solo electric guitar and live signal processing
duration: 12’ SMMP No. 129 (cs)
Colin McAllister, Aug. 3, 2022, Al Ringling Theater, Baraboo, WI
• 6-string electric guitar equipped with a locking tremolo system (i.e., Floyd Rose)
• 2 amplifiers, preferably tube amps that are voice matched and equipped with effects loops
• The following guitar pedal effects, either as individual units or as part of multi-effects systems: volume pedal, wah-wah, 2 overdrive pedals, Octavia-style fuzz pedal, Ring Modulator, tremolo, flanger, chorus (or rotary), harmonizer (octave down), stereo delay, stereo reverb, and two looper pedals capable of storing .wav files. A utility pedal for splitting a mono signal into stereo (i.e., ABY) may be needed in some situations. Very long series may also benefit from a buffer pedal late in the chain. The piece makes use of 3 settings for delay, and 2 each for reverb, tremolo, and ring modulator. Programmable systems that allow for presets are advised, particularly for delay and reverb.
Projection capability for a PowerPoint slideshow, which displays the Homeric texts that appear in the score.
For sound examples (providing guidance for effects settings) and .wav files for loops, and the PowerPoint slideshow contact firstname.lastname@example.org
The Greek term “Nostos” refers to a hero’s epic return home by sea, epitomized most famously by Homer’s Odyssey, which is the source material for my series of compositions for electric guitar. In writing Conversations with the Dead, I was particularly interested in engaging with the sheer strangeness and otherworldliness depicted in Book XI, in which Odysseus and his crew travel to the edge of the world at the border of the land of the dead in order to receive guidance from the spirit of the blind prophet Tiresias. Replete with potent imagery ranging from eerie atmospherics to the grotesquely ghoulish, this episode may be the quintessential ghost story.
With this as the dramatic context for the piece, I felt liberated to engage in an exploration of sound divorced from gestural or rhetorical considerations. Given its capacity for transforming and modulating its sound, using varying degrees of distortion, delays, reverbs, and other effects, the electric guitar presented itself as an ideal resource. With this piece I sought to shape distinct characters while producing an overall sound world full of menace and fear. The techniques and behaviors assigned to the guitarist are essentially non-figurative, producing elusive, ethereal, yet powerful sonic results. Surrounded by a stereo setup, the guitarist is enveloped by sound, and often deploys pre-recorded loops – fixed entities that are no longer ‘alive.’ There are, indeed, many layers of metaphorical underpinnings active in this piece. Is the soloist really in conversation with anyone?
Nostos: Conversations with the Dead marks a sort of return for me, as electric guitar was, for a time, my principal instrument in my youth. It was more or less left for dead for nearly three decades before a quite recent renewal of interest. That renewal was genuine, but tentative, and somewhat skeptical. I am deeply grateful for the cheerful prodding of my longtime friend and colleague Colin McAllister, who commissioned this piece and shares a deep interest in the Homeric classics.