Re-Imagining the Guitar with Lotus Lungs

[This article accompanies Right Brain Music Podcast Episode 6, which you can find here.]

The guitar has been around for close to 1,000 years, and earlier versions trace back more than two millenia before that. It’s a versatile instrument that blends well with just about any other sound, and is a lot more portable than the piano. That may explain its ubiquitosity. The Earth has 7.5 billion people and an estimated 6.2 billion guitarists, some of which are quite proficient.

The sonic capacity of the instrument, however, is strictly limited. Compare the frequency profile and range of an acoustic guitar note or chord to any woodwind, brass or bowed instrument, and it comes up far short. Add a pickup and an amplifier, and you broaden that somewhat, but even as recently as the early 60s, guitars had typecast roles in most types of music. Some of those roles were brilliant, like flamenco, delta blues and blues-rock, but until a lefthanded kid from Seattle got ahold of a Stratocaster, a Marshall tube amp and a wah-wah pedal, the guitar was still mainly context for voices and other instruments. Hendrix died at age 27, but changed everything, as far as the guitar was concerned.

That legacy continues to ripple through the pond today. While the explosion in the guitar’s popularity has spawned a whole lot of singer-songwriters, 70s cover bands, schools of rock and mid-life crisis purchases of slick Gibson, Taylor and Martin models, a select few guitarists have continued the Jimi Hendrix legacy, innovating and taking the instrument to new, uncharted territories.

That brings me to Lotus Lungs, a trio of wizards who’ve made extending the guitar’s range their recent life’s work. They are: Bill Horist, Matt Benham and Tom Scully. With hefty bios and backgrounds including punk and alt-rock to classical, jazz and world music, they start with an expansive range. But when we first started discussing the prospect of assembling a new trio, influences and skill weren’t the primary concerns — chemistry and process were. Their chemistry and unique process of creating soundscapes are the stars of their first project together.

 
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Lotus Lungs’ first album, Guitar Improv Summit Vol. 1, is an improvised stew of uninmaginable sounds. The albums 11 compositions emerged in real-time during the recording process, which gives it an organic feel and energy that is impossible with pre-composed, arranged music. Their command of the tools at their disposal — their instruments and arrays of carefrully chosen effects processors — builds a remarkable palette of sound potential and fuels the creative process. We captured it on record.

Episode 6 of the Right Brain Music Podcast features an interview with Tom, Matt and Bill. They talk about the inner-workings of free improvisation, experimental music and new frontiers for the guitar, with ample selections of their music.

Hear the podcast here, or subscribe through your favorite podcast app.

Check out Lotus Lungs’ new album here.

And if you’re curious about the recording process, here’s a video clip from the album’s recording session. And here’s another.

Let us know what you think of the music and the podcast!