Nick Didkovsky
Tube Mouth Bow String


Nick Didkovsky is mostly known for being the guitar player, composer and leader of US group Doctor Nerve. Keeping in mind that all experiences that venture beyond the well-worn path are nowadays by necessity a niche phenomenon, I've often felt that the line-up's rock sound - where fanfare and metal brilliantly coexist - has made for an undervaluation of Didkovsky's always interesting, often quite original, compositional features. It goes without saying that it's precisely those instrumental colours that make those compositions so "commercial" (!).

A good example of "hidden complexity" outside Doctor Nerve is the album Uses Wrist Grab, released a few years ago by the "virtual" trio Bone. In the course of an interview we did not too long after the album release, Didkovsky talked about some of the peculiarities of that work; he also anticipated some things happening in the new experiences he was involved in. After the interview was done, I was curious about the new developments and their results, being at the same time impatient to hear the new music and well aware that the gap that separates a new idea from its realization is, financially speaking, very wide.

I'll immediately say that Tube Mouth Bow String is a mature and interesting work, brilliantly recorded, not at all "difficult" to enjoy. It only needs one's (undivided) attention, silence (a lot), being open-minded (it's obvious), love for beauty (this should go without saying, but...), and lotsa curiosity. It appears this album has all the right ingredients to become a best-seller!

A good example of Didkovsky writing for a guitar quartet is Black Iris, the long track featured on his solo album Binky Boy (1997), where the guitars are played by Fred Frith, Mark Howell, René Lussier and Didkovsky himself. Let's not forget those pages performed by the Fred Frith Guitar Quartet, of which Didkovsky was a member; one track that comes to mind is She Closes Her Sister With Heavy Bones: featured on Ayaya Moses (1997), it's the track that - with a different arrangement and instrumentation - opens Tube Mouth Bow String.

Though the way they come to our ears may vary widely - sometimes inscrutable, sometimes deceptively simple - Didkovsky's compositional coordinates always create complex interactions between writing and performing; we have to keep in mind the mathematical complexities of software's underlying logic, and the research on acoustics. Tube Mouth Bow String offers five different examples of combinations of elements. Let's not forget about the CD booklet: rich with liner notes that are quite useful for understanding the tracks, it also gives some Web addresses which can help listeners enrich their experience of this music.

For electric guitar and string quartet, She Closes Her Sister With Heavy Bones opens with a fluid melody played by the guitar which is then reiterated while the guitar gets progressively engulfed by the string instruments of the Sirius String Quartet. The whole stays fresh and accessible for the whole of its duration (6'41" which seem to fly away), the resulting musical picture being extremely well-done and quite involving. In the end, the guitar melody is present only "by implication".

For electric guitar and computer, the brief (4'17") - and quite "rocking" - Machinecore features Didkovsky's guitar through the permutations operated by a complex  program, with fascinating results.

For string quartet and real-time modifications, the long (12'27") composition that gives the CD its title is in my opinion its peak moment. I'm sure the listener will be able to trace antecedents and similarities for it, but the whole is in my opinion something quite original - something possessing a mysterious and sinister beauty. A composition that's quite difficult to be performed accurately (what we have here being the fruit of an overdubbing process), Tube Mouth Bow String has strings, pedals and talk boxes (a good example of the utilization of the talk box being the guitar solo in Haitian Divorce by Steely Dan, on The Royal Scam). A very complex development, and a sonic landscape that listeners will enjoy exploring.

I found the following composition, What Sheep Heard, for string quartet and computer, to be not as convincing as the CD title track (but what could be?). I'm sure I'd find its precise modifications to be quite fascinating in a concert hall (it's 21'07" long), and I was every time I managed to (mentally) turn the room where my hi-fi system is located into a concert hall - it just didn't happen every time I listened to it. (By the way, the CD really needs space to properly reverberate, so to get the proper "3D" dimension. There are also very complex relationships between the two stereo channels.)

Closing the CD, the brief (2'49"), and deceptively simple, Just A Voice That Bothered Him, for string quartet.

Beppe Colli

© Beppe Colli 2007 | Mar. 12, 2007