Music for Surprising Spaces

I’ve had this idea bouncing round my brain for a long time now. Music For Surprising Spaces…

A composition for a guitar ensemble that is performed for, and, in, a space. So the sounds from that space are part of the composition.

I’m very happy to say Elixir Strings have commissioned the project. It’s unique in so many ways making this composition; making the film, finding the artists, performing and recording outside even… finding the right space, getting the permission. Over the next few weeks I will be sharing some of the challenges, the cool bits, the frustrating bits… a kind of ‘this is how I did it’. I hope you enjoy reading.

Part 1…   The Gear and Rehearsal.

First off… its important to grasp what this project is about. The composition, which you’ll eventually hear, is written to include the sounds of the surrounding space. Get it?.. so the ‘noises’ that occur naturally. At this point I don’t want to reveal the venue/space just yet, but Im sure you can understand every space has a sound… sometimes the sound is obvious… a river, a busy coffee house for example, or sometimes its more subtle. That sound is part of the music in this project, and it also inspires the parts I compose.

So, with all that in mind… it’s important that we avoid anything that isn’t fully authentic, as much as possible i.e. miming, or in fact just taking a DI, which tends to be the go to for most of those ‘outdoor videos’. Put simply we need to actually perform in the space to capture the energy and sound of that space.

This comes with logistical issues… many, in fact more than you’d think. Getting the best out of the performers in this situation is one challenge and I’ll cover that in a bit…but, firstly getting power for amps, and even getting the gear to the venue. It seems simple, but acoustic isn’t an option when working with electric guitars and thats not as easy as it seems. In the case of the venue I have chosen, time is of the essence, we need to arrive, film and be gone in a few hours… Thats a lot of people and stuff to get to a space, set up, perform, and set down. Baring in mind no one playing this piece has ever met before…

The solution…. The Boss Cube Street 2. This amp is the answer to my prayers, and to be honest will probably be an answer for many peoples. Its disturbingly light, disturbingly loud and the sounds are incredible – oh yeah, and it can be powered by 6 AA batteries for a gazillion years, problem solved. So I have one each lined up for the guitar ensemble and yes that includes bass.

For me with two outputs coming from my guitar it works a treat too… The red lead is my mic in the guitar and the black is the pickup. All part of my Mimesis Kudos by Mike Vanden.

As mentioned the artists performing the piece have never met before… (I’ll be introducing you to each of them soon). Each artist will be using their axe of choice strung with Elixir’s and going through the Cube. It gives some uniformity of sound and crucial consistency in playing too, we are filming in the morning and that morning moisture is gonna make most strings feel pretty weird, so its cool to know everyone’s going to be picking up their guitars and it feeling like it did at their last rehearsal… when I say rehearsal… I mean, them on their own practicing.

This stuff is important, seriously. However well rehearsed we are when we are put into a different physical space everything changes. If you’ve ever rehearsed more than enough and then stepped onto stage at a festival on a humid day you’ll know everything can change in seconds, your guitar can feel alien and thats down to strings. So strings that can handle that play a big part, I want every player to have a consistent feel on their instrument – And for me… yeah, thats Elixirs.

Logistically we really cant rehearse together, but is that a problem?

Well, if you’ve taken an interest in one one of my ensemble projects before you’ll know I like to work in a way that doesn’t challenge a player too much. Its not because Im just super nice and want to give people an easy ride its because I believe we do our best playing when we are within out comfort zone. In this case when we come together to play together for the first time theres a ‘magic’ in the air. Not ‘panic’ and ‘stress’ everyone knows what they are doing, they focus on detail and on ‘enjoying’ playing the piece.

Everyone has bounced over a recording to me ahead of time so I can feedback and actually make changes to any parts if needed, so there’s plenty of ground work gone in. But the actual getting together to play… thats being held off to the last minute. It’s the big reveal.

I’ll be back next week with more…