When musical traditions meet, handled by people with real mastery of their technique, wonderful things can happen. That can be true of master instrument builders, for one. I got a chance to hear the sounds of the Moog Lap Steel Guitar in June while meeting with the folks from Moog Music. It’s an incredibly-delicious instrument, both in terms of how it’s engineered as a guitar and in bringing the filter from the Moog synth, now itself a tradition.

But more importantly, in the stage that comes after those tools are built, traditions fuse beneath the fingers of master musicians. Chris Stack has been updating CDM regularly on his wonderful Experimental Synth Series, in which he explores musical applications of tools – what you can do when you take these things home and really live with them musically. Here, for CDM, he explains the wonders of “hybrid vigor,” as two master folk/bluegrass musicians take up the sonic possibilities of synthesis. It’s all in the analog domain here, but that’s secondary: anyone working with the techniques of electronic music and electronic experimentation will find inspiration.

And you thought bluegrass and synthesis had nothing to do with one another. Think again. -Ed.

The history of musical instruments and of music itself is a story of the search for ever-greater tools for expression, and of an ever-deepening well of ideas to express. Combining innovations by instrument makers from around the globe (and across decades and centuries) with musicians who take a similar approach to their art is bound to produce music that displays a welcome hybrid vigor.

A prime example of this is Billy Cardine and the Moog Lap Steel. A bluegrass virtuoso who has performed everywhere from Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center to the Ryman Auditorium and Bonnaroo, he also studied in India and will perform at the upcoming Bangalore International Music Fest with chitravina master Ravikiran. [Ed.: the chitravina is an ancient Indian instrument dating back at least two millennia. It’s a fretless string instrument, and can itself be seen as a precursor to slide instruments in places like Hawaii – it’s played in the same way, with a slide. Just dig those 21 strings. -PK

Billy was instrumental (pardon the pun) in the development of the Moog Lap Steel and played a prototype at its debut at Moogfest 2010 (see video, below). Combining the unique expressive qualities of the lap steel with the innovative string control abilities of the Moog Guitar – adding an onboard Moog filter – results in an instrument with incredible expressive potential.

And since there is a CV (control voltage) input for external control of the Moog filter, why not bring some modular synthesis into the mix? Against a backdrop of synth drones and arpeggiations, with a sweep of a pedal the MakeNoise René sequencer can be brought in to modulate the Lap Steel’s filter cutoff frequency. The René has two independent clock inputs. In this video (top), only one of them is synced to MIDI clock, resulting in some nice, subtle glitchyness.

Bring this to life with Billy’s unique style… the results… the expressive vigor of hybrids.

And More Sonic Experimentation – With a Fiddle

In another example of electronic expression in unexpected genres… Casey Driessen, violinist with Bela Fleck, the Sparrow Quartet and others visits the ExperimentalSynth Studio to check out some Moogerfooger effects processors.

Ed.: For a change of pace, I have to also embed here a preview Chris shot for the workshop he was teaching for the Moog Foundation. You get some computers here. And actually, I’m impressed by the sense that, in some sense, it doesn’t matter – this Mac laptop could easily jam with the violin, with the banjo, with the slide guitar… That’s important. Working solo in the dark hours of the night is terrific. But it means you can also play – really play, not just get lost in some chaotic soundscape – with friends from a range of musical traditions. -PK

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