bit insincere when
"qualified" by endless paragraphs trumpeting the breadth and depth of
one's own resume.
And accusing other musicians of being stuck in a regressive teenaged
mindset is an interesting thing to do, particularly when it's
accompanied by the more or less explicit statement that "That's not an
opinion, that's a fact, because it's how I feel."
Glad to hear the career is going well, Mr. Cooperman, and that time
hasn't diminished your immense musical talent, or your singular charm
and interpersonal panache. I've had an interesting time of it too,
since we last talked. I don't know how my work measures up to any
particular yardstick in the grand scheme of things, but it sure was
great to see a pair of beautiful girls dancing to my solo guitar loops
for half an hour at a party last October.
Right now I have to go practice for a series of gigs next month, using
five Echoplexes at the same time. It was actually booked by a classical
guitarist named Dominic Frasca, who plays solo arrangements of Philip
Glass tunes, and has recorded some of Phil's work for widespread
release. I'd be curious to hear the two of you debate the relative
merits of looping (or merely your respective resumes) some time...
In the meantime, my advice: if you don't enjoy a list, or the climate
therein, you can always unsubscribe! It worked (and continues to work)
Singing off (again),
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