Split Brain – Playing 2 Parts At Once

In just a little under a month, The Dudley Manlove Quartet will take the stage at the Triple Door in Seattle for a fun night of music. I’ve been going back to listen to some of our songs to make adjustments to my guitar arrangements, especially where I’m covering two simultaneous parts. It’s an interesting process of deconstruction to take multiple parts and attempt to coalesce them into something that a single guitarist could perform.

In Jumbalassy, I experimented with covering multiple guitar parts by using a digital delay. In reggae songs there are usually a few separate distinctive parts:

  • The “skank”, a partially muted chord occurring on 2 and 4 in the measure
  • A rhythmic line providing interplay

These occur at the same time so there wasn’t a practical means of simultaneously recreating that effect as a lone guitarist. My solution involved a hall of mirrors: I’d tap the tempo into the delay using quarter-notes and set the delay for a whole note so it would take a full measure and repeat it once, remaining locked to the tempo of the song. Then it was just a matter of switching between the parts each measure… I’d play the skank one measure, then let the delay repeat it while I played the rhythmic picking part, then switch back the the skank while the other part repeated. It actually worked pretty well as long as the song didn’t have very complex chord changes.¬†

In DMQ I can’t get away with that kind of approach because the songs have complex arrangements and the guitar parts have significantly different timbres. It means my approach to layering the sounds has to be more of a compromise between the two parts, and sometimes requires a little technical trickery… one of my Stratocasters has a factory-installed Roland hexaphonic synth pickup system. I use it to drive a guitar synthesizer but one of the sneaky side-benefits of that system is that I can map different sounds to specific strings or zones on the fretboard. Again, it requires a careful arrangement of the parts to ensure I’m triggering the appropriate sounds.

The most challenging approach to this is in playing Warr Guitar, where my hands are independently performing on their own sides of the fretboard. It’s much harder for me to play this way. It might be due the fact that I never played piano with much facility, and I believe that type of hand independence would translate nicely to Warr Guitar. It takes me a bit of time to work out my parts on this instrument, but it’s very rewarding and fun. I’ve been considering using this instrument in the Dudley Manlove Quartet when we perform Depeche Mode songs; since I can independently route the signal paths for the two sides of the ¬†instrument I could double the bass line and trigger a synth line at the same time.

In an upcoming post I’ll detail some of the songs that will involve a split-brain approach and discuss my approach to performing them.

Leave a Reply