I've been listening to the music of Chas Smith, as recorded on the Cold Blue label. It's relative simple, often just a slow-flowing stream of pedal steel guitar, yet there seems to be something substantive to it as well. So, who is Chas Smith?
This interview by Laura Steele explains. Smith had an interesting musical journey including being influenced by Link Wray's Rumble, (a Fifties precursor to electric guitar-based heavy metal), attending and dropping out of the Berklee School of Music as a pianist even though he was a guitarist, being inspired about synthesizers by Morton Subotnick's Silver Apple of the Moon, and eventually studying at Cal Arts with Mel Powell, Harold Budd, James Tenney et al. Country music and instrument building a la Harry Partch also figured into his development as did his physical location.
It's easy to draw a visual parallel between landscape/cityscape and composition activity. Which would imply that music is impressionistic. If the composition technique is intuitive, that seems to make sense or if it's regulated by a set technique, that could correlate to the regulation of the grid. Of course this is an oversimplification, but it is a way to talk about the ethereal... The east coast, where I grew up, is very hilly and rarely does one have a sight line of more than a few miles, so the landscape has a lot of rhythm, activity and, at times, a subtle feeling of comfortable claustrophobia...Because I'm not working with 12-tone scales, I rarely "push a pencil".
And from an article by Greg Burk in the LA Weekly:
“I write very simple music,” he says, “and then complicate the sounds. The foregrounds don’t do a hell of a lot. The backgrounds are what’s moving.” That’s what makes it art instead of physics. “The music’s in the details.”