Quote of the Week: Les Paul (1915 – 2009)

Perfect sound, forever:

    “You could go out and eat and come back and the note would still be sounding.”

That’s Les Paul recounting his creation, around 1940 or 1941, of the solid-body electric guitar, as described in an obituary by Jon Pareles (nytimes.com).

I had the opportunity to interview Les Paul twice, the second time for The Ukulele Occasional, a precursor the magazine Fretboard Journal. During the course of that interview, Paul asked me if I played an instrument, and I said, “No, just a CD player,” and that I was especially interested in “electronic music, music made mostly with technology and computers.”

And he replied, “Boy, that’s down my alley.”

I asked, “I was wondering, in the move you made from recording on acetate to recording on tape, have you experimented with computers as well?”

He replied, “Ah, no, I didn’t go into the computer world at all. I said, if I go there, I’m never going to get my work done. For history, I should write a book about each one of the things I’ve done — a bio, another would be about the technical aspects of recording, the pitfalls of it, the great things you can do with it, many of the secrets, the correct way, the best way. For instance, if I were dealing with multi-track recording, no matter, it can be digital, analog, it can be tubes, it doesn’t matter; what does matter is how many knobs you’ve got to play with and how good you get the job done.”

The first interview I did with Les Paul was for epulse, the Tower Records ezine that I’d founded in 1994, when I was an editor at Tower’s Pulse! magazine. I initiated the interview after catching one of Paul’s weekly, Monday-night shows in Manhattan. During both interviews, the epulse one and the Ukulele Occasional one, I had a specific hope in mind, that somewhere in Paul’s vast recorded catalog of experiments, there was music that might itself be considered experimental — the sort of pure play with sound that is, generally speaking, the subject of this website. Both times, I hit a wall in that regard, because in conversation Les Paul made it clear that his experiments in sound, from the solid-body electric guitar to the multi-track recorder and on, were intended to serve the song.

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