Friday, May 31, 2013

Killing a Cliche and Saying Goodbye...Ray Manzarek: Feb 12, 1939 - May 20, 2013

I usually try to avoid the immediate aftermath of the death of  an artist.
If they are are as great and underrated as they often are, much more popular and insightful people will bury anything I might contribute with their opinions.
And there are always volumes of them.
Ray Manzarek died last week from bile-duct cancer.
He was the keyboard-player from the Doors.
He was fucking amazing.
He was a genius.
He was a pioneer.
He was a virtuoso.
All the members of that band were (or are) amazing in their own way. They all pioneered individually and collectively.
All are due respect they will never properly get in a way large enough to do them justice.
For Ray, this is my small part...

"Carnivalesque" is the cliche and lazy-writer adjective for Ray Manzarek's playing. It fits with the 'hits'- his playing was often catchy-but it only delves somewhat into the other layers of what his music was about.
There were many people who were pioneers in eclectronic music before Manzarek, but he is the one who (IMHO) first fully grasped how to use an electronic keyboard.
Many of the electronic keyboards Manzarek used like the Vox Continental, and Farfisa were not designed for what Ray did with them.
Like a true pioneer, he used them the way he saw fit..i.e.  he hacked the fuck out of their nominal capabilities but he did just by playing the living Hell out of them.
Today, many electronic keyboards have velocity-sensitive keys. Velocity -sensitive keys work to emulate the way a piano works: the harder or softer you hit them, the louder or softer the sound.
The organs Manzarek used didn't operate that way.
You hit a key at the volume selected and that was the sound you got. The only way to vary the volume was to manually adjust it-often with a foot-pedal. Ray used a pedal, but he also mastered the most delicate art of first using the speed and quickness of the attack and release of each individual finger on each key.
Before involving actually changing the volume of the whole instrument, Manzarek was a master of either creating or destroying negative space between individual notes-even when forming chords.
Think about that for a second.
Imagine carving a complex statue out of stone but only being able to hit the chisel with the same amount of force with each blow.....then imagine that you weren't cutting stone, but cutting air.
Cutting air in a state-of-the-art studio, or at the Hollywood Bowl.....and it had to be just as good everywhere.
That involves not just a physical knowledge of the strengths and limitations of your instrument, but a complete understanding of every single note and beat laid down by your band-mates. In a band like the Doors, that meat literally weaving your way in and out of layers created by other virtuosos without having the same inheirent dynamic traits afforded to them by the natural, acoustic qualities of their given instruments.
Fuck. That is some seriously difficult playing to do.
Below are a couple examples.
As an exercise, try to sit back and just follow Ray winding his way through these tunes and then think about how they would sound without him.
Living in L.A., I always hoped I would just bump into him and get to say, "thanks" or maybe chat a bit-one of the things about living here is: If you treat a local like a local, they will often treat you the same. eternally missed oportunity.
Ray? Hopefully I am wrong about the nature of the Universe and I'll see you later.
To everybody else:
Cheers, C.

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