12 tone Turkey In The Straw from Stash Wyslouch

Boston’s Stash Wyslouch is the very epitome of the term Grassicana, which we coined to describe the new chart being developed to measure airplay for music that touches on bluegrass, but breaks many of the rules that have bound it together this past 70 years.

As a guitarist and vocalist, he was central to the sound of The Deadly Gentlemen, a pioneering alt-grass group who recorded two successful projects for Rounder before disbanding, and works now with Molsky’s Mountain Drifters, an old time trio currently on tour in the UK. Stash is comfortable in many genres, as you can see with his more radical outfit, The Stash! Band, who perform original heavy metal on acoustic instruments. But he understands compartmentalization, and is capable of playing old time or bluegrass without headbanging, and acoustic metal sans G-runs.

But for this special Thanksgiving video, he has blended one of the most beloved of fiddle tunes, Turkey In The Straw, with the music education he received at the Berklee College of Music, resulting in a 12 tone rendition of the popular melody. Unlike the more common diatonic scales that we are familiar with in Western music, a 12 tone piece seeks to ensure that all 12 chromatic pitches are included equally, giving a somewhat random sound to a composition.

If you took Music Appreciation in school, you may remember touching on the music of Arnold Schoenberg who is credited with introducing this compositional technique in the early part of the 20th century. A school of thought built up around this concept, where the more common aspects of thematic composition were applied to these unorthodox scales (or tone rows), creating music that has been described as atonal, with chords and harmony that can seem quite jarring to the uninitiated.

What Stash has done is to take the melody of Turkey In The Straw, and apply its linear movement to a 12 tone scale. You can recognize the rhythm and the vertical movement of the melody, but the tones themselves may sound completely wacky in sequence.

I say all that that to say this…

This was done as an experiment. Wyslouch is not trying to piss you off or ruin bluegrass. It’s all in fun, and makes for an interesting consideration of such a familiar tune, though the result sure does sound angry and a bit threatening – and downright hilarious at times.

And there you have it!

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.