Extended Technique is unconventional, unorthodox, or non-traditional methods of playing a musical instrument employed to obtain unusual sounds or timbres.
Well, that’s what the internet tells me it is anyway.
My first encounter with extended technique for guitar came long before I had any clue that the term “extended technique” existed, let alone what it actually meant. The notion I had of what sound a guitar could make was drastically changed after watching a live performance of “Bullet In The Head” by Rage Against The Machine. Guitarist Tom Morello sounded something like a broken radio being dipped in a box of angry cats, but in a good way.
I was, of course, an instant RATM megafan and spent large chunks of time learning their songs and doing my best to imitate Mr Morello, despite not having a Whammy pedal, killswitch on my guitar, or any noticeable level of skill on my instrument! These obstacles may have hindered my attempts to imitate, but probably increased the opportunity for me to develop some unconventional sounds in a style and direction that was more my own.
An unconventional sound coming from a guitar continued to be something that interested me hugely, and each time I discovered a sound I hadn’t heard before it would stick with me as a musical element I wanted to incorporate into my own playing. Other moments of musical shock I had include the first time I heard Jeff Beck playing “Nadia”, creating his unique style and sound using a slide and some serious whammy bar technique, and Rory Gallagher’s beautifully bent harmonic at the start of “A Million Miles Away” on his “Irish Tour” album.
As I continued to study the guitar, and music in general, my interest and amazement at the sonic possibilities of electric guitar never waned. So when it came to writing my own tunes, I was certain I wanted to make these elements of guitar playing a vital component of the music.
Using extended technique on electric guitar to form the main figure of a composition isn’t something I’ve really heard in contemporary improvised music (I’m not saying it doesn’t exist, just that I haven’t heard it. Ignorance isn’t quite bliss, but sure it’s grand really), so I believe that making extended technique a core feature in the compositional element of my music could help to make it sound more distinctively my own, as well as enabling it to stand out in a world full of outrageously talented guitarists that actually know how to play the instrument properly without having to resort to using silly noises!
Bending harmonics behind the nut, employing whammy bar antics to create distorted textures, aggressively hitting the strings at the headstock, and percussive playing of muted strings are among the techniques I use to come up with musical ideas. Of course the use of effects pedals complements this approach to playing and my Digitech Whammy, Boss DD6 Digital Delay, and Dunlop Cry Baby are rarely turned off these days.
Having said all that, the Tom Morello influence remains. The fact that he has mostly used just four pedals (three of which I have mentioned in my own pedal set-up……ahem) in a twenty-something year period of creating innovative and exciting new approaches to guitar music, tells me that there is always room to create even more sounds and techniques, relying not only on the physical elements of the electric guitar but on imagination and creativity too.
Or at least I hope there is…….that second album won’t write itself…..maybe if I buy a few more pedals……??!