Ribot will not be defined

The guitarist sidesteps genre and tries to do whatever he feels is necessary



Guitarist Marc Ribot enjoys a little quiet time.

"It's not that I'm distracted," he says. "Silence is pleasurable. Sometimes I think the musical aspect of a concert is an excuse. People come for those moments between songs, when they can sit together quietly in a room. The rest is just rationale."

Then, he adds, "Probably not true. But I'd like to start a political movement of people who are enraged about background noise."

A self-proclaimed "geek who likes to keep his hands on the guitar," Ribot first picked up the instrument at age 11. He performs Saturday night at An die Musik.

Growing up in New Jersey in the '60s and '70s, Ribot studied with Frantz Casseus, a Haitian classical guitarist and composer.

Since then, he's played with Elvis Costello, Tom Waits, the Lounge Lizards and the National Symphony Orchestra.

"That was interesting," said Ribot of the latter. "I felt lucky to have that experience. I'm not the world's most skilled person at following a conductor. I had to prepare greatly, and I was scared [expletive deleted]."

Saturday's show will feature a 1930s dobro, a quiet, acoustic guitar made of brass, which he said limits what he can do sonically.

Ribot said he finds this kind of restraint comfortable. Yet, in terms of a trademark sound or genre, he has not limited himself in the least. Aspects of classical, rock, jazz and blues guitar have all surfaced in his career. He said he sees this as part of the job description.

"That's what musicians do," he said. "They find something and swim with it. Personally, I find something and swim backward. I try to go upstream and see where it's from."

As a kid, the first nonclassical song Ribot learned to play was Bob Dylan's "Masters of War," but the guitarist he truly admires, (and, incidentally, had the chance to interview for Bomb Magazine), is Bill "Lefty" Frizzell.

"He doesn't seem to be as subject [as other artists] to the same set of distances from the material," says Ribot of Frizzell.

By distance, Ribot refers to the gap between what music starts out as - raw emotion - and what it eventually becomes. Ribot said he envies artists who narrow that space.

Currently, Ribot is working with Ceramic Dog and Spiritual Unity. The former teams Ribot with bassist Shazaad Ismailly and drummer Chess Smith.

"It's a rock band, basically, but experimental," Ribot said.

The latter, Spiritual Unity, is based upon the musical techniques of jazz saxophonist Albert Ayler. Largely improvisational, Ayler's music was, according to Ribot, a method of "accessing a deeper layer of subconscious information. It's not the easiest listen in the world, but on a good night, it can rock the house."

Ribot also composes his own material but shies away from describing it. His own works, he says, should not be explained in words, but through music. As for an artistic purpose, Ribot does not have one, per se.

"I have a well-developed sense of purposelessness," he muses. "I try to be an artist, which means I try to do whatever I think it is necessary to do."

So what will he perform Saturday night?

"Whatever I'm working on is what I present," he said. Tried-and-true Ribot fans may be able to speculate, keeping in mind his choice of guitars.

"I used to tour with an instrument that was half-guitar, half-toy," he adds, "So these fans are lucky."

Ribot said he's excited to play in the city, but he asks concertgoers to check their expectations - and chat - at the door.


Mark Ribot performs Saturday at 8 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. at An Die Musik, 409 N. Charles St. Tickets are $18-$20. Call 410-385-2638.

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