Review: Tom McKinney – TMK

Strange things can happen when composer and performer are split into separate entities. So often, the acoustic guitar can be a sponge for habitual composition; the constant, subconscious application of routine movements and personal technique, carving out identity through the persistent reprise of homely melodic progressions and particular quirks. TMK turns guitarist Tom McKinney into a musical marionette, handing over the strings to three composers – Larry Goves, David Futers and Tom Rose – thus fracturing the one-on-one intimacy between the performer and the instrument he cradles, and founding a unique frame of limitation (taking into account instrument and performer capabilities) in which the composers are free to operate. Like with all Slip Discs releases, there is a delicate balancing act at work. Each composer’s contribution encapsulates both empathy for guitar-playing traditions – this is still the sound of fingers plucking strings, after all – and the act of subtly screwing with expectation, utilising the privilege of being physically distant from the instrument itself and thus immune to the shackles of habit.

I can hear the various compositional personalities coming through the tips of Tom McKinney’s fingers. Larry Goves utilises a sort of stumbling fluidity that shatters on faltered steps, with brief runs of harmonies and pinch harmonics brought to abrupt ends with violent staccato twangs, which cut into silence with the force of a slammed door. David Futers lets McKinney gallop through free-flowing arpeggiations (albeit in off-centre tunings) and then switches into blocks of sudden contrast, challenging the player’s ability to ignore natural consequence and flit between extremes of velocity and tempo. Meanwhile, Tom Rose pulls McKinney’s limbs into the most awkward shapes, with rhythms that ping like elastic bands and sudden glottal stops fracturing the organic movement.

The web of composer-performer interrelation is then rendered even more convoluted. Goves, Futers and Rose each deliver a remix of eachother’s work: strums are overlain into bubbling blankets or amplified into fizzing plosives, or mutated into beautiful bells tones or reformed chopped-up blocks that crackle like a weak radio signal. McKinney is but a blur by this point – a tangle of criss-crossed composer intention, buried beneath birdsong and static and shattered by retrospective manipulation – as the role of composer starts to bleed into that of performer.