Mike Kearney’s Suggesture 101 – Episode 5: Pushes, Pulls, Bankai and Bends

Pushes 2

A few years ago I was hooked on a popular anime called Bleach. It featured Shinigami or ‘Death Gods’ whose unique swords were the manifestation of their souls. When they were in a tough spot, battling Hollows or Arrancars, they would summon their strength and power-up to the next level. Their swords would be ‘released’ and transform into magnificent variations on the original. This ‘release’ was called ‘Bankai’.

Every time I execute a Bankai, I picture my favorite protagonists from the animated series. I imagine their desperate situations and their unshakable resolve in the heat of battle. This dynamism is inseparable from Suggesture. It’s a system which works theoretically and practically, yes, but the reason for its success up until now is the philosophy behind it.

If you’re going to lead someone, you have to prove to them that you’re worth following. You have to show them your resolve. The Bankai is perfect for this. Most of the Suggesture signals to date have their origin in martial arts. There is no reason for this. It just happened. The reason it has sustained itself though, is because there’s something to it. It’s inspiring watching a person give their all in a performance. A Suggestor cannot perform timidly, cautiously, or half-assed. They must display 100% commitment if they are to expect it. This is why the physicality of the movements is key. Its a vehicle for the Suggestor’s intent.

When coaching other Suggestors, I often get a bit anal about the details of the hand positions and specific movements. Here’s why. Firstly, I believe the movements must stay true to their origins, as far as possible, with respect to the great traditions that shaped them. Secondly, it’s theatre. The Suggestor must be impressive not only through his skill and creativity,  but also through his body language. His body is part of the performance. Its not surprising that numerous audience members throughout the years have mistaken the whole thing for some sort of dance. You ever watch a dancer? Total control. Total confidence, thought and precision. Total expression.

The suggestions explained in this episode’s video were ones that worked immediately. As mentioned, we’ve probably had hundreds of signals over the years. Most never made it past the first gig. This was probably because they didn’t work straight off the bat. Yes, every signal should require a brief explanation, like the rules of any game, but, if after an explanation and a practical demonstration it still doesn’t work, then something’s gotta give. Maybe the concept needs addressed. Maybe the clarity of the signal needs worked on. Maybe the whole thing is pointless and there’s an alternate road around to the idea. Maybe its just not that fun in the first place.

It got to the point for me where this process of creating, trying and refining suggestions was almost as fun as writing tunes. For long periods I would go without composing new material and, instead, focus on coming up with new signals.

The Push already existed in our musical circle’s terminology. I just gave it a form- the Wing Chun palm strike. Funnily enough, the Pull was not something anyone would use when jamming. But it made perfect sense, as the opposite of a Push. In combinations these are a lot of fun, and in advanced Suggesture Pushes and Pulls can be called in realtime using two rotating hands to denote on subsequent beats of the bar. A lot of fun!

The bend is one of the few signals I must pay homage to the late great Frank Zappa for. ‘Zappa’s Way‘ as they called it, was a very quirky and inspiring system of hand signals with musical meaning. The main problem with Zappa’s Way for me, is that the resultant music was closer to noise. This, of course, is not a bad thing and it’s understandable as Zappa was developing this system in the wake of the death of the Modern era(mostly noises). I remember at university, his compositions were being used as case studies for Post-modern music. His music and his improvisation style were ahead of their time but one can only make squeaking and pooping noises for so long. Hence, Suggesture’s focus on harmonic and thematic development. Though Zappa’s bends would be used to slide all over the place, ours are simply used to warp the sound. Again, this signal works every time, even without an explanation. All one has to do is bend one’s body over to the side and you’ll find the group does the same. Just like dancers mimicking each other.