Writings

Some words on the electric guitar & pedals

I’ve found myself to have been writing for a core group of instruments fairly regularly for the past two years now. Among them are the saxophone and electric guitar. You might recognize these instruments as typically belonging to other genres of music than classical or contemporary music, but in the past few decades, amazing headway has been made into their use in contemporary repertoire (my ideal ensemble these days would almost always include both of these instruments). In particular, the electric guitar, which is what I want to touch upon.

The fact that the electric guitar is so synonymous with the landscape of 20th century popular music makes its move into contemporary classical music all but inevitable. Despite that, and despite composers regularly using the electric guitar in their works for upwards of half a century now (starting in the 1950’s with works by Berio, Stockhausen, and more), many people still don’t know how to work with an electric guitar in an ensemble setting.

The electric guitar begat many many things in the realms of music, technology, sound exploration, etc… and one of the best things to come from its advent is guitar pedals.

I’ll keep this brief. There are so many different kinds of pedals out there, with which to add any multitude of effects and additional sounds to the electric guitar. There are pedals for reverberation, to regulate volume, pitch, loop specific passages or sounds, and on and on. The pedal I have used in my recent work, Liminal Luminosity, written for the Hodiernal Quartet (violin, cello, e. guitar, double bass), uses a more recent pedal: the freeze pedal. Simply put, the freeze pedal catches and sustains indefinitely, whatever sound is being played at the time it is activated. This allows for a build up of harmony, additions to melodies, the creation of through lines of sound, and, as is the case in my work, an ever-present harmonic backdrop. It’s a wonderful little thing (I bought one specifically for this work, as they’re rather new), and I’m looking forward to playing around with it more in combination with other pedals.

–  Paolo Griffin, May 31st, 2017