BRUCE EISENBEIL IS A BIG APPLE-BASED
guitarist who began playing when he was four,
and had already delved deeply into the music
of John Coltrane by his early teens. After studying
with master guitarists such as Harry Leahy,
Eisenbeil spent a few years at the Musicians
Institute in Hollywood before returning to the
East Coast to study with Coltrane’s former
teacher, Dennis Sandole. “He made me realize
that there was an evolution of conceptual
development in jazz, and music in general,
which was a real turning point for me,” says
Eisenbeil. “I went from participating in the
current mainstream of jazz, to composing original
music and developing my own
That voice speaks multiple dialects, and has
allowed Eisenbeil to play with some of the most
forward-thinking musicians on the planet,
including Cecil Taylor, Evan Parker, Milford
Graves, Wolfgang Fuchs, Andrew Cyrille, and
Hill Greene. Typically wielding a Fender Strat,
Eisenbeil is as adept at subtly manipulating
tonal and textural nuance from a single note
as he is firing off fusillades of polyphonic and
polyrhythmic fury—be it within free jazz
improvisations or heady compositions requiring
multidimensional maps to navigate.
An example of the latter is Eisenbeil’s 2007
opus, Inner Constellation Volume One, an extraordinarily
complex work for six instruments that
draws inspiration from advanced contemporary
classical and jazz concepts. More recent
projects include Solar Forge [ESP] by Totem (“a
noise rock free improvisation trio that ventures
from walls of sound to exploring microscopic
sound worlds”), Home Again [Konnex] with the
Dave Fox Group, and Shadow Machine [Pogus]
with analog synthesizer pioneer Tom Hamilton.
Currently, Eisenbeil is completing
volumes two and three of Inner Constellation,
as well as a collection of “beautiful” songs
unlike any he’s released before.
Step us through the creative process for Inner
Constellation, including the way you used Finale.
I wanted to write an orchestral piece, but
it seemed much more practical to write something
that I could get performed and recorded
in a realistic timeframe, and participate with.
Cecil Taylor had released several sextet recordings
during the late ’70s—with bass, drums,
saxophone, trumpet, violin, and his piano—
and I wondered if I could do something
similar, substituting guitar for the piano. That
way, the instrumentation would still function
as sort of a mini-orchestra—with
woodwinds, horns, strings, and percussion.
I used Finale while experimenting with
compositional concepts, because there are a
lot of different tempos and meters going on
simultaneously within the piece, and being
able to hear the individual parts playing
together using General MIDI instruments
saved a lot of time while I was figuring out
what worked and what didn’t. Then, once the
piece was complete, I was able to print out
individual scores for each specific instrument,
in addition to giving each musician an audio
recording of the MIDI simulation, so they
could hear how all six parts sounded together.
Talk a little bit about the conceptual basis of
By way of reference, Coltrane’s “Naima”
uses a lot of chords derived from an Ab major
bebop scale—an eight-note scale spelled
Ab, Bb, C, Db, Eb, E, F, G, Ab. [A “bebop scale”
adds a chromatic passing tone to a traditional
seven-note scale to make it
rhythmically symmetrical. See “Bebop Scales:
Not Just For Bebop” in the March 2009 issue
of Bass Player for more information]. What
I chose to do with Inner Constellation was to
use that sound, but connect that scale with
a G major bebop scale, so that you have a
scale that extends two octaves before it
repeats, with the two scales connected by a
minor 9th. So, placing the G major scale first,
you’re going to have G, A, B, C, D, D#, E, F#,
and then it goes to Ab, and continues with
the Ab major bebop scale, before connecting
again with the G major bebop scale. Then, if
you create a fretboard diagram with the notes
of the two scales in different colors—G major
in black and Ab major in red—you’ll see how
they lay on the guitar, and you can come up
with completely original chords, and all kinds
of themes that are within those octaves
That’s how you derived the harmony for the
Yes. This two-octave scale, repeated four
times, becomes eight octaves—and this is
what I call the Grand Spatial Set. The Grand
Spatial Set will be as wide as the ranges of
all the instruments used in a particular composition,
so with Inner Constellation, you are
dealing with nearly an eight-octave range,
between the lowest bass note and the highest
violin note. Every instrument has it’s
own range, so I asked the musicians what
the natural range of their instrument was—
and where it could really go if they stretched
it using advanced techniques—and I wrote
music for them in those ranges. So, each
instrument gets its own Spatial Set, which
is a 12-note scale encompassing the range
of the specific instrument. Each Spatial Set
is extracted from the Grand Spatial Set.
