Bio / Writing
“If the pairing of a guitarist from Wisconsin and a Tibetan expatriate nun seems rather extraordinary, Tibbetts’ narrative makes the encounter seem very predictable, even predestined.”
It has been eight years since Steve Tibbetts gave us the fiery electric guitar album “A Man About A Horse” (ECM 1814). Now he returns with a different kind of recording: an album of, primarily, acoustic sounds. The making of “Natural Causes” took place in a period when Tibbetts was reconsidering some fundamental aspects of his art and craft – in parallel with daily studies of Bach, Bartók, and music theory.
In 1976 I had a job in a record store in St. Paul. One of my co-workers was a guy named Morrey Nellis. He became director of intramural athletics at Macalester College where I used to go for a run every now and then. In 1990 or ’91 he gave me a tape of Hardingfele music saying, “Listen to this.” He got it from his wife who was director of the Hardingfele Society of America.
Every piece in this new album is rich in color and landscape. There’s a plot, intention and meaning. Do I want anybody to know the specifics of plot, intention, and meaning? Definitely not.
“When someone opened up a guitar case and pulled out a guitar they may as well have been pulling a sword out of a stone. The room was magnetized. This was not lost on me, the smallest and most sports-challenged kid in school.”
By late summer of 1976 I had enough music for an album but little chance of getting a label to put it out. I did have something I could use for a cover from my work as an art major and a little money saved from my night shift job at Minnesota Public Radio, so I found a pressing plant in Arizona that would manufacture 200 albums for $600 and I sent them my stuff.
After a good three hours in the blazing sun we saw the gates open and villagers in trance being led out to circumambulate the temple. I’ll never forget the look on one young Balinese woman’s face: an incredible mix of astonishment, grief and transcendence.
“The lead singer sits at a low table on the garage-studio floor. Wrapped in a purple robe, she sings with her nearly shaved head bowed slightly, eyes closed, hands folded in her lap. Her face shows nothing but calm. Her lips barely move, and at times it’s difficult to tell whether she is singing or it’s a recording that’s being played back.”