FMP/FREE MUSIC PRODUCTION - An Edition of Improvised Music 1989-2004


Fred Frith


The Death of the Rare Bird Ymir

Over the last twenty years Hans Reichel has been quietly revolutionising the guitar while most of the musical world looked the other way.

Like two other instrument-building iconoclasts - Steinberger and Klein - his ideas are elegant and simple. However, in at least one sense he has gone further than either of them. His designs are not so much concerned with making things easier or more logical for the player as with creating a completely different understanding of what a guitar, and by extension guitar technique, can be. Paradoxically, the music that results is not shockingly avant-garde but shockingly traditional (although which tradition isn't always clear !).

In this sense, "The death of the rare bird Ymir", which already seemed like a masterpiece when it first appeared 14 years ago, belongs more in the category of folk music than 'free' music. Fragile, passionate, quietly intense and of a restless virtuosity, it is a wonderful piece of work and one that can speak to a far broader audience than devotees of improvisation. Nevertheless, while employing a language that ties it to several different musics at once, the results are uncompromisingly modern.

The combination of the patience and skill inherent in the construction of the instruments themselves and the imagination and technical means necessary to make them sing is indeed rare. But as the invention of the daxophone and the release of "Shanghaied on Tor Road" have revealed, Hans is nothing if not a rare bird, happily still with us and going from strength to strength.

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