Guitarist Julia Miller on the first synth-guitar hybrid | In Rotation | Chicago Reader

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Guitarist Julia Miller on the first synth-guitar hybrid

Plus: Sound designer Ed Herrmann on one of the 20th century's great orchestral works, Reader music editor Philip Montoro on what's funny about Babymetal, and more

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A Reader staffer shares three musical obsessions, then asks someone (who asks someone else) to take a turn.

Tristan Honsinger - MISS HECKER/FLICKR
  • Miss Hecker/Flickr
  • Tristan Honsinger

Philip Montoro, Reader music editor

Babymetal at House of Blues on May 14 I've never laughed so much at a concert—and not the mocking, behind-my-hand kind, but giddy, incredulous, what-the-fuck-is-happening laughter. Babymetal's infectious train wreck of sunny, sentimental J-pop, brutally compressed deathcore, and goofball techno was only half the spectacle: I also had to contend with the exhaustingly frisky choreography and the alarmingly enthusiastic crowd. I think I'm happier not knowing why one of the guys in the pit was dressed as a tomato.

Tristan Honsinger Last month's concerts by the ICP Orchestra gave me a new appreciation for this playfully virtuosic improvising cellist. Honsinger is 65, with the elastic, cartoony body language and rubber face of a slapstick comic. When he conducted a group improvisation, he lunged, hopped, whirled, and even collapsed flat on his back as everyone "died" partway through—and his grainy vocals and nimble cello display a similar bighearted disregard for propriety.

Dave Hunt of Anaal Nathrakh The man called V.I.T.R.I.O.L. was affable and funny when this UK extreme-metal band played LiveWire in May. He sings with psychotic grandeur and screams like a sandblaster, and his droll banter provides a sorely needed counterpoint to Anaal Nathrakh's murderously histrionic jackhammering. I liked his gentle ribbing of a sloppy premature stage diver: "While that was . . . indescribably beautiful," he said, "we'd really intended for you to wait till we started the song."

Philip is curious what's in the rotation of . . .

Esa-Pekka Salonen - TODD ROSENBERG/SUN-TIMES MEDIA
  • Todd Rosenberg/Sun-Times Media
  • Esa-Pekka Salonen

Ed Herrmann, composer and sound designer

The Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians Fifty years on, the AACM is going strong. An April reunion concert featured a stage full of legends playing some of the most joyous, uplifting music you'll ever hear. Over the past year I've been enriched by sets from Harrison Bankhead, Avreeayl Ra, Douglas Ewart, Renee Baker, Ed Wilkerson, Nicole Mitchell, Ari Brown, and Hamid Drake. Many more are coming up as the AACM celebrates a half century of great black music!

There Is No Repetition: Mathias Spahlinger at 70 I'd never heard Spahlinger's music before—it's rarely performed outside Germany—and this series of free Goethe-­Institut concerts in March, with Spahlinger in residence, was an astonishing introduction. The music was variously abstract, abrasive, nearly inaudible, repetitious, whimsical, mysterious, and incomprehensible. The audiences were spellbound, wondering what would happen next.

TurangalÎla at CSO Two weeks ago Esa-­Pekka Salonen led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Olivier Messiaen's TurangalÎla-­Symphonie. One of the great orchestral works of the 20th century, this sprawling piece is an enormous undertaking for an orchestra—extra players in all sections plus eight percussionists, piano, harp, celeste, vibraphone, and ondes Martenot. Messiaen uses birdsong, chromatic modes and rhythms from Indian music, and his own harmonic and rhythmic language to create an ecstatic celebration of time and love.

Ed is curious what's in the rotation of . . .

The Berliner Künstlerprogramm's 2014 staging of Osvaldo Budón's Tablaturas Espaciales - VIMEO
  • Vimeo
  • The Berliner K├╝nstlerprogramm's 2014 staging of Osvaldo Bud├│n's Tablaturas Espaciales

Julia Miller, guitarist and composer

Hagström Swede Patch 2000 In the late 70s the Hagström Swede Patch 2000 guitar became the world's first production synth-guitar hybrid. (Ampeg provided the onboard circuitry and pitch/glide pedals.) The guitar looks normal, but the neck is wired to transmit input to a synthesizer—in contrast to modern MIDI guitars, which rely on hexaphonic pickups, the MIDI information is transferred when the string touches the fret. This is a mind-­blowingly different approach: it's focused on the left hand rather than the right, and there's no issue with pitch tracking. For an "expanded guitarist," it's conceptually a vital reference.

The war of the currents The historical conflict between DC and AC should be familiar to all electronic musicians. Thomas Edison promoted direct current, which required expensive infrastructure, while Westinghouse Electric and Nikola Tesla developed the transformer to facilitate alternating current. Edison lost that battle, though he went on to establish the roots of the recording industry and the production of physical sound media. Tesla also had an idea for wireless electricity, and wireless devices and the cloud are now supplanting large-scale physical-media production.

Osvaldo Budón, Tablaturas Espaciales Realized in 2014 by the Berliner Künstlerprogramm in a performance organized by guitarist Seth Josel, this composition is a fascinating interaction of philosophical speculation, specific notation, improvisation, installation, and movement.  v

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