Michael Bianco from January 2001by: Wanda de Liefde
I remember sitting at Alligator Alley, in Sunrise Florida, watching one act after another take the stage. Nothing moved me. I sat there for quite a while having a drink and pleasant conversation. Suddenly from the stage closest to where I was sitting, beautiful sounds erupted. The man behind the sounds Michael Bianco known for playing two guitars simultaneously and also known for playing that unusual instrument called the stick.
Wanda: Tell me what inspired you to play two instruments at the same time?
Michael: Back in the early days of playing at the Now Art Café, in Hollywood, I was doing a lot of experimenting. That's when I put up a second guitar. It never left the Café for five years.
Wanda: Can you briefly describe the technique that is involved when playing two guitars?
Michael: The technique involves tapping the strings against the freeboard of the guitar (or both guitars). Different degrees of sustain can be achieved by how long the fingers are pressed against the strings.
Wanda: How do you create all the additional sounds that accompany your performance?
Michael: Lots of guitar effects (no synths yet). All the music is basically in real time, with nothing prerecorded except drums and percussion.
Wanda: Tell me about the stick. What exactly is a stick? How does it work?
Michael: The stick was invented by Emmett Chapman in 1972. It was designed specifically for the tapping technique. Mine has ten strings (5 bass and 5 melody). Unlike the guitar, the lowest string on the stick is in the middle so it takes a little getting used to in the beginning.
Wanda: Playing two guitars simultaneously and playing the stick, are these things you enjoy doing to entertain an audience or is there a little part of you that is the type of person that enjoys a challenge?
Michael: For me it is more for the challenge. There is still a lot of "unexplored" guitar territory out there, and the tapping technique is just one of the many roads one can take.
Wanda: When you started to play two guitars and the stick, was there anybody "out there" you could emulate?
Michael: In LA around 1985 I saw Stanley Jordan doing a rare performance using two guitars. Back then I had no vision of ever doing that myself. By the time I started to do it there was no one to emulate; however, there were a lot of stick players out there to be seen and heard, especially via the Internet. I like Bob Culbertson (world class stick player from San Jose, CA) a lot. He has been a major stick influence for me.
Wanda: How do people react when they first see you?
Michael: That depends on the audience. Most people have never seen a stick performance. The most common reaction is "did you make that yourself/"
Wanda: I know you do many local performances, where do these usually take place?
Michael: I have been staying fairly local lately. I post all my gigs on my web site (www.michaelbianco.com). I never really went on tour per se, but my favorite opening act was with Tuck and Patty a few years back.
Wanda: How did you ever get in touch with Jeff Beck?
Michael: That was through Jennifer Batten, actually. She has been on tour with him for a while, and for anyone who has never heard her play, "wow!" You can check her out at www.batten.com.
Wanda: That must have been a dream come true. Did Jeff Beck have an impact on your style?
Michael: Jeff Beck was definitely a major influence on my playing back in the beginning and still every time I see him perform live. He is still as incredible as ever.
Wanda: What about the other celebrities you performed with. Have they inspired you?
Michael: I have always been a fan of Steve Vai and got to play for him (not with him) a while back. His technique and use of effects are pretty amazing. I have also played with his current bass player, Philip Bynoe.
Wanda: I understand that you have released a few CDs? What are they called and how would you define the music they reveal?
Michael: My first release was "Virtual Reality" (solo 7 string guitar), which is no longer available. My second self-titled "Bianco" is a live performance using two guitars. It is more New Age. I also have a Christmas album available, which is played entirely on the Chapman Stick. For those who like "recognizable melodies" I just released a CD full of classics ranging from Beethoven to Mr. Bojangles.
Wanda: Where can we get a copy of them?
Michael: All my CDs are available at gigs or www.michaelbianco.com.
Wanda: Are you currently working on any new releases?
Michael: I am working on something that really is different from all my other CDs. It is going to be more of a techno/ambient sort of thing.
Wanda: In your experience, what do you feel grabs the initial attention of the audience; your act, the music itself or do you feel it is a combination of both?
Michael: It really takes a lot to impress today's audiences with all the diversity out there. I think it is a combination of both. An act is just what it says, it is an act. I try to make the music as real as possible. I think keeping a good balance between the two helps to achieve that total package.
Wanda: You have performed locally, released your own CDs. Where does Michael Bianco go from here? Will he learn to play yet another demanding instrument? Will he pursue a record deal? Which direction would you like your career to take?
Michael: I don't think there are any record "deals" anymore. I am not talking about the teen idol thing. Times have changed. I think the Internet is a big part of that change. Musicians can now really put their stuff "out there" without a record deal. As far as what I will be doing in the future? I hope to continue sharing my music with as many people as possible and to complete my instructional book and video.
Best New Age Artist
In 1988, the guitarist Michael Bianco found a copy of the seven-string Ibanez guitar designed by Steve Vai. The extra string (a low B for the curious) adds a depth and texture to his sound that isnt duplicated elsewhere in these parts. Bianco combines finger-tapping, hammer-ons and hammer-offs, and a touch of slap bass (plus a few electronic sound effects, most noticeably delay and reverb) to create the sound the New Age crowd needs to survive. He tosses a bit of Hendrix and a bit of Thelonius Monk to keep the sound interesting. The Boston native spent a few years on New Orleans Bourbon Street before moving to South Florida seven years ago.
If you think Stanley Jordan is the coolest thing in guitarists since sliced bread, rush out and buy this album. Like Jordan, South Florida based Michael Bianco utilizes the two-handed tapping technique, enabling him to play impossibly complex figures and lines. However Bianco avoids the problem Jordan had with his early work, in that he doesnt hesitate to use effects to change the texture of the guitar sound. Theres also evidence here of more creativity and musical inventiveness in the songwriting than we saw with Jordan.
According to the liner notes, the album was recorded with no overdubs, so what you hear is what you get .If thats true, musicians-and especially guitarists-will laud Bianco with critical raves for years to come.
By: Robert Archer
Jam Indies Reviews
Michael Bianco is a local guitar legend and rightly so. His self-released CD simply entitled Bianco is nothing short of spectacular, to say the least.
His guitar playing is mesmerizing and hypnotic. It takes you to other worlds beyond our daily realm.
These instrumental tunes are masterpieces that not only exhibit his prowess and advanced musical skills, but also demonstrate his keen ability and talent at songwriting.
He makes the music flow forth as if from a magical fountain with such inspiring songs like "First Flight," "Mystic Journey," "Rain Forest" and "Windsong."
This CD will delight the musician as well as the average music lover. But live he demonstrates his amazing abilities even more by playing a 7 string Ibanez, and 6 string Fender guitar simultaneously on most of his songs making it sound like three guitars! He even has mastered the ever-so-complex Chapman stick.
Every music piece Bianco plays is layered with effects and sounds that make the Michael Bianco trademark.
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