Conjuring Sound: Mimesis and Guitar Virtuosity

Murray, Samuel ORCID logoORCID: (2022) Conjuring Sound: Mimesis and Guitar Virtuosity. In: Psychology and Music – Interdisciplinary Encounters, October 26th-29th 2022, Belgrade, Serbia.

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Abstract / Summary

The use of mimesis to convey notions of instrumental virtuosity has been previously identified by Kawabata (2013) who noted that during his performance’s violinist Paganini employed “devices of mimesis, imitating the cries of animals, human voices, and musical instruments other than the violin.” (p. 12). The influence of Paganini and the classical music model of virtuosity on rock and metal guitarists has been discussed by several authors including Custodis (2011) who claimed that “most clichés and connotations of the guitar virtuoso combine elements of historic role models of 19th century’s icons Paganini and Liszt with the distortion sound and the habitus of playing an electric guitar.” (p. 1) and Walser (1993) who observed that “From the very beginnings of heavy metal in the late 1960s, guitar players had experimented with the musical materials of eighteenth and nineteenth century European composers” (p. 63).
This paper aims to explore both how and why rock and metal guitarists from the 1960s onwards have employed mimesis to convey notions of virtuosity and instrumental mastery to their audiences.
This paper begins by identifying several examples of guitarists employing techniques of mimesis similar to those used by Paganini, including Van Halen’s mimicry of various animal sounds and other instruments, Vai’s numerous impersonations of the human voice, and Morello, Li and Buckethead’s recreations of helicopters, vinyl scratching, synthesisers, motorbikes and video game sound effects. How these sounds are created and the manner in which they might be interpreted by the audience is analysed and discussed. The paper proposes that the ability to imitate sounds other than those traditionally associated with the guitar form an important part of the musical toolkit rock and metal guitarists use to encode and communicate virtuosity in their performances.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Subjects: Music > Instrumental
Music > Musical Performance
Music > Popular Music
Courses by Department: Academy of Music & Theatre Arts > Music
Depositing User: Samuel Murray
Date Deposited: 15 Apr 2024 13:53
Last Modified: 15 Apr 2024 13:53


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