“Scatterbrain” (Jeff Beck)

Look here, it’s King Crimson. Over there: Herbie Hancock. Then, The Mahavishnu Orchestra. Underneath, it’s George Martin. The album gets more involved, too, with Stevie Wonder giving two tracks to Beck, while Phil Chen sits in throughout. For a performer used to being stuck the middle (between Clapton and Page in The Yardbirds, for example), it’s not unthinkable that these citations could be so much dross. But a scatterbrain isn’t a dimwit in this case. The outro is introduced by a climbing, John McLaughlin-like run jumping one step upward with each repetition. A quick blues figure pivots, transitioning to the finale. A skittering, palm-muted jog segues to a pinch-harmonics-punctuated solo over the re-emergent McLaughlin line. On top and beneath–as a solo artist indebted to the generosity of others–this scattered-ness is given over and eventually gives out. Like the harmonics, one “sounds” only after the note has struck. Overwriting the underwritten, and agreeably obliged.

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“Eruption” (Van Halen)

The solo that launched a thousand (hair) bands, it’s also a mythologized piece used to legitimize rock guitar playing more generally. But even nine-year olds are getting in on the act, and kids can play this trax with startling proficiency. Maybe all of this this is a human version of Moore’s Law dealing with human performance. The trax is mainly about technique, with the whammy-bar dives and two-handed tapping coalescing in what’s supposed to be a new form. We shouldn’t forget Steve Hackett’s tapping from Genesis or Eddie Cochran’s tremolo strategies, though. Discussions of Eddie Van Halen’s early classical training occludes this indebtedness, and popular texts instead redirect toward the trax’s strategic allusions in order to elevate the sonic repurposing. Also important are the effects used, including echo and phaser. Even so, this prosthetic humanness is a helpful lesson. Innovation as a recursive structure, and newness as a function of articulation (not a progressive temporality). All the rest, including Moore’s Law: profit motive.



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