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That 1 Guy

Magic fingers

by James M. Manheim

From the February, 2017 issue

That 1 Guy--Mike Silverman of Las Vegas--is a one-man band. He plays the Magic Pipe, a homemade instrument that he describes as a monstrosity of metal, strings, and electronics. It's shaped something like a harp, with two long lengths of aluminum pipe connected by bronze joints and each strung with a single string. That setup all by itself allows a great variety of attacks. The pipe can furnish percussion. A string in the hands of Silverman, a classically trained double bassist, produces a decent funk bass line; it may also be bowed, as in his otherworldly version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."

The Magic Pipe is also wired at various points to electronics. Striking the strings generates feedback and other electronic sounds. Tapping the pipes and joints triggers samples and rhythmic loops. There's also an acoustic drum next to the Magic Pipe, which may be augmented in performance by the Magic Saw (also either bowed or played percussively and connected to the electronics), the Magic Boot (a wired cowboy boot), or the Magic Duck (an unpredictable sock puppet).

It's quite a setup, and Silverman's original songwriting is equally mind-expanding. He has a gonzo sensibility influenced, according to his own testimony, by Frank Zappa. The most popular That 1 Guy number is called "Buttmachine" ("just 'cause it's cracked doesn't mean that it's broke"), and he sings about a pleasing variety of topics from the moon ("the moon is disgusting, it's made of cheese") to mustaches to weasel pot pie.

Silverman's music is a fascinating mixture of jury-rigged and high-tech, integrating physical and electronic live music making in a way that few others have accomplished. Some electronic musicians twiddle dials, others manipulate keyboards. But That 1 Guy has no keyboard, and for the most part you don't realize where the electronics are coming from: he's making the sounds with his own rhythmic movements, having built his musical device to his own needs and used his skills as a trained player to master it. He makes electronics serve his music rather than kowtowing at their altar.

That 1 Guy has a cult following that crosses genres, attracting devotees of rock, electronic music, do-it-yourself folk (Silverman built the Magic Pipe after commissioning it proved prohibitively expensive), funk, jazz, and musical experimentalism. He brings his act to the Blind Pig on Friday, February 3.     (end of article)

[Originally published in February, 2017.]


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