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Traveling with Electronics: The Viking Guitar Horde

Well here is one thing that I thought I would never say while standing in front of seven guitar players: "Would you gentlemen please turn up" (wait........did I just say that out loud?)


For the past two years I have been invited to teach Conduction to students from  the University of Agder over a three day workshop period and then perform a concert with them at the PUNKT FESTIVAL in Kristiansand Norway. This year I got the entire freshman class.....all thirty-eight of them. When I got the instrumentation list for the ensemble I thought "man, you couldn't make this shit up" (Voice - 11, Electric Guitar - 7, Drumset - 4, Electric Bass - 4, Organ - 2, Piano - 2, Violin - 1, Cello - 2, Acoustic Bass - 1, Clarinet - 1, Trumpet - 1, trombone - 2). This was going to be a challenge.


Conduction is a vocabulary of signs and gestures transmitted by a conductor to an orchestra providing instantaneous possibilities for altering or initiating harmony, melody, rhythm, articulation, phrasing, or form. Conduction was originated by Butch Morris.

So, here I am with this insane ensemble, made up of 38 freshman on the second day of their second week at the University. They barely know each other, have never played together as an ensemble and most of them have little or no experience as improvisers. They are thrown in a room for three days with this crazy american who is asking them to: 1-watch me every second, 2-listen to everything, 3-don't think, 4-play from your heart, 5-be in the moment, 6-let the music come through you, 7-have fun.....Oh.....and you're going to play a concert at a major international music festival on Friday.....Everybody ready to go for a little ride?

The first day of a Conduction Workshop is about "Information Overload & Fear/Trust". You are giving them way more information than they can possibly absorb and introducing concepts that most of them have never encountered before (check out last months blog "GOING ANCIENT SCHOOL"). The energy coming from the ensemble is total fear as they each are dealing with their own (self imposed) limitations, while you are showing them the "Door of Possibility" that is now just slightly ajar and are asking them to trust you, as you begin to lead them through it.

The second day can be summed up in one word "Excitement" As the musicians begin to experience the act of creating sophisticated ensemble music from nothing, completely in the moment, the door of possibility opens wide enough for the entire ensemble to step through together.....Pure Wonder.

On the third day there is usually going to be a little dip in the otherwise ascending experience and sometimes you just got to smack em up side the head. People start to think that they've got it all figured out and there is often a lack of focus or rather a kind of "Focus Fatigue". Playing music using the Conduction vocabulary is at the same time an experience of incredible focus and unbelievable freedom. Most of the students have never experienced such focus and freedom before, let alone together. Day three can be tricky for the conductor. (Leading a large ensemble is like frying a small spoil it with too much poking)


The stratigy for success was in the physical sculpture of the ensemble and I chose to keep them in groups and mirrored sub-groups:

1- Four drum & bass duos at the four corners of the ensemble would allow more sonic and interactive space between these four sub-groups and provide individual rhythm sections for other sub-divisions of the ensemble. This was the foundational element.

2- Mirrored piano & organ duos as well as wind & string quartets on either side of the ensemble.

3- The voice choir accross the center back (raised).

4- The electric guitar choir (the viking guitar horde), center in front of the voice choir.

I knew that the drum & bass duos would work on multiple levels but the big and wonderful surprise was the electric guitar choir. I had encouraged them to bring their effects pedals and be prepared to generate feedback at acoustic volumes. Since we already had so many monophonic instruments I asked the guitars to focus more on the rich sound sculpture vocabulary that one can access through the use of vibrating metal strings through filters, delays and speakers. They were all very open to the idea and the results where a revelation for us all! I hope they will keep their guitar choir going through the rest of the school year as there is a wealth of music to be discoverd in that grouping and we just tapped the surface during our four days together.

So, how did they do, you might be asking yourselves. On Friday 9/2/11 we performed a 50 minute Conduction (completely in the moment), to a full house and recieved a standing ovation. The word of mouth during the rest of the festival was all quite consistent in it's positive excitement about the event with the Student Ensemble.....turned out to be quite an interesting ride for all of us.

safe travels.....dino