What is a Tone Field?
Within a Grand Spatial Set there will be
smaller harmonic devices—for example,
exotic five- or six-note scales—embedded
within the larger scale almost like strands
of DNA, which can be used to improvise
with or develop themes from. I refer to those
subsets of the scale as a Tone Field.
Explain the concept of “counterpoint based
Instead of dealing with traditional counterpoint—
for example, parallel motion—you
can compose music for each instrument
based on its particular range within, say, a
Grand Spatial Set. The instruments have
their own horizontal dimension, just
through the line that they are playing—but
the multiple-octave space that’s between
those instruments provides the vertical
aspect of the counterpoint, and that may be
visualized as layers or strata, much like the
layers of stratification you would see in the
Grand Canyon. Counterpoint based on that
concept helps maintain a clear delineation
between the instruments, so that they don’t
get in each other’s way. The resulting musical
texture is a composite of separate
contrasting layers of expressions, harmonies,
rhythms, and tone colors.
Switching to Shadow Machine, was there an
overall compositional concept at work in the pieces
on that album?
Everything on that record was completely
improvised. What you hear is what
was played, and there were no punch-ins
The music reminds me of the music of early
tape and electronic composers, such as Schaeffer
and Stockhausen. What, if any, affinity do you
feel to those composers.
Stockhausen was a major force. He was
the kind of person that restructures a given
musical vocabulary and comes up with something
completely original, and that’s the kind
of force that motivates and inspires me. Two
examples within the jazz tradition would be
Cecil Taylor and Ornette Coleman—but Jimi
Hendrix did a similar thing coming out of a
rhythm and blues tradition. I think he’s one
of the greatest innovators in modern music,
and I can’t imagine a single genre that hasn’t
benefited from his work. He was a great guitar
player, but it was also his sound, man.
He’s probably my biggest influence as a
Are you playing through a Leslie on “Home
Again, For Now” from the Home Again album?
Yes, and the sound was a great inspiration.
That Leslie had been in a church for
about 30 years and it was in amazing working
What techniques did you use to produce those
really fast lines?
One technique that I like is a kind of fast
tremolo, which Django used a lot, and that
may be what you are referring to. I also play
mandolin, and several years ago I discovered
that by using that fast tremolo technique—
not just on single-note lines, but also on
chords—I could really move things around
through the range of the guitar.
You have quite a bit of gear listed on your site.
What are your principal instruments, amps, and
pedals, or do you use all those things regularly?
I play in about ten different bands, and I
use different gear with each one. My primary
guitar is a Fender Custom Shop 1958 Stratocaster
reissue made in 1997. I’ve played
that guitar on all the records I’ve done up to
this point, though I also played a Gibson L5
on the last three tracks of Inner Constellation.
In one band I play a Gibson ’59 Les Paul
Standard Historic reissue, there’s a ’63 Silvertone
that I use for slide, and I’ve got
several other Stratocasters that are set up
for playing different sorts of music. My
acoustics include a gorgeous Martin OM-28
Marquis, and an old Ibanez C300 that I use
for more avant-garde stuff.
For amps, I typically use a Fender ’65
Deluxe Reverb reissue and a Mesa/Boogie
Mark IV in a stereo configuration. I plug into
Analog Man Sun Face fuzz and Sun Lion
fuzz/boost pedals, routed to a stereo Ernie
Ball volume/pan pedal, which feeds the two
amps. I’ve also got a few Fulltone pedals
that I use fairly regularly, and an Electro-
Harmonix 16-Second Digital Delay that I use
with one band.
What strings and picks do you prefer?
I use a hybrid set—gauges .013, .015,
.021, .032, .042, and .052—with an unwound
G. And I use whatever brand is available. I
play with the red Dunlop Jazz III picks.
Do you ever use your right-hand fingers when
Sometimes when I’m playing with a slide
I’ll use my fingers to get that particular
sound, but I don’t tap with my right-hand
or anything like that. I prefer the sound and
attack of a pick, because it provides a propulsive,
Do you employ any open or alternate tunings?
I have explored a variety of tunings, but
I don’t recall any of them offhand. I did
use some alternate tunings on an acoustic
guitar when I recorded an album called Keep
the Meter Running with bassist Tony Wren and
percussionist Stephen Flinn.
Do you ever use “prepared” guitar?
No. For me the guitar doesn’t need to
be prepared because it’s already a thing
of beauty. I’m the one that has to be prepared,
because the instrument just kicks