Did Tim Brady plan his first three albums for Ambiances Magnétiques as a trilogy? 20 Quarter Inch Jacks featured his studio, sampler/overdub-heavy work; Unison Rituals focused on his “real” compositions for ensembles; and now Playing Guitar: Symphