Daniel Voth's Trancendance Is Echoes March CD of the Month
Written by John Diliberto on February 24, 2017
Ever since Michael Hedges and Stanley Jordan began tapping their guitars, just about every finger-style acoustic player has taken up the technique. While many of them have a lot of chops, most of them forget something about Hedges in particular. He was a great composer as well. Daniel Voth, who was initially inspired to tap after hearing Andy McKee, didn’t forget.
In Voth’s hands, sometimes a guitar doesn’t sound like a guitar, even when it’s from a finger style wizard. The first track of his dynamic new album, Trancendance, actually starts with an ebow vibrating the string as it fades in like a mournful wail or, given that he says the track represents a day from beginning to end, a morning yawn. But there is nothing mournful or boring about that track, a dynamic two-handed tapping whirlwind that creates counter melodies on the strings and rhythms on the body of the guitar.
From that description, you can tell, Trancendance isn’t a straight guitar record. Voth has surrounded himself with lush instrumental backing including strings, pedal steel guitar and voice. And that’s just the second track, “Absent.” Voth uses backwards processing, the ebow and other effects to enhance his guitar playing. And when that isn’t enough there are sample and hold synthesizer effects, guttural vocal distortions on “Pie Circus (Alien Dinner Guests)” and on “Nova” the voice of the late-astronomer, Carl Sagan.
But it’s tracks like “Brazil” that really highlight Voth’s playing and conception. It starts as a raging two-handed tapper and then delays slip in, and with overlapping lines and distortion you’re suddenly in a different acoustic space.
The bulk of the album is taken up by a seven-part suite called “TSOTU” or “The Soundtrack of the Universe” which he had released on a previous CD of that name. It begins in a dynamic, “Game of Thrones” mood with swooning synth strings and guitar struck punctuations over pounding electronically distorted percussion. The cinematic approach continues throughout the suite with classical strings and heavy percussion, often just from Voth’s guitar. Through it all, Voth builds melodies one on top of the other, sometimes in a maze of delays like he does on the furiously tapped title track. The “Red Shift” movement spins you into a stratospheric free fall, finally ending with a sweeping string quartet.
The compositional aspect of Trancendance is made clear on the albums prettiest track from the TSOTU suite, “Staring at the Sun” which would have been the perfect, sweet ender, a song of affirmation and hope. But he goes on, concluding with the slowly evolving “Zenith” which has a phantom track of cycling electronic sequences. At least they sound that way, but judging from the rest of this record, that could be guitar as
In many ways, this Trancendance is an acoustic guitar album for progressive rockers, with its sonic explorations, rhythmic shifts and dramatic melodic themes. And Voth did play in a progressive metal band in his not distant youth. I have never heard of Voth before, even though he apparently has nine previous albums out, but I can’t imagine a better place to start than Trancendance.