Dublin Guitar Quartet


Smock Alley Theatre

INCLUDING NEW works by Michael Fleming, Simon Cullen, Brian Bridges, Enda Bates, Brian Solon, Jonathan Nangle, Linda Buckley.

There exist what could already be considered classics in the electric guitar’s classical repertoire, and it was good that the composers of the Spatial Music Collective embedded one as a touchstone in their programme of otherwise new works.

The classic was Steve Reich’s 1987 Electric Counterpoint, with its subtly shifting, minimalist rhythmic and harmonic textures via multiple guitar parts pre-recorded by the soloist – here, Pat Brunnock – who then joins in live. Not until the third movement does it resonate with the rock music neighbourhood where the electric guitar is more familiar.

Indeed the proximity to – or distance from – rock was an interesting yardstick throughout this concert. The here electrified, amplified Dublin Guitar Quartet opened with Michael Fleming’s Spinal Chord, a simple minimalist study on one chord whose loud, repetitious mid-section seemed to cry out for an explosion of drums and for Axl Rose or Robert Plant to appear. You felt a bit short-changed when they didn’t.

There was a more intricate amalgam of rock and classical in Linda Buckley’s glimmer whose funky thematic solo riff receives Bach-style canonic treatment from the quartet, then gives way to electronic processing in a slow, spacious and tingly central section before the riff returns in an angry rock version for a big finish.

On the other hand, apparently innocent of rock influence were pieces by Jonathan Nangle and Simon Cullen. Nangle’s Drift features spatialised electronics – processed live and spread across eight speakers – and guitars tuned slightly differently from each other. The surface effect – such a distance from Axl Rose! – was tranquil and meditative.

There were two pieces for taped electronics, a style of composing where a big hazard is sounding like you’re just fooling around with interesting raw material. Brian Solon’s “drone piece” Shimmersailed closer to the wind in this regard than did Conduitby Brian Bridges, who mixes water symbolism with sampled and processed water sounds over 10 thought-provoking minutes.

Finally, a piece that sounded like taped electronics but was actually created live on electric guitar. In his Etude No 2, Enda Bates submitted each string to independent electronic processing in an impressive one-man display.