As a non-guitarist, how have you approached composing music for the guitar? Lois V Vierk

As a non-guitarist, how have you approached composing music for the guitar? Lois V Vierk

Photo by Bruce Ide

When guitarist John Schneider asked me to write a piece in 1981 (Los Angeles), I had a nylon string guitar lying around my apartment. I picked up the raggedy old instrument, which I’d been using to strum a few folk music chords, and began searching for some interesting sounds. I knew that I wanted strong sounds and I knew I wanted glissandi. I puzzled over this for quite a while and just kept digging into the instrument as best I could. I was trying this and that, although I couldn’t really play this and that, trying it anyway, and imagining what a guitarist could actually do with his or her hands on the instrument. All the while I was in consultation with John. There were a few visits for guitar demos.

Eventually I settled on a tuning that was exciting to me and that I was eager to use compositionally. I kept the low E string and tuned the other strings all to E or E quarter-tone up or E quarter-tone down. With a guitar slide it would be easy for a real guitarist to play glissandi on all six strings at once. Strumming and tremolo could make the glissandi loud and powerful. I developed and stole other sounds that I liked and wrote Go Guitars for five guitars (“go” means “five” in Japanese). At first the piece was performed on acoustic guitar. Around 1985 I began having it played on electric guitar. Those were the days, by the way, when finding an electric guitarist who could read music was no easy matter. In New York City I was lucky to work with David Seidel, the first to play Go Guitars on electric guitar.

Over the years I’ve written for electric guitar on a few more occasions. Each time it’s hard, each time I must work back and forth with a player. Each time I try to listen to sounds with new ears and I surely listen to all advice. I let myself imagine how my own hands and ears and body would feel playing the guitar. This has been the best way for me into the instrument.

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