The Pleats of Matter

Over the last several weeks, I’ve been working with the brilliant Chilean guitarist Diego Castro towards the premiere of my piece The Pleats of Matter, for electric guitar. The premiere is scheduled for mid-February 2015 at the Electric Spring Festival in Huddersfield, almost exactly 10 years to the day from the point at which I started composing the piece, and nearly eight years since its completion in 2007.

It has been a bit of a strange experience working on such an old piece for a first performance. Diego and I have the usual conversations about small mistakes, typos, and ambiguities in the score that are typical of the preparation of any premiere, but in this case I have to somehow reconnect with compositional methods and, indeed, entire compositional and notational aesthetics that are, at best, distant memories. Thankfully I keep all my old sketches, so we’ve been able to unearth answers to most of the questions that have emerged so far.

One of the other unusual twists for this project is that technology has, of course, come a rather long way in the last 10 years. The piece was originally written for a setup that these days borders on vintage (late 90s multi-effects pedals and various outboard rigs), so I’ve taken the opportunity to try to update the approach to be more portable, more flexible, and more powerful. Today Diego and I had our first little test to see if the new rig (which amounts to little more than a laptop, a 4-ch audio interface, Ableton Live, and a Push interface serving as an unnecessarily fancy MIDI controller) would do what the piece needs it to do. Really the point of the session was just to record some audio of the first several pages that Diego has learned already so that I had some material to work with as we figured out what the actual effects/processing setup might become.

Diego ‘playing’ the cardboard guitar I made to write the piece, which for some reason I still have in my office

Below is a short video from today’s session. Pay no particular attention to the actual audio effects processing — it was just a quick test that I threw together to make sure the hardware all worked properly. (The actual soundworld of the piece will emerge over the next few months as we get a bit deeper into the preparations.) But it does at least, I hope, give a little window into where we are with the project and the kinds of sounds that might be possible.

(The second video is just the video camera audio — in his practicing this is what Diego hears. It’s interesting, perhaps, to see/hear the piece’s gestural material in its raw state.)

Still a lot of work to do, obviously, but these are really exciting first steps. I’m absolutely thrilled with the care and precision of Diego’s approach — the level of detail is exceptional!

I’ll make an effort to have some follow-up posts as things develop, and there are plans to post video of the premiere, as well as plans for a studio recording a bit further down the line. And I think Diego has some plans to write about the work as well and has been making his own videos of the learning process.

Diego Castro is a PhD student in Contemporary Music Performance at the Centre for Research in New Music (CeReNeM) at the University of Huddersfield, supervised by Dr Philip Thomas. The project is supported in part by the university’s Postgraduate Researcher Development Fund, which enabled the purchase of Diego’s instruments/hardware as well as lessons/coaching with Daryl Buckley. 

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