Tim Brady's Electric Guitar Quartet: Instruments of Happiness
The electric guitar quartet format affords long-time innovator Tim Brady an excellent vehicle for furthering his exploration of the instrument's sonic possibilities. He founded the project in 2013, which operates in three forms: as a quartet, obviously, but also as a twenty-piece orchestra and as a 100-piece ensemble designed for site-specific performances. On this exceptional recording, works by the Canadian guitarist-composer, Antoine Berthiaume, and Rainer Wiens are performed by Brady, Berthiaume, Gary Schwartz, and Michel Héroux.
Drawing as it does from experimental art-rock, chamber classical, electro-acoustic, and other genres, Brady's music resists easy pigeonholing, even if the titles of certain works suggest a classical categorization more than any other. On this recording, two versions of his Symphony No. 5 are presented, and he recently received the Prix OPUS “Best New Composition of the Year” award for Atacama: Symphonie No. 3, which received its New York premiere at National Sawdust in October 2015. While it might be tempting to do so, it would be a mistake to draw too strong an analogy between the classical string quartet and Brady's guitar outfit. As Allan Koznin contends in the release's liner notes, the range of pedals and effects now part and parcel of the contemporary guitarist's soundworld makes it sonically more like an orchestra than string section.
Fungi, Berthiaume's second piece for electric guitar quartet, achieves an understated, almost dream-like splendour in the way its intricate lattices build into a luscious stream. The composer cites progressive rock and Ennio Morricone as inspirations for the nine-minute piece, and true enough traces of both audibly surface as the setting advances, Morricone, for instance, in the melodic flourishes that give the material such momentum. In contrast to the precisely articulated lines of Fungi, Wiens' What is Time? is experimental in character and also more textural in its timbral exploration of prepared guitar textures. Wiens himself likens the piece to a “shifting eternal present,” an apt way of capturing the spacey soundscape's woozy merging of stasis and flux.
As interesting as such pieces are, it's Brady's two that are the recording's primary drawing card. The shorter of the two Symphony No. 5 versions is the seventeen-minute solo treatment performed by the composer. Enhanced with pedals and loopers, the instrument at certain moments resembles a church organ and synthesizer as much as a conventional guitar as Brady methodically wends his way through three linked movements, all the while drawing upon various schools of art-rock experimentalism and alluding to guitarists such as Manuel Göttsching, Robert Fripp, and Steve Howe. The second treatment, scored for four guitarists and lasting thirty-three minutes, possesses a clearly defined structure in having four movements separated by three short solos, a move that allows for contrast between the solo episodes and the multi-layered quartet sections. There's no small amount of dazzle in the intricate, rapid-fire interactions executed by the players during “Riff”; “Float,” on the other hand, exudes serenity in its use of sustain and courting of ambient atmosphere. As dynamic and encompassing as the work is—how many compositions can claim to alternate between aggressive rock passages and classical minimalism?—it's marred slightly by the inclusion of a voice episode during “Count” that would have been better omitted from this otherwise wholly instrumental album. Yes, the vocal element does become less off-putting the more often it's heard, but it's still an unappealing intrusion that thankfully lasts but a minute.In notes included with the CD, Brady writes, “The music on this recording represents just an initial response to the question: ‘What kind of music can a composer actually make with four electric guitars?' The answer is as varied as the history of the electric guitar itself and the almost infinite variety of sounds one can create with the instrument.” Certainly this debut recording by Instruments of Happiness goes a long way towards answering the question, considering the many guitar-related techniques and timbres that are explored on it.