July 26, 2023

Sections of Spike Driver Blues

mississippi john hurt outside

New video on Mississippi John Hurt's Spike Driver Blues here. For the first time, there's a MIDI embed with play-a-along tabs as well.

As a bit of fun, here's a small op-ed about how playing Spike Driver Blues relates trees from computer graphics..

For context, there's an idea of "mediocristan/extremistan" by the author Taleb; he says, usually, people describe things based on normalities, with extreme events thought of as outliers u usually just ignore other than when they happen. Contrarily, Taleb points out that "extreme outliers" are what influence things the most and should be the main focus.

Notoriously, pre-war blues is tricky to make sound "authentic". It's actually very improvisational and spur-of-the-moment, but usually described in terms of repetitive forms, with "outlier" modifications here or there.. (as I have done it)

As an analogy, in movie graphics, virtual forests used to look really "fake" because video editors used programs that just copy-and-pasted the same tree, over and over, with only small changes like tree-size; this is like mediocristan bc it's focused on the normalities, and tries to ignore how all trees are a bit different. However, in the 80s or 90s, there was a guy who started using fractal "rules", where some trees might have a branch on a branch, while others would have a branch on a branch on a branch — it was set of simple "tree" rules that gave room for randomness within those boundaries, and led to more realistic-looking forests. It's like the more extremistan point-of-view that variations in the trees should be the focus, rather than overlooked.

Thinking about Spike Driver Blues, and making it sound more "real", like the virtual forest, has some similarities. If u have the same note-for-note chorus that gets "copy-and-pasted", with slight changes here or there, it arguably comes out not sounding so "real". But if instead u define some simple rules (ranges of notes, rhythm, volume, etc) and improvise within those boundaries, it starts to feel more like the fractal-generated forest where no one chorus sounds the same just like no one tree is the same.

To hammer this home a bit more, you can view the transcription/tabs in that link (first line) above.

There’s actually no consistent/everlasting alternating bass, for example. It’s not mediocristan where it’s 99% consistent alternating bass, with 1% where he remembers to vary it up. Instead, he "breaks" the alternating bass rule almost as much as he doesn't — it’s like extremistan where it's as much or more dominated by variations/modifications than the "as-written" on-paper notes.

It happens on the treble-side as well. There’s definitely a recognizable theme of a guitar-riff, but sometimes this-or-that note is on this-or-that beat, and sometimes it’s not; sometimes the notes are displaced one way, sometimes they’re displaced the other way.

Rather than the "set tree-image" stuck in a guitar book, that brushes outlier improvisations under the rug, it’s actually those very “outlier” improvisations that make the song Spike Driver Blues!

Posted by blah148

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