“A Chipmunk’s Interpretation of Space” by Ian Bouras

Ian Bouras’ latest release, a live DVD collection curiously entitled A Chipmunk’s Interpretation of Space, rates among Bouras’ most compelling outing yet. The New York City based guitarist creates soundscapes for the ear and mind via the technique of “looping” his playing. The technique, for the uninitiated, isn’t difficult to fathom – Bouras records a musical passage using a pedal that repeatedly plays it back in a loop. He can then overdub new passages over the initial loop as well as changing the tempo or direction. It often has a quasi-ambient effect in Bouras’ hands, but Bouras has a distinctive musical vision allowing him to construct idiosyncratic melodic patterns and tapestries of sound using this technique. This collection isn’t his first foray into the technique, so he has an established style those familiar with him will enjoy hearing once again, and newcomers should open the minds as well as their ears. This isn’t just a gimmick – Bouras creates memorable and rewarding music with this method.

Let’s establish this from the first – I am a fan of instrumental music. Music with lyrics is a relatively new phenomenon in the grand artistic scheme of things and has assumed primacy in the entertainment world thanks to the popularization of the form over the last two centuries. Before that, songs with words fell under the purview of court jesters or traveling minstrels – surely not the stuff of serious musical artists. Bouras’ music doesn’t require a singer. Part One of this work “sings” with such understated melodicism that you won’t bemoan the absence of a vocalist. It invokes mood through a steady build of notes rather than rushing the composition. Bouras exercises almost Zen-like patience weaving his tapestry of sound and always allows the music ample room to breathe.

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Part 3 continues accentuating the melodic virtues of Bouras’ music while also stressing its atmospheric qualities. The glass wind chimes dangling from the headstock of Bouras’ guitar throughout A Chipmunk’s Interpretation of Space exert more of an effect on this part of the release than earlier parts, but they remain unobtrusive. The wind chimes, however, compel Bouras to be a little more physically engaged with the performance to achieve their desired effect. It is one of the shorter pieces on the release but no less effective.

Bouras uses his guitar in a percussive way beginning Part 5 of DVD that establishes a strong rhythmic template for his extemporizations. This is an element missing from the earlier parts and its inclusion here, near the end of the release, gives A Chipmunk’s Interpretation of Space a much different flavor without veering away from the spirit common to everything Bouras touches. It is carefully orchestrated, however – like everything else, Bouras doesn’t allow this added element to overpower the other ingredients in his musical stew. Part 6 provides a meditative close to the release and marks a visual full circle returning viewers to the setting for part 1. It, likewise, recalls the melodic attributes that distinguished the opener without ever smacking of repetition. Ian Bouras’ latest release may not come in “typical” packaging, but that is just as well – nothing this musician does smacks of the typical. Long may he continue to play and create with such an adventurous and indefatigable spirit.

Clay Burton