Maps and Atlases

Two-handed tapping has been a rock staple for almost three decades, but Maps and Atlases’ guitarists (and post-modernist theory-citing art school grads) Erin Elders and Dave Davison believe their interwoven barrage of textural tapping on Trees, Swallows, Houses [] may have more in common with Van Gogh than Van Halen.

“Our goal was to put existing technical elements in a new context, and create something artistically unique, but still accessible,” explains Elders. “Our songs are structured traditionally, and they can be played with basic chords, but we’ve replaced conventional rhythm strumming with more abstract tapped parts. I’d estimate about 60 percent of our playing on the album is tapping patterns.”

“A few years ago, I visited Spain, and I was captivated by the aesthetics of flamenco guitar,” adds Davison. “Especially the way the players break chords up with syncopated right-hand grooves, and drum their fingernails on the guitar’s face. That motivated me to explore a similar pattern-based approach, but with two-handed tapping. We also use tapping for weird effects, such as sharp, staccato blips that sound almost computer generated.”

On that note, both Elders and Davison say they regularly encounter people at shows who are stupefied to learn the band’s sound isn’t the result of keyboards or digital sampling. In fact, both guitarists use modest rigs, with Davison running his ’52 Gibson ES-125 through a Fender Blues Deville reissue, and Elders plugging a ’61 SG reissue into a Marshall JCM 2000. The key to Maps and Atlases’ topographic “tap-estry” is the careful layering of counterparts.

“On the intro to ‘Everyplace is a House,’ my left hand does a series of eighth-note pull-offs based around a typical open Fma7 chord grip, while my right hand taps complementary notes an octave higher,” says Davison. “Simultaneously, Erin lays down a sextuplet roll lick with two fingers on his left hand, and one on his right.”

“We feel the individual parts aren’t nearly as important as the whole they create,” maintains Elders. “I’d like to think our songs are like a good painting or film. You can see it once, and enjoy it on the surface, but the more time you spend with it, the more the little details start to emerge.”