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The Los Angeles Electric 8 throw convention to the wind

by Marie Gullard
April 28, 2011

If you have never heard of an electric guitar chamber octet and can only imagine what a sight and sound it would deliver, especially in a classical setting, you are hardly alone.

The Los Angeles Electric 8 makes its East Coast premiere in the Mansion at Strathmore with a program that showcases the variety of rich sounds that can emanate from electric guitars, which have historically been thought of as solo or band instruments — loud, wired to amplifiers and most immediately associated with folk and rock music.

The Electric 8 has thrown all these preconceived notions in the wastebasket and now call for the same classical performance status as is given to chamber string and wind ensembles. They possess a repertoire covering music from the late Renaissance to new 21st century, minimalist works.

“There is no music that is written for eight electric guitars,” said the group’s co-founder, Philip Graulty. “With that in mind, we have to be creative. Most of the repertoire we perform is arranged music.”

That is where Felix Salazar comes in. A member of the group, he is also its primary arranger and has orchestrated six pieces on the current show, “Interlocking Textures.”

“The idea behind this particular program is to showcase the influence that Indonesian gamelan music had on the American minimalist composers of the 20th century,” he explained.

Gamelan is a large, 20- to 30-piece orchestra of percussion instruments, the main ones being a gong and smaller versions of the gong.

“It is highly rhythmic and orchestral,” Graulty said. “And after playing music inspired by that tradition, we noticed the similarity between it and minimalism. We hope to show that connection.”

“Interlocking Textures” melds the two styles. One embraces Western convention while the other is decidedly Eastern. Pieces in the program include “Three Javanese Songs” that are juxtaposed with the modern minimalist pieces inspired by Steve Reich, such as the world premiere of “The Fog” by Jonathan Guillen and “Warr Guitar Counterpoint” by group member, Kai Kurosawa. This work experiments with a 24-string, tap-style guitar known as Warr Guitar.

“We see the guitar as a serious instrument, one that is capable of performing beautiful music like the violin or piano or any other classical instrument,” Graulty tells skeptics of this new genre. “I want audiences to be prepared for the unexpected, to throw convention to the wind [and] come to the concert with open ears and open hearts.

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