Steve Tibbetts

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Steve Tibbetts
Born 1954 (age 63–64)
Origin St. Paul, Minnesota
Genres post-modern neo-primitive
Occupation(s) Guitarist
Instruments guitar
Years active 1977–present
Labels ECM Records, Hannibal Records, Six Degrees Records, Rykodisc
Associated acts Marc Anderson

Steve Tibbetts (born 1954) is a St. Paul, Minnesota-based American guitarist known for an original approach to both composing and sound-forming. Tibbetts views the recording studio as a tool for creating sounds. Most of his releases include world percussionist Marc Anderson.


Tibbetts plays acoustic and electric guitar as well as exotic percussive instruments such as the kendang and kalimba.[1] His musical compositions span several genres and styles including experimental, jazz, rock, ambient, and world music.[2] He has self described his music as "post modern neo-primitivism".[3] Often more than one genre or style is found in a single composition. A variety of techniques may be[when?] used with the guitar such as a string-bending technique sonically imitating a sarangi[4] with a 12-string guitar while also alternating between ambient soundscape and Hendrix-like distorted and feedbacked leads with an electric guitar.[3] He incorporates field recording such as the footsteps in the track "Running" from Safe Journey, and the chanting of Nepalese villagers from the last tracks of Big Map Idea. Tibbetts' recordings often include percussion by St Paul's Marc Anderson.

AllMusic states Tibbetts music is like "mosaics of world music doused in Tibbetts' particular brand of gasoline; not many explosions, but rather a steady wall of flame."[2] The BBC noted Tibbetts' music as a "rich atmospheric brew" and "brilliant individual music making." [5] Rolling Stone described the 1994 The Fall of Us All as "a trip of another, more explosive and enriching kind, a dynamic study of Eastern modality and universal spiritualism driven by rock & roll ambition."[6] Stereophile promoted A Man About a Horse as "album of the month" January 2003.[3]

Tibbetts also uses recording and editing as a creative process. The album A Man About a Horse features many tracks based on rhythms built from acoustic drumming recorded at various tape controlled pitches and speeds. These recordings were then sampled, sequenced and looped on synthesizers.[1] He states, "I go back and forth between the sampler and tape machine so much--looping, cutting, offsetting, and layering--that eventually I don't know where the sounds come from."[1] A collection of his loops and sound textures entitled Friendly Fire were released 2002 by Sonic Foundry for their Acid Loops series.


Tibbetts was born in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1954. His first two records were created when he was in college. The second, Yr although self-released (and eventually rereleased by ECM Records), gained a degree of notice, especially from fans of the electric guitar. That record featured many overdubs, on one track as many as 50 overdubs creating a unique soundscape.

The first record Tibbetts created for a major label was Northern Song, for ECM Records in 1982. This was an attempt to fit Tibbetts music into Manfred Eicher's style of very rapid recording. Usually ECM albums are recorded in just two to three days. However, Northern Song received scathing reviews. Perhaps as a result, Tibbetts went back to his previous method of recording very slowly over a period of months (or longer). His subsequent records gained better reviews and, somewhat unusually for ECM Records, were among the only not produced by Manfred Eicher.

He released five albums in the 1980s, three in the 1990s, and, as of this writing, two in the 2000s. He has also collaborated with other artists including Norwegian hardingfele player Knut Hamre and Tibetan Buddhist nun Chöying Drolma. His longtime collaborator, percussionist Marc Anderson, has appeared on all the recordings in the discography except the inaugural 1977 Steve Tibbetts album.

Tibbetts stopped doing live performances regularly in the mid-1980s. Steve Tibbetts and Marc Anderson have toured on other occasions including a 1988 "YR" tour, a 1991/1992 "Big Map Idea" tour and shows with Chöying Drolma in 1997, 1999, and 2005. Starting in the late 1980s he travelled extensively in Nepal, which is where he met Chöying Drolma, a Tibetan Buddhist nun. Their first collaboration, Chö, was not intended as a commercial record but it was released and gained some positive notice. The second project, Selwa, was a far more carefully considered musical collaboration and it received some very positive reviews as an example of a successful meeting of two very different musical traditions. These releases helped establish what would become Chöying Drolma's Nepalese chart topping music career.[7]


  • Steve Tibbetts (Cuneiform, 1977)
  • Yr (Frammis, 1980—re-released by ECM/Universal Classics, 1988)
  • Northern Song (ECM/Universal Classics, 1982)
  • Safe Journey (ECM/Universal Classics, 1984)
  • Exploded View (ECM/Universal Classics, 1986)
  • Big Map Idea (ECM/Universal Classics, 1989)
  • The Fall of Us All (ECM/Universal Classics, 1994)
  • Chö (Hannibal/Rykodisc, 1997) (with Chöying Drolma)
  • Å (Hannibal/Rykodisc, 1999) (with Knut Hamre)
  • A Man About A Horse (ECM/Universal Classics, 2002)
  • Selwa (Six Degrees Records, 2004) (with Chöying Drolma)
  • Natural Causes (ECM/Universal Classics, 2010) (with Marc Anderson)
  • Life Of (ECM/Universal Classics, 2018) (with Marc Anderson, Michelle Kinney)


  1. ^ a b c Ellis, Andy Steve Tibbetts: Zen and the art of sculpting sound. Guitar Player, December 01, 2002
  2. ^ a b Swan, Glen A Man About a Horse - Review Allmusic
  3. ^ a b c Iverson, Jon Recording of January 2003: A Man About a Horse Archived 2008-08-28 at the Wayback Machine. Stereophile, January 2003
  4. ^ Bio Archived 2009-11-10 at the Wayback Machine., retrieved August 20, 2009
  5. ^ Marsh, Peter Steve Tibbetts - A Man About A Horse - Review BBC - Music 2002-11-20
  6. ^ Fricke, Davis The Fall Of Us All - Review Rolling Stone Oct 6, 1994
  7. ^ Topping the Charts for Freedom Tricycle Magazine, Fall 2009

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