Outside of college orchestra concerts, two symphony performances, and some friends’ piano recitals, I’ve only attended two concerts with purely instrumental sets. Both, turns out, were of guitarist extraordinaire Trace Bundy (aka, the acoustic ninja). I first heard about Trace when I stumbled upon one of his shows in college; he was playing at a local coffee shop one Friday evening, and I was fortunate enough to catch the last half of his set. I saw him perform again last weekend at a bar in Charlotte, nearly five years later. My brother can tell you that he has been the newsweethottness for sometime (“Patanga” and “Porch Swing” in particular), but this show confirmed that he continues to maintain his sohotrightnow status.
Watching Trace play guitar was mesmerizing. I struggled to keep up with his pace; there was a disconnect — it scarcely made sense that such incredible noises and sounds were coming from a piece of wood with strings attached to it. Trace, a former Professor at UC-Boulder’s school of Engineering, takes a calculated mathematical approach to his music. He spoke to the audience about alternating speaker delays and “eighth-note dots” (?) and various other musical/mathematical meldings of which I know nothing about. He uses a complex layerings via a looping device that produces an intricate final product. His skillful arrangement of isolated beats, riffs and the like as though they were pieces of a puzzle was reminiscent of Girl Talk weaving one hundred diverse song samples into one giant tapestry.
Trace challenged himself in an unassuming way — a way that did not suggest a desire to show off so much as the satisfaction of accomplishing success within difficult constraints. For example, Bundy experimented within the palindromic realm; he played a short riff in reverse, recorded it on his loop, replayed that backwards (which now, is forwards), and bookended the backwards-now-forwards tune with the original forwards version. He did a similar thing with a Birthday medley dedicated to an audience member. He played the traditional ‘Happy Birthday’ song backwards; no one recognized it. He looped it, and played it in reverse. Sure enough, a joyful, lively version of “Happy Birthday” played out. These constraints made me think of the Oulipo movement — the French literary group led by the likes of Italo Calvino and Latis who would write within specific limitations (e.g., palindromes, lipograms, univocalism, writing a novel where the letter ‘e’ is not used once).
His set was prolific, ranging from original works, to Eminem, to Pachelbel, to a harrowing rendition of “Where the Streets Have No Name.” Trace’s stage presence — his humor (slight sarcasm underscored with gentle self-deprecation), sheer enjoyment of playing, and sincerity — made his show all the more enjoyable. He wasn’t just impressive, he was fun. There’s a reason his YouTube videos have gotten millions of views.
He’s still on tour — Memphis and Nashville folks, look for it.