Article by Jim Reilly,

Kamloops, Aug. 29, 2004

"I like to get lost in my instrument..."

—Emmett Chapman, from Hands Across The Board
Great music stands the test of time. Great performances are timeless. Hands Across The Board, Emmett's solo video from 1987, stands up on both counts.

This 35-minute video takes us on a ride through two of Emmett's original compositions and four standards, interspersed with interview clips. Everything was performed and recorded live in studio, except for the last tune, All The Things You Are, which shows Emmett in performance at the Soundboard Guitar Concert.

The two original tunes, Backyard and Parallel Galaxy explore Emmett's engaging yet challenging sense of harmony, melody and rhythm. "I structured (Backyard) around familiar 'down home' chord changes," wrote Emmett. "These are gradually stretched out along the circle of fourths to include neighboring chords, then stretched out further to tie in more remote chords." Backyard was also the first song where Emmett crystallized his interwoven ten-fingered "FingerSticking" technique.

Emmett discussed the musical implications of his discovery and plays "Spain"

Emmett performs his composition "Parallel Galaxy"

Parallel Galaxy, one of Emmett's signature tunes, is based on his "Offset Modal Theory." "Although the theme is simple," he writes, "the musical discoveries are far-reaching and codify into one twelve-spoked system of chords and scales that have been used more or less intuitively by classical and jazz composers."

It may sound like heady stuff but the results please the casual listener while rewarding those who listen a little deeper.

The themes in the standards — "Brazil", "Somewhere", "Spain" and "All The Things You Are" — are clearly stated, then Emmett's improvisations on the standard chord changes and innovative chord substitutions quickly take off. The polyphony, counterpoint and polychordal harmony that The Stick was made to explore seem to fall effortlessly under his fingers.

All the techniques and sub-techniques unique to Emmett's two-handed tapping method are there with plenty of close-ups on his hands so you can really see what's going on. These all come together on the Latin tune "Spain", by Joaquin Rodrigo. The fiery, intense left hand motors meet equally fiery yet melodic lead lines. The song keeps building, aided by selected sustained notes triggered via MIDI from a Yamaha TX7, until it all decrescendos into a soothing, relaxing bridge only to take off again with full Latin gusto.

Between every couple of songs, Emmett takes a break and provides insight into the history of The Stick, his tapping method and explains where some of his musical ideas come from. A rare glimpse into the creative musical process.

While the graphics and the wardrobe may look a little dated, the sounds and musical ideas Emmett conjures from his 10-string injection-molded polycarbonate Stick cannot be dated. The natural sound of The Stick is at the fore. The five melody strings trigger the TX7 (a rack mounted version of the DX7, the first velocity sensitive synthesizer), which Emmett fades in and out using his Patch of Shades pressure sensitive footpad. The result is an almost acoustic sound with an orchestral accompaniment.

Throughout the video Emmett is firing on all cylinders. All the tunes, not just the closing one from the Soundboard Concert, were first takes. "Yes the studio time was expensive," says Emmett. "But the real reason why everything was a single take was because my chops were in top form. I could forget about all the techniques and just fly."

Hands Across The Board is an early document of Emmett's music, his method and The Stick but it's much more. Very simply, it shows a great musician in peak form, creating music that is still every bit as fresh, exciting and entertaining now as it was back in 1987.

Jim Reilly
Kamloops, Aug. 29, 2004