“Etudes for Ring Modulator and Delay” C30
(Scioto Records)

Dave Jones – not the Monkee, not the Bowie, but the Caribbean – is a gearhead’s kind of ambient guitarist. Indeed, there’s no point in discussing how the music makes you feel when you’re so clinical in your description. But hey, that’s what I’m here for, isn’t it? Ol’ Dave has been crackin’ that guitar whip for over 25 years (he’s ancient!), and when you’re no longer lean and hungry, you get to sit back and do whatever the heck you want, and  be content with it. And what do I know – Dave might just be the slimmest twig on the tree, still, instead of the enormous fat bastard I’m picturing. (I kid!)

Anyway, an “etude” literally means a “study,” and is intended as a practice exercise. Rudiments, everyone, rudiments! But instead of working over a particularly knotty piano passage, like Chopin, Jones is more interested in discovering the inner workings of his ring modulator and delay pedal, and brings a flange or two along for the ride. And while I’m not sure I like how he spits in the eye of the First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics (“I set my delay to infinite repeat [and almost infinite sustain]” – that’s the sonic equivalent to a perpetual motion machine, right?), the “40-50 layers” of delay (created by letting the delay run for “2-3 hours” for a “gauzy” effect) really allow for an immersive headphone-y experience. “Headphone-y” – see how technical I can be?

Now, before you get all “When’s he going to tell me how this is, for goodness’ sake?” on me, I daresay these seven recordings press all the right buttons. They’re a bit clinical, which is fine if you’re studying them, but you can also get lost in their prettiness too – Jones certainly doesn’t skimp on the euphony around here. The pieces sound otherworldly, and you’d often never guess that a man and a guitar made them. Usually stuff like this reminds me of outer space, making me close my eyes to watch the planetarium show on the underside of my eyelids. But Etudes evokes more the quietness of the upper layers of Earth’s atmosphere, where there’s still vapor and you can see the true curvature of the planet below, and space begin to take shape above. That’s a pretty neat trick. I bet Chopin never inspired anyone to visualize that.

--Ryan Masteller