The Chapman Stick is the instrument of the absurd, of the surreal, even the extraterrestrial. It encompassed the strangeness of King Crimson when Tony Levin performed it on “Elephant Speak.” It encompassed the strangeness of house when Gurney performed it in David Lynch’s unique “Dune.” In “Aimless,” by Chapman Stick specialist Vibrant Brown, the instrument encompasses the strangeness of simply being alive.
Vibrant Brown is Alex Nahas’ solo venture, the place he focuses on recasting the Chapman Stick from its earlier position as novelty instrument of the prog-rock period to backbone of a tune and counterpart to a songwriter.
The Chapman Stick was devised within the late ’70s by Emmet Chapman, a jazz guitarist who needed to increase his two-handed tapping method on guitar. Consider the Stick as a guitar and a bass directly, but additionally a piano, and in addition a drum. The instrument has 10 to 12 strings, every tuned in a different way, and no sound gap, only a lengthy neck that may adhere to a belt loop. The fretboard is flatter than a guitar with delicate pickups, as a result of it’s principally tapped reasonably than strung.
The Stick first discovered its approach into Nahas’ arms 30 years in the past, at Pierce Neighborhood School in California, the place Emmet Chapman himself bequeathed a used Chapman Stick with Nahas after Chapman gave a efficiency on campus.
Nahas began bringing the instrument to band observe. He was nonetheless determining methods to use it and combine it into songs, with not a lot to go off of, because the instrument isn’t actually introduced out in up to date music as a lot because it was nearer to its invention. Nahas stated the Stick was typically overshadowed within the mainstream as a result of rock music was so outlined by its band construction: guitar, bass, keyboard, lead singer.
“Consequently, quite a lot of music sounds type of formulaic, and the Stick allowed me to interrupt the foundations,” Nahas stated.
However there’s a new technology of Chapman Stick gamers swimming upstream to maintain the eclectic instrument alive.
Dan “Chef” Zahal, a second yr bass pupil at Berklee, has been instructing himself to play a Chapman Stick to 12 strings since he was a senior in highschool. He stated he hasn’t been capable of finding any school on the music faculty to combine his research on the Chapman Stick into any authentic classroom setting, however Zahal performs the stick in his band, Trophy Husband. He stated a part of a motive for the rarity of Stick gamers is due to the dizzying prospects for inventing sound by way of digital music manufacturing.
“The entire technical facet was lots greater within the 70s and the 80s with bands like King Crimson and Rush. It was all about who might play the best traces, the flashiest, the cleanest,” Zahal stated. “Numerous extra fashionable music relies on, as a result of we have now quite a lot of shortcuts in manufacturing and studio, who can manipulate these the most effective.”
In the way in which that producers can make use of strategies from quite a lot of instrumental teams on an digital program similar to Ableton or Logic, the Chapman Stick employs dexterity and intricacy to create new sounds utilizing each rhythm and melody in tandem. Due to its multifunctionality, each musicians discovered the instrument’s capabilities preserve increasing as they research it. Zahal has been utilizing drum rudiments in his enjoying just lately, treating every hand — one on the guitar facet of the Stick and one on the bass — as a hand in a drum line. Nahas is also impressed by the percussive components of the Stick.
“Its very nature is percussive since you hammer onto it. So there’s that assault from the fingers,” Nahas stated. “You possibly can emphasize that and be actually easy and routine, or you may transfer the notes round and, by enjoying slightly lighter, make it sound extra melodic.”
Alex Nahas has launched three albums and two EPs below Vibrant Brown; “Aimless” is the primary single to come back from his subsequent album, releasing in January. However when Nahas picked up the Stick it wasn’t instantly obvious to him how greatest to specific his artwork with it, till he began letting the Stick lead.
“As I began writing, I assumed ‘Oh, what if I method this instrument because the core of the tune, because the factor I write on, prefer it was a piano. And as quickly as I began doing that, it made much more sense to me, and I haven’t put it down since,” Nahas stated.
Nahas started forming bands round songs he wrote on the Stick, and Nahas’ enjoying took by itself life. Whereas Tony Levin performs the Stick totally on the bass facet, so the sound can generally be twangy and speedy, Nahas’ enjoying extra resembles a piano; it’s tender and earnest.
That tenderness is what makes the instrumental loops in “Aimless” so addicting. It’s a obscure, wandering, round tune, that exploits either side of the Stick, to fill you up with emotion and allow you to down simple with cathartic lyricism. Nahas began the tune as just a bit improvised lick again in early 2020, earlier than the pandemic even began.
As soon as the pandemic settled in, the tune’s lyrics took on new life: “Why take purpose / as a result of aimless is drifting / and drifting’s simpler / simpler brings peace / until it lies in items / and so we go / into our silence.”
He recorded the tune and his upcoming album at his good friend’s studio in Joshua Tree, California. Members of his first band, Eddie Avakian and Jamie Muhoberac performed drums and keyboards, respectively; and Ava Nahas, Alex’s sister, was on percussion. This intimate group and the flat, stark, huge panorama of Joshua Tree is infused into “Aimless;” heard within the readability of manufacturing and seen within the album’s cowl artwork — an iPhone image Nahas himself took on a break from recording.
“It has an actual openness to it, that I in all probability wouldn’t have gotten writing in my tiny little house and recording it there,” Nahas stated. “ The songs have endurance to them. And, a form of ease about them. It’s all the time been my aim to simply let the tune lead me by way of it.”
“Aimless” is out Friday, November 11.