Daily Bruin

Eight guitarists electrify classical music

by Joel Kato
May 19, 2009

UCLA has always been a place where students are encouraged to explore their potential.

The Los Angeles Electric 8, a band that includes four UCLA alumni, has taken that idea to heart, exploring the limitless potential of one of the most popular instruments in music today: the electric guitar.
The Los Angeles Electric 8, LAE8 or the 8 for short, will present its music alongside “Projecting Berd” Thursday at 6 p.m. as part of the Fowler Out Loud series.
The LAE8 was initially created from connections made in Peter Yates’ classical guitar chamber class at UCLA. The idea of using the electric guitar to perform classical music stemmed from the recent introduction of guitar to the classical realm. With that precedent in place, the electric guitar seemed like the next logical step.
As the group began experimenting with electric guitars through solos, duos and trios, LAE8 soon saw the potential that the instrument had for making interesting, captivating music.
The LAE8 member Marc Nimoy received his undergraduate degree in music performance from UCLA and is a recent MFA graduate from CalArts.
“The classical guitar offers subtlety, intimacy and more control over the sound of the string,” Nimoy said. “The electric guitar has more volume, can sound out individual notes longer and is easier to expand the overall sound with interesting guitar effects and computer filters.”
The LAE8 ultimately decided upon eight electric guitars and thus eight members, since any group larger than that would require a conductor.
The members of the LAE8 that hail from UCLA have their alma mater’s music program and facilities to thank for bringing the group together.
Chelsea Green is a member of LAE8, a UCLA alumna and a Ph.D. music candidate.
“The UCLA guitar studio is relatively small, and we all meet once a week to sight-read through music. Not only do we get to know one another, but we become musical collaborators as well,” she said. “This is one of the greatest parts of the music program at UCLA. Many classical guitarists are used to playing solo. Playing chamber music opens up an entirely new world of artistic possibilities.”
These artistic possibilities are increased exponentially when one combines art forms, as the LAE8 and world arts and culture MFA candidate Cari Ann Shim Sham are doing in the form of Project Berd.
Project Berd is Shim Sham’s documentation of street artist David Browne’s “Berd” installations that are scattered throughout Los Angeles. The “Berd” installations are small cutouts of cartoonish birds hanging from power lines that are suspended over busy intersections.
When one sees these “Berds,” the most immediate connotation is that of sneakers hanging from the power lines in residential areas.
This draws a nice parallel to the LAE8’s music, which is a new but memorable take on something old. The LAE8 takes classical music, music that was originally intended to be performed on organ or by string or wind ensembles, and then adapts those tunes for the electric guitar, orchestrating its unique kind of “classic rock.”
Like the street art that Browne contributes to, the music of the LAE8 has not always been readily accepted. “Rock venues think we’re too ‘classical’ and classical venues think we’re too ‘rock’,” said LAE8 member and UCLA alumnus Ben Harbert, who is also a Ph.D. candidate in ethnomusicology.
But also like street art, a dedicated audience has embraced the LAE8’s music whole-heartedly.
“The venues that have opened up to us have been really supportive of what we’ve been doing and we’ve been able to bring them good crowds – even a few sold-out shows.”
For the LAE8, the performance this Thursday is more than just another artistic collaboration. “It’s such a coincidence that our first ever performance was two years ago at the Fowler,” said Philip Graulty, another UCLA alumnus, member of the LAE8 who also teaches beginning guitar on campus.
Taking on the role of teacher, Graulty looks back at the teacher who influenced him as an artist. He speaks of a message that was conveyed by all of this professors - a message that all artists are glad to hear.
“‘Be yourself.’ It is this consciousness of self that led to where I am today, It’s been great so far. I couldn’t ask for more.”