The Poly Post

Classical compositions collide with modern medium in recital hall

by Casey Thompson
April 22, 2008

The Music Recital Hall was awash in a sea of organ, piano, church bell and a myriad other instrumental sounds issuing forth from the varied amplifiers of the Los Angeles Electric 8 Friday night. The performance was part of the music department's Spring 2008 Guitar Festival.

Wielding only electric guitars, along with the occasional bass guitar, the octet interpreted modern classical arrangements, mimicking various orchestral sounds by playing intertwining and overlapping parts.
 
"It's hard having eight guitar players just stop playing for a second," said John Paul Trotter, a music alumnus who has been playing with the Electric 8 for a little more than a year. "It's very similar to rehearsing with a rock band because there are so many people. Figuring out where you fit within everything is a little tricky."
 
The intricacies of the arrangements was especially noticeable during "A False Course from Plain," the first piece they played following a brief intermission.
 
Composer Nathaniel Braddock reinterpreted European bell music, with each guitar essentially plucking a single note in a complicated pattern with the other seven.
 
After an introduction led by two basses, the group attempted to segue into a chorus of rings. A timing misfire forced them to briefly pause in order to sync up with each other, however.
 
"It's an extremely easy piece, but difficult to play," said Electric 8 director and primary arranger Ben Harbert, who led the group on a Gibson SG guitar and SG bass throughout the show.
 
The group played a three pieces by Braddock, finishing with two Javanese-inspired numbers.
 
With a slightly altered tuning - used to allow western instruments the ability to play eastern scales - they created lush flourishes, transporting the listener to a wind chime-filled beach in the South Pacific.
 
The show began with pieces by three different 20th century composers, including Randall Kohl's "Balinesa," which has also been played by the Cal Poly guitar ensemble.
 
"I like that they're playing old stuff with a new sound," said Mark Amoroso, a third-year computer science student and guitar ensemble member.
 
The show opened with "Domino Figures" by Wayne Siegel, with most of the guitars playing the same part in the round. Each musician nodded to the next one, creating a wall of sound that resembled the falling of the black-and-white squares.
 
"Balinesa" was followed by Dmitri Shostakovich's "Prelude and Scherzo from Op. 11." Begging with rhythmic, muted scratching from all eight members, the piece then went from a melodious lead by Harbert into more up-tempo territory.
 
With each member wielding a different guitar - from semi-hollows to Stratocasters - the Electric 8 produced a sound that was multifaceted, at times eccentric and never boring.
 
"I've never heard anything like it," said Marco Fagoada, a third-year sociology student.