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    On Craftsmanship...

    Aaron Willette Mar 2 '12 2

    The focus of my work at the University of Michigan deals with establishing a framework to identify and discuss "craftsmanship" within the subset of contemporary architecture that utilizes computation and digital fabrication. At the scale of the object/artifact there has been significant investigation into the topic - check out the work of the British research group Autonomatic for some great examples. But, in my humble opinion, the discussion of CNC toolpaths and the like don't adequately approach the topic in a manner thats applicable to Architecture. So like any other overly-ambitious graduate student I've taken this up as the area of the profession I'm aiming to contribute to. I've been extremely lucky to have access to some amazing people at the school: Malcolm McCullough, Wes McGee, Karl Daubmann and John Marshall amongst many others. I'm beyond excited with where my work has taken me this far - I'll let you know how it goes come July 1st when I've submitted my research document.

    Last semester when I first started digging into the topic I challenged myself to find a 'perfect' example of craftsmanship that exists outside of the Craft or Industrial Arts. For me, part of being proficient the topic of craft is the ability to identify its manifestations regardless of their formal characteristic. Oddly enough it didn't take me long to find my perfect example, discovering it late night while preparing for my end of semester review. But I didn't find it in a book or journal. I found it on Spotify.

    I was looking for some music to keep me going through the night, and my typical standbys of dubstep and black metal had worn thin. So I did some poking around and decided that surf guitar would be the place to go: high-energy and lacking vocals, which I often find as distracting when trying to buckle down. Eventually Dick Dale's Miserlou came on - having seen Pulp Fiction more than my share of times I was familiar with the track. Now before I get too deep with this give the song a listen, scroll down as there's a video to watch down there...

    I was tired and looking for a distraction, so I ended up doing some Googling to get the story behind the song. Thats when I realized I had stumbled upon my holy grail. Here's why I feel that Dick Dale's interpretation of Misirlou is a perfect example of craftsmanship, in no particular order:

    • Mastery of tools: Dick Dale was left handed, and early in his career played right-handed guitars. Rather than re-string them, he left them in their original configuration, mentally transposing the chords as needed. When he eventually switched to a left-handed guitar he didn't properly string those, opting for the inverted setup he had grown used to. Dale was also notorious for blowing out amps and speakers in an attempt to the get the perfect sound, eventually relying on custom-made equipment.
    • Socio-cultural agency: Dale's music was able to capture the essence of the emerging California surf culture - many claim that he single-handedly invented the genre of surf rock. He quickly ended up playing sold out shows, repeatedly setting attendance records at the venues he visited. Not too shabby for a kid originally from Quincy, Massachusetts.
    • Legacy: This is the part that caught me off guard: according to legend Dale first played Misirlou, a traditional Greek/Egyptian song (origins very on the source) when challenged by an audience member to play a song on only one string. This was a song that Dale heard his Lebanese-American father and uncle play on an oud while growing up. But Dale riffed off it enough that he essentially made the song his own, and is now the artist that most people associate the song with. The song has been carried on beyond Dale with numerous covers: the Beach Boys doing a Dale-inspired version of the song on Surfin' USA and the punk band Agent Orange recorded a cover in 1981.

    Give the video another watch and keep these things in mind, let me know what you think. I'm sure there are equally valid examples of craft, but this is one that I found I could relate to and let me 'get' what I was looking to identify through my work. But its spring break, so rather than drag this out even further I'm going to go skateboard down the empty halls of the Art & Architecture Building.

    current listening: Dick Dale - Guitar Legend: The Very Best of Dick Dale

     

     

     
    Dick Dale's Misirlou

     
    • 2 Comments

    • Nam HendersonNam Henderson
      Mar 4, 12 5:06 pm

      the idea that there is some link between the rhythm and drone of Middle Eastern oud music and surf rock is quite compelling.... while i am familiar with the song had never heard back story.

      royc
      Sep 22, 12 9:48 pm

      With the tremolo picking on guitar, I bet you could even hint at an argument for parallels between this song and black metal ;)

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