By Felix Salazar
is a chamber group of eight electric guitarists dedicated to revitalizing chamber music for a new generation of listeners. The octet’s repertoire spans the late Renaissance to the present day, ranging from the polychoral music of Giovanni Gabrieli to Igor Stravinsky’s Octet for Wind Instruments. Having 8 electric guitarists opens up many tuning possibilities for composers looking to explore alternate tunings, and the octet is actively commissioning new works by local composers.
Los Angeles Electric 8 first performed at MicroFest in 2008, presenting a microtonal rock suite titled Imagined Overtures by New York’s Frank J. Oteri, the premiere of my Picture Perfect Life, and the Javanese-inspired Ill Tempered Lancaran by Chicago’s Nathaniel Braddock. This program was the beginning of the octet’s exploration of music inspired by Indonesian gamelan, an interest that culminated in our 2012 album Interlocking Textures. We now find ourselves back at MicroFest sharing a program with a real gamelan and presenting an exciting collection of new compositions written specifically for the octet.
On Sunday May 12, at Pomona College’s Lyman Hall, we will premiere works by Bill Alves, Andrew Nathaniel McIntosh, and Mike Uhler. The program is aptly titled Heavy Metal! Gongs & Guitars, sharing the stage with the metal gongs of the HMC American Gamelan in an extravaganza also featuring music of Yorgos Adamis, Tom Flaherty, and Lou Harrison. Each of these composer is dedicated to exploring the realms of musical tuning.
Mike Uhler’s hypnotic, Undertone Series for 8 Electric Guitars, grew out of the composer’s curiosity to hear what the undertone series would sound like if it were put under a microscope. The composer states, “The undertone series is a sequence of notes that results from inverting the intervals of the overtone series.” The octet uses spatial separation and the use of various effects to create the shimmering sonorities which will envelope the listener and put them inside the nether world of the undertone series and also inside the mind of Mr. Uhler.
Andrew Nathaniel McIntosh’s Immutable Distance is the third in a group of related pieces for ensembles of similar instruments. Los Angeles Electric 8 commissioned the composition from Mr. McIntosh (who is very fluent in alternate tunings) not knowing what we would receive. The result is a beautiful piece that at first reminded us of reflections of light off a chandelier. Upon further insight and a few words from the composer, we began to see the intricate details and connections the tones have with the rhythms and each part has with each other. The composer states, “For instance, if two instruments are playing an interval together of 7 to 9, then one of them will have 7 impulses in the space that the other has 9. What this leads to in a larger context (a chord of 5/6/9/10/11, for example) is that the intervals which are more consonant with each other (6 to 9, and 5 to 10) will sound together more frequently so that a sense of harmonic motion emerges from a texture that would at first appear to be random and somewhat chaotic. Also, there is generally a sort of harmonic counterpoint at work, with the ensemble divided into two or three changing and interlocking groups that follow lines of harmony that push and pull against each other in cycles, often ending up back where they started.”
Bill Alves, having previously written a piece for two electric guitars and Balinese gamelan, wrote a new piece for the Los Angeles Electric 8, and it turned out to be a perfect match of interests between both parties. Mr. Alves’ Rational Basis brings up hints of early ’80s era King Crimson infused with blues music heard at a bar in the American South. The composition opens up the octet for an opportunity to have an improvised guitar solo with a guitar slide and use of distortion and muted chords which would primarily be used for heavy metal music. As with the other pieces in this set, Rational Basis is written in scordatura, where in this piece all players would play mostly open strings, fingered octaves, and harmonics.
Since each piece is a different tuning exploration in scordatura, the octet requires a separate set of instruments per composition. We tune the guitars a week or so in advance to acclimate them to the new tunings, surprisingly, guitars seem to make there way back to standard tuning without this process. All this makes for a wonderful backdrop of guitars, where one could only see this many at a local Guitar Center store. For this performance, we will have a total of 24 guitars on stage. Come join us at this microtonal extravaganza!