The Great Kat and Shred-omania
© 2010 The Great Kat
By Gary GomesI have seen many, many (too many) guitarists through the years, and, having taken up the beast after 40 years of playing keyboard (and occasional, inept, acoustic and bass guitars), I started playing guitar a few years ago. My dreams of being Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Coryell , Fripp, Zappa, Holdsworth or McLaughlin are unrealized currently, but I am still reading and practicing and setting my sights on something a bit more achievable (Neil Young? Oh, the horror…).
But guitar technique has grown by leaps and bounds since my formative years. Tommy Bolin, Randy Rhoades, Steve Vai, Malmsteen, Lane, Gilbert and of course Eddie Van Halen laid the groundwork for the development of super technique (folks like Ollie Halsall in the 1970’s were obscure freaks) and over the past thirty years, the numbers of what Zappa called “diddly” guitarists have increased astronomically. The vaunted speed of Alvin Lee and Jimi Hendrix (take it easy--people who consider Hendrix the best aren’t amenable to anyone questioning it) looks like the groundwork now, rather than the peaks, of speed, and many, many guitarists surpass the best of the guitar heroes from the 1960’s and 70’s.
And I don’t take the position I have heard from many folks my age (and others) that this is empty technique. Most of the folks I have seen and heard have an extraordinary command of music theory and musical content has increased. But, these things tend to be tough to listen to for the mass audience, too busy for most radio and too aggressive and testosterone driven for alternative radio in large doses even. These guitar histrionics have been around since at least the 1980’s it must be remembered. Also, these extraordinary guitarists tend to occupy the realms of heavy metal, speed metal, and so forth, and after awhile, the relentless overdrive and fuzz can overwhelm even the most seasoned listener, unless one grew up on it.
Did I mention that guitar slinging is a testosterone-driven thing? Several times, I bet.
Which is why the music of the Great Kat is such an unique, inevitable and astounding accomplishment. The Great Kat is a female, heavy metal shredder of unquestionably advanced technical proficiency and speed on her instruments (she also plays violin at a virtuoso level). She was accepted into Juilliard on a full scholarship and wracked up an impressive series of accomplishments while a student there. She has received a mind-boggling array of notice for her technical proficiency (see http://www.greatkat.com/05/index05.html for a partial listing.) and she has been seen with increasing frequency in a variety of mainstream entertainment media.
The Great Kat is not unique as a female guitarist, or even as a shredder (also see Lori Linstrust), but she is almost universally recognized as being one of the fastest guitarists on the planet from multiple sources. Her technique is impeccable, her skills and fluidity ARE astounding. She also looks pretty vicious, as well, which is a plus and she dresses rather provocatively and can pull It off.
Interestingly, most of her work gravitates around revamping classical pieces, sometimes through MIDI’ed orchestras, sometimes through overdubbing guitars and violins and sometimes by adding real live musicians. To some folks, this would put her in a similar vein to Keith Emerson (not a bad vein, to my mind), except that she 1) plays guitar staggeringly well; 2) she fully credits composers; 3) she has a complete classical education, including arranging, conducting, and 4) she is a female.
However, according to the Great Kat herself, she felt, after she had gone on a world tour after graduating Juilliard, that classical music was dead, and felt a need to rejuvenate it. This was done through transcriptions of classical scores for electric instruments and essentially updating the standard, familiar classical repertoire in part through technology and, in part through arrangement. There were no oddball pieces, such as Dave Edmunds covers in Love Sculpture, or Randy Rhoads exploration of certain 20th century guitar composers like Leo Brouwer. This is Beethoven, Wagner... the pieces most folks know.
Of course, this is the sort of thing that has driven both rock and classical critics crazy since the 1960’s and, because it has driven these people crazy, it is a good thing. Critics (with few exceptions) are really not interested in maintaining the purity of a music (music, like nature, morphs and changes more than we can keep track of) but mostly because most critics loathe innovation, from what I have seen. They seem to want to serve as taste makers within a limited or closed system. With very few exceptions, most critics have not encouraged technological or technical innovation (fashion is a different story, as has been seen from hippies, punk, new wave and grunge) in music. Critics are inherently, aesthetically conservative.
The blood dripping out of her mouth when she plays must also be a bit disconcerting to the uninitiated, but it is extremely entertaining.
The recordings themselves are very good. The Great Kat, among other pieces, performs the opening sequence of Wagner’s “The Ride of the Valkyrie” using her own voice, violins and bumble bee quitars. It is very fascinating, if a bit compressed from too many layers of sound. Other staggering pieces include Paganini, “The Flight of the Bumblebee” and of course, Beethoven’s Fifth.
She is quite staggering to watch and has technique to spare. I don’t agree with all of her positions though. For instance, she disdains a lot of 20th century music, such as Shoenberg, Cage and Glass, which I personally love, and unjustly places Shoenberg into a non-virtuosic category (say what one will about Emerson, he seems to love everything from Bach to Cage). Would she feel similarly about Bartok, for example, or Sorabji, the most complex composer who I ever encountered? I don’t know--I suspect classical music went south for the same reason many others do--it only regards certain forms of the music as valid (as seems to be happening with jazz now)--and sucks all the fun out of the new and established form, in a grand tradition that goes back to Bach’s grandson insisting that his grandfather’s pieces (which were meant for improvisation) were not to be subject to improvisation. But, regardless of whether I agree with her aesthetic sensibilities, she sure has a lot of guts and tenacity. And she isn’t shy about stating her opinions. You have to hear her at least half a dozen times; it is really a startling experience, because, as much as this may sound like hype, she really is one of the best guitarists out there, bar none.
You can encounter the Great Kat at her website (this may be the safest way to meet her): www.greatkat.com
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