private Los Angeles Electric 8 (US,2008)***°'
This octet claims the electric guitar (and its vacuum-tube stage amplifiers) to be a worthy classical music instrument, -not that there weren’t made any compositions or interpretations for electric guitars before, but the starting point of a classical music viewpoint is now made radically clear-. For this, they searched for a repertoire that includes some useful comparisons, of overtones for instance, because the electric guitar somewhat rings (or resonates) like a bell. It was after having heard a commissioned work by Chicago composer/guitarist Nathaniel Braddock that this band (under production of ethnomusicology graduate student Ben Harbert) found the idea for their band and really went for it.
The album also starts with a Braddock composition, an electric guitar interpretation of Indonesian gamelan, which seems to works very well on guitar. However, in the composition, after showing the surprise that this works, the piece calms down, while slowing down the creative impulse and energy of challenge, and becomes almost like a more melancholic melody, like a meditation on the split-off intellectually interesting elements, before returning to the whole melody again to conclude.
For older, classical pieces, like from Shostakovich and Mendelssohn, we must face how musical education focusing on written down compositions, could overestimate the role of melody in compositions, leading to different, more “modern” arrangements (decided in the Classicism sense) that no longer respect the creative sound balance between instruments, so that in a Ravel fashion (who transcribed most older music into Classical orchestra versions, changing the general perspective on classical music with it, to a more poor instead of pure form), only the melodic balance is kept, where the underlying characters of instruments are further neglected. Luckily, the band did not just choose these pieces at random.
The Shostakovich piece, (for the “prelude”), even when not completely perfect for its choice, contains an element that could be used for resonances in the melodies, which hang in such a way that it makes the electric guitars somewhat suitable for it, for interpretation, although I would have preferred that the band would have increased the tensions in rhythmic pulses even more, into a slightly changed composition more adapted to the guitar, or with at least, for instance, more spatial tensions spreading in more opened up silences. Their interpretation works already well, but in its new form it cannot hold the compositional logic equally well together as in its old form, losing the grip on its melody a bit, making different parts were there was only one well hanging together logic before. Never the less, the achievements and discoveries that are revealed at the same time, especially in the second part, “Scherzo” make it up somewhat. But skilled drums wouldn’t have hurt the piece here either.
Randall Kohl’s piece “Balinesa” takes us back to the Balinese gamelan, another suitable transmission into a different form.
Mendelssohn’s “prelude”, is played slightly distorted, a choice which I think is very much suiting, musically. It brings the piece down to its mechanical baroque strength, for the first part, with just a slightly too calm breaking point part, (-this could have used another effect to compensate for the break to appear a bit more logically-), but in general it includes a good idea for it.
The last, Wayne Siegel’s piece, originally written for many more acoustic guitars, is a real perfect choice. The overtones and undertones of the electric guitar makes these tonal evolutions part of the piece, as if it’s only about an oscillating wave, and not based upon a melodically written down composition.
In any case, the Los Angeles Electric 8 made a very good start in introducing electric guitars into the classical music milieu. They should only work with even longer preparation, experience and ear to the older classical pieces and add to it whatever is needed to make it sound a creation of the moment. They prove already they have the right mentality for it to develop with it. They must however realize that the classical music public will remain sceptical until every detail is perfect and suitable on the spot of the performance, which will remain a big challenge until they can surprise this public and change the ways forever.