Vibrating Strings and Carpentry Implementsby Daniel Sher / Images by Paris Brummer / 10.07.2012
A single beam of light illuminates a solitary figure with his acoustic guitar. Agile fingers dart lightning-quick across the instrument’s wooden neck. A chord is simultaneously plucked and muted whilst the guitar-neck is shaken erratically, producing a ringing harmonic-vibrato effect. The instrument is flipped nimbly so that it rests on the musician’s lap; both hands tap and slap rapidly, criss-crossing the length of the fret-board. Now the guitar is a keyboard; now a percussion instrument.
The acrid smells of rum and marijuana meet my nostrils, and for the first time I notice several youths seated in the podium below me. They look distinctly out of place at an acoustic concert: their skinny-jeans and lumo-caps categorically exclude them from the rest of the folk gathered at the Cuervo Music Room. Had it not been for the R45 entrance fee (student rate), I would have attributed their presence to a mere desperate evasion of the bitter cold that haunts the Grahamstown Festival.
My pondering over the mystery is short-lived: Guy suddenly exchanges his resonating guitar for a hand-saw, which he strokes with a violin-bow and bends forcefully to produce an eerily high-pitched and refracted sound. Guy calls it “Martian folk music”. In a way Guy Buttery’s performance is ironic: his outlandish creativity and technical complexity actually demystify the act of playing the guitar. Through his imaginative manipulation of the instrument, Guy reminds us that acoustic melodies are merely a product of vibrating strings (and carpentry implements).
A slight commotion draws my attention. One of the youths wears an expression of consternation as he searches frantically though the pockets of his hefty overcoat. Eventually his hand closes upon the elusive object, and he triumphantly brandishes a carrot whose proportions are by no means insignificant. For the next few minutes the whole world is lost to him as he chews persistently on the orange beacon, his eyes half-closed in an expression of ecstasy.
A true musician knows that silence is more than just the absence of sound; it is an element which, when used appropriately, accentuates and helps to constitute melody itself. Guy masterfully interjects and intertwines dramatic pauses with celestial resonances, thereby keeping the crowd mesmerized, suspended in anticipation of the next bar.
It is during one of these sonic-voids that I notice a horrified expression dawning upon the face of the teenage vegetarian. He has obviously underestimated the audibility of his carrot-munching. Glares of consternation and disapproval emanate from around the hall, and so he abstains from his ceaseless chomping, opting rather to sit motionless, cheeks swollen with the offending vegetable.
The music is both haunting and sublime, penetrating deep into the anima of the listener. Each song takes the audience on a schizophrenic roller-coaster ride, triggering emotional spectra in a seemingly haphazard manner. The listener becomes the wine-glass in which a blend of sensations and emotions swirl and intermingle. First nostalgia, then joy, excitement and melancholic sadness followed by a sense of awe and reverence. The entire crowd is on tenterhooks throughout the performance: eyes fixed upon the stage, with baited breath we await the next step of our inner-journey as defined by the ethereal melody.
The song quickens unexpectedly as Guy slaps a rambunctiously intricate rhythm over an electronically-looped acoustic riff. The vegetarian seizes his opportunity. Masticating methodically in syncopation with the song, he glances around sheepishly to check that the amplified interlude has successfully masked the sound of his Vitamin-A consumption.
The solitary spotlight glints over Guy’s flowing brown hair and straggly beard. The crowd gazes awe-struck from the darkness, united in a shared collective reverence. The atmosphere is reminiscent of the ambience within St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Possibly recognizing the extent to which he resembles Jesus, Guy chooses to counterbalance the spiritual intensity of his music with some self-deprecating humour.
In between songs he pokes fun at himself, recounting the time his name was misread as “gay butterfly”. The audience laughs politely. Guy wants us to know that despite the majestic quality of his music, he is simply a laid-back Durbanite who doesn’t take himself too seriously. Looking beyond his modesty and repertoire of bad jokes, however, we observe a musical icon. His melodies lure the most penniless of students (subsequently forced to subsist on pot, carrots and booze). His music mollifies even the harshest of critics, forcing us to recount crowd-antics in the place of any true musical deficits.
*All images © Paris Brummer