Last month GotMusic Records released a DVD produced by jazz guitarist Doug Munro entitled Doug Munro’s Loop-Mania! The core of this production consists of six original compositions by Munro, all “solo” performances in which he provides his own accompaniment through the use of real-time sampling technology. However, that fills only about half an hour of the video content. The remainder can be found in a section entitled “Nuts and Bolts,” which amounts to a rather exhaustive how-he-does-it account for each of the six performances. Finally, in the tradition of Billy Mays’ and-that’s-not-all pitch, the disc includes downloadable files in both MP3 for the music and PDF for the individual songs. (Munro probably appreciates the Mays connection, since the cover of the package sports that famous “As Seen on TV” motto.)
The good news is that this is an excellent opportunity to watch Munro at work. In this respect I refer particularly to those 30 minutes of performances, perhaps even more so than the wealth of background material. I have written in the past about how, even when there is only a single performer, observing the ways in which that player engages with his/her instrument can broaden the scope of the act of listening. Regardless of the many ways in which he can create and coordinate sampled background loops, what matters most is the agility of Munro’s finger-work; and seeing the execution of that technique at a rapid tempo makes the listening experience all the more impressive. Indeed, in many respects that visual element overrides even the musical content, since, by the time the listener gets to the sixth song, it is hard not to be aware that there is a stylistic sameness of all of his material.
Since I have never even tried to play guitar, I am not in a position to assess fairly the instructional portion of this package. I can say that I found the delivery of the introductory material for both the entire video and the “Nuts and Bolts” section a bit too rambling. Munro may have been aiming for a casual style, but a more direct approach to presentation would have gone a long way. Also, video production seems to have involved his sitting in front of a fixed camera, which Munro himself may well have positioned. In the interest of allowing the viewer to see the two banks of control switches at his feet, the top of his head was clipped in a somewhat annoying manner.
There also appears to be at least one overall production flaw. After listening to the first song, I realized that there was a “Play All” selection off to the side of the full track listing. I fired it up; and, after the first song started (again), I skipped to the next one. At the end of that song I was taken back to the main menu. Apparently, the overall interface design of this package is not quite what it was cracked up to be.
The songs also appear to be performed in front of a fixed camera; but in this case the overall image is far more satisfying, making it all the easier for the viewer to pay as much attention to the visuals as to the audio track.