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That 1 Guy - A Legendary Musician

Updated: Mar 22

It was 3am on some morning in around 2012, and I was sitting on the front porch with my neighbor, having a drink. She was a dancer, a hooper, and a festie kid, which meant that she had her fingers on the pulse of everything cool at the time. We were going back and forth, showing each other our favorite YouTube music videos. We went through so many artists, but only two of them stuck with me for the long term; Tyler the Creator, and That 1 Guy. Once we got on the subject of That 1 Guy, she would not stop taking about him! She'd seen him at festivals a few times, and just kept raving about how good he was. She showed me a few videos, and I became very intrigued. If you don’t know anything about him, let’s start with the fact that he constructed his own instrument, and dubbed it the magic pipe. The end result was the Magic Pipe, a 7-foot-tall (2.1 m) collection of steel plumbing pipes and joints, orchestral bass strings, and electronics. 

Now, let’s talk about the guy himself… At first glance, he appeared to me as an escaped amish refugee with lamb chop sideburns, living out the most badass Rumspringa ever. At other times, when he really gets going with the bow, he might look as though he’s a Kentucky moonshiner doing a jig. I’m being silly of course, but it helps illustrate that this guy is deliberately, and unapologetically original and himself. Mike Silverman is That 1 Guy’s real name, and he’s a classically trained double bass player who attended the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and developed a career in the progressive jazz scene in the 1990s, performing live and as a studio musician. He started out in a funk, rockabilly, jazz band called "The Fabulous Hedgehogs" before he developed his own style of solo playing and gained a reputation as a one-man rhythm section, incorporating traditional and slap-bass playing with percussive elements using the body of the instrument. When he began to feel limited by his instrument and a heavy schedule of playing and recording for other people, he started to devise a new instrument that would allow him the range to create his own music. 

The Magic Pipe, also known by his close friends as 'The Broken Bowflex', is a homemade, electronically rigged pair of machined aluminum pipes (previously steel in its first incarnation), connected by adjustable phosphorus bronze joints, with each pipe hosting an orchestral bass string. The harp-shaped instrument is roughly seven feet tall and features 13 trigger points, which can be mapped to various musical sound effects or samples. The front pipe uses a low C string, while the rear pipe's string is used to achieve more tenor ranged notes. The pipes themselves are employed to produce various percussive sounds while That 1 Guy slaps, plucks, or bows the strings, as well as occasionally using a drum stick to sound the strings and the pipes at the same time. The creation of the Magic Pipe was based on Silverman's double bass experience, as well as borrowing from the concepts of the gutbucket and the diddley bow. He brings other instruments as well, like the magic boot, and the magic saw, but I’m a modest guy, and like to leave some things to your imagination.

Basically, the magic pipe etc. allows That 1 Guy to access and manipulate any frequency on the audio spectrum, in several different ways. When you see him live, you’ll quickly notice that he prefers the low end of the frequency spectrum, but he still peppers in the high notes at all the right times. This leads me to another point that definitely needs to be made, this man’s recorded works do not do his live performances justice. If you’ve only heard his recorded works, and haven’t seen him live, it may be difficult to understand how That 1 Guy’s music is produced, which might cause a listener to question what’s so special about the songs. Once you see a show, and experience the magic live, a switch will flip inside your brain and you will instantly hear the word awoooo come out of your mouth. He’s also mastered the art of playful banter with the audience, adds just the right amount of well timed humor to his sets, and even performs a little bit of magic for the crowd.

As a solo performer myself, I’ve probably taken a further interest in That 1 Guy than most, because he has helped me in my own career. There are so many things that one can take away from his act, some practical, and some allegorical. He does a wonderful job of drawing the crowd in, and getting everyone interested, which I suppose isn’t difficult when you have such a metal monstrosity on the stage. However, he also lets his talent and personality shine through during several parts of the show, and give the impression to the audience that he’s enjoying the show far more than they are! Just try beating That 1 Guy in a battle of no, no, no, no, no, thank you… and see what happens. You don't look or walk away from the stage, not only because he's incredibly talented, but also because he makes you feel so at home during his shows!

As a DJ, I already knew the importance of mic, but his show helped me find ways to expand my own abilities on the mic, and let my own personality shine through a more at my shows. Nuance is the word that keeps spinning through my head at the moment. Something else I’ve taken from the shows is the experience of witnessing artistry in its purest form. The entire audio spectrum is accessible to every single person in the world at all times, but it takes a special kind of individual to take tradition completely out of the equation, and forge their own path.

As a talented entertainer, with a background in jazz, there’s no question Silverman would have had a great career in music, no matter what path he decided to go down. However, he likely would have never been able to scratch the enormous artistic itch that he both suffers from and enjoys, had he not continued to create and evolve. Please pause for a second to realize that this man created his own instrument, and decided to haul it around the country, and make a living with it. He’s done it for around 20 years or more now, and he’s also extended into many other creative projects that you can find on his website. I think what I’m trying to say is that this man deserves an incredible amount of respect, because he purposely went the hard way to push boundaries in the exploration of music, and he graciously shares it all with us.

Allegorically, his presence on stage is always a reminder that if you have a dream, no matter how crazy it is, it can become a reality. If That 1 Guy can weld a bunch of metal together, and make a 20 year career out of it, maybe your dreams aren’t that crazy either. It’s also a good reminder that dreams take hard work to bring them to life, which is evident by simply looking at the road wear on the pipe, and at this point, maybe even That 1 Guy himself. Nobody ever handed this man a magic pipe, and a tour full of shows, he's done it for himself. This makes me feel the need to ask you a couple of challenging questions while I’ve got you. What’s your magic pipe? What slowly dying dream is haunting you every day? What’s holding you back from chasing your dreams? 

The biggest thing I love about this story, is That 1 Guy only exists because he wants to, which means that before he came on the scene, there was an extremely high probability that we never would have seen anything like him. It will always be difficult to accurately describe what he does, and I believe the story of him will only get more convoluted over time. Watching him perform in person, I’ve realized that far into the future, people may never believe any of it ever even happened; especially if they have to ask who the guy with the crazy dream and the metal pipe was, and the response is simply… That 1 Guy.


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