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Perfect Palette: MathGames, November 27 at RIBCO PDF Print E-mail
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Saturday, 20 November 2010 10:54

Fareed Haque

The Moog guitar looks like a standard electric guitar.

But Fareed Haque knows from unpleasant experience that its innards are anything but standard.

“There’s an incredible amount of technology inside that instrument,” Haque said in a phone interview last week. “I was flying with the instrument, and ... I feel that airline security ... looked at my name – Fareed Haque – and looked at the guitar.” He paused here, letting the implication settle. “I don’t know they took it apart, but I know that when I got it, it wasn’t all put back together. Which presented great difficulties for our performance that evening. It looked okay, and I sat down to play it, and all the guts just kind of fell out on stage.”

He related this story with good humor, in part because it’s understandable that transportation-security officials would be suspicious of the outwardly benign guitar with the unusual stuff inside.

Haque will be demonstrating that inner weirdness of the Moog guitar on November 27 at RIBCO, when he performs with his new trio MathGames, which also features drummer Greg Fundis and bassist Alex Austin.

“It’s the first time that I’ve assembled musicians who are serious jazz musicians and who really have a love for modern music and electronica,” Haque said. “I love electronic music and I love jazz, and I’ve always felt that people who played electronic music didn’t really have a handle on the jazz language, even though they’re always hinting at hip chords and hip ideas, and jazz musicians tend to be so into playing that the electronic stuff becomes kind of a side note to the music. We’re actually composing music that is electronic at its root, but that has harmony, that has changes, that has improvisation involved.”

Haque is a decorated guitarist trained in jazz and classical music, and he’s a founding member of the jam band Garaj Mahal, whose 2009 album Discovery featured the Moog guitar. He’ll be leaving that group at the end of the year, in part to focus on a new straight-jazz-trio record he’s cutting with drummer Billy Hart and bassist George Mraz.

But Haque also said the Moog guitar requires his attention. “I think I was the first one to actually embrace the thing, to give it a genuine commitment,” he said. “Many musicians have purchased a Moog guitar and maybe play a song on it in a set.” But “the Moog guitar demanded that you write music specifically for it, because it’s such a unique instrument.”

Haque convincingly argues that the Moog guitar is fundamentally and radically different from the guitars that people have been playing for centuries. Some of that is its “very organic, beautiful electronic sound,” Haque said.

But it’s more than that. In Moog-guitar videos on the Web site, Lou Reed says, “Nothing else you could do this on.” Kaki King freaks out when playing it, calling it “a more active way of playing.”

Haque said that when he first picked up the instrument roughly two years ago, “it just sounded like a guitar. And then as I got more and more into it and began writing music, it began sounding less and less like a guitar and more and more like somewhere in between a guitar, a keyboard, and a violin. And as I got more and more into it, it began sounding like a DJ. It began having its own things. A lot of that is subtle stuff your hands start to do without even realizing it. And that’s one of the reasons I’m so committed to the instrument. You need to embrace it fully to be able to develop your own human interface with the instrument.”

There are four key features of the Moog guitar, but the biggest (and easiest to explain) is infinite sustain; a note doesn’t “die” when played. “Nigel Tufnel of Spinal Tap would be very jealous,” Haque said. “If I set it on a guitar stand, it’ll just start sustaining. Literally.”

The instrument also allows the player to mute strings, create harmonic blends, and use on-board Moog filters to change tone. Haque noted that “there are ways to do everything that you can do here with pedals.” The big differences are that the Moog is an analog instrument, and that the hands rather than hardware dictate what comes out.

“An instrument really isn’t about sound any more,” Haque explained, noting that you can use pedals to make a guitar sound like nearly any other instrument. “They’re about control. Control of parameters. ... It’s about how it lets you access those sounds.”

Unlike digital tools, which Haque called “expressively very limited,” the Moog guitar is “under the control of an infinite number of gradations of your fingertips. So when you control these parameters and the sounds with the actual hand, the actual fingertips, then you’re dealing with a real instrument. You’re dealing with something that has as much potential as the human mind and body has.”

The challenge, Haque said, is unlearning traditional guitar techniques. “When you pick up a Moog guitar, the first thing you do is you start playing in the time-honored tradition of hiding the fact that there’s no sustain. ... You have to throw away that bag of tricks ... and start rethinking the possibilities. I can hold a note and I can take the tremolo bar and manipulate that for 20 minutes. ...

“It is a long learning curve, but not a very obvious one,” he said. It involves “deprogramming a lifetime of programming. At the same time, you pick it up, day one, you’re going to sound fine on it. ...

“To bring out its potential, you have to play it not like a guitar. It takes a while for the hands and our motor-control system to get out of the habits. For example, when a note is dying on the guitar, one thing guitarists do is we take our hands away from that note and move to another note. ... You have to stop taking your hands away from the instrument.”

After playing the Moog guitar, Haque said, “I just started hearing music ... that was only possible on that instrument. ... It’s music that’s been in the back of my head for a long time. I’ve made enough unsuccessful attempts to create that music in different ways, and the Moog guitar seems to all of a sudden become the perfect palette for that music.”

MathGames will perform on Saturday, November 27, at RIBCO (1815 Second Avenue in Rock Island). The show starts at 9 p.m., and the bill also includes Jon Eric. Cover is $8.

For more information on Fareed Haque, visit For more information on the Moog guitar, visit

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