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Dream: American Music for Electric Guitar
John CAGE (19191-1992)
Dream (adapted for electric guitar by Sergio Sorrentino) (1948) [9:37]
David LANG (b.1957)
Warmth for two electric guitars (2006) [7:04]
Jack VEES (b.1955)
Alpha Aloha for two electric guitars and sound processing (2013) [4:46]
Elliott SHARP (b.1951)
Mare Undarum (2013) [8:00]
Alvin CURRAN (b.1938)
Rose of Beans - fragment for electric guitar solo (1997) [3:42]
Morton FELDMAN (1926-1987)
The Possibility of a New Work for Electric Guitar (reconstr. Seth Josel) (1966) [7:41]
Christian WOLFF (b.1934)
Going West (2013) [4:12]
Larry POLANSKY (b.1954)
An Unhappy Set of Coincidences for electric guitar and electric bass (1980) [3:21]
Van STIEFEL (b.1965)
Urutora-man (2014) [4:56]
Christian WOLFF
Another Possibility (2004) [14:03]
Sergio Sorrentino (electric guitar)
rec. 2015/17, Vercelli, Italy
MODE RECORDS MODCD301 [67:23]

The parallel doesn't quite work but it's close enough. The electric guitar occupies a similar position now in relation to classical music as the saxophone did in the early twentieth century. It's pretty much a rare visitant but gaining ground. I have scrambled together my own examples: Fuchs' Glacier; Crumb's Songs, Drones; John Buller's Proença; Schnittke's Third Symphony; Penderecki's Partita; David Bedford's Wake Into The Sun for orchestra, electric guitars, electric bass guitars, keyboard and drum kit; Birmingham-based British composer Andrew Downes', glorious concerto for acoustic guitar and electric guitar; and the as yet unrecorded(?) Poèmes de la mort, for tenor, baritone, bass and three electric guitars (1969-71) by Frank Martin.
 
This Mode disc starts with Dream by John Cage. It's a 1948 piece originally for piano and written for Merce Cunningham. It has stepped into the light in versions for lute and acoustic guitar. It's a calming, involuted piece and could be compared with the equally attractive Farewell to Stromness (piano) by Peter Maxwell Davies. Here, the Cage is followed by the satisfying, web-intricate Warmth for two electric guitars by David Lang. Jack Vees' Alpha Aloha is for two electric guitars but with their feed channelled through sound processing. The notes describe the processing as coming through "various digital filters which slowly open and close at different rates, the resonance is set in such a way as to let some notes through with more strength than others. It creates an ocean of sound." The effect is like a preternatural pipe organ humming away in a sunken cathedral: very atmospheric. Mare Undarum by Elliott Sharp has Sorrentino's Stratocaster producing a sound comparable with the bell-hum of a gamelan ensemble and with warbling processed staccato hi-fi noises (think Forbidden Planet) and wooden clatter.

The short Rose of Beans (clever title) by Alvin Curran sounds simpler with less extrusion or distortion. The guitar speaks for itself. This insistently repetitive piece is drawn from a larger score. Then comes the first release of an otherwise lost electric guitar composition by Morton Feldman. The Possibility of a New Work for Electric Guitar owes its existence to Christian Wolff but is heard here in a reconstruction by guitarist Seth Josel. This is a work of fey delicacy in which the lightest touches of atonal sound are at play between tracts of silence. Speaking of Christian Wolff ,we can hear his Going West with its allusive fragments seeming to have escaped from some Iberian kaleidoscope and, written ten years earlier, the much longer, more angular and mordant Another Possibility. Wolff makes capital of the instrument's full range, its rhythmic qualities, its harpsichord mimicry as well as its obviously plangent depths.

Polansky's An Unhappy Set of Coincidences is laid out for electric guitar and electric bass. Continuity of line is not something Polansky strives for. What we hear is a mosaic of small cells with a modicum of repetition to keep the listener on board. This piece is almost forty years of age. Van Stiefel's (b.1965) Urutora-man has an endearing neo-Bach Segovian flavour: stately and air-conditioned.

As for the sound, you will not want for more or different. The liner notes are by Sergio Sorrentino and Van Stiefel.

Rob Barnett

 



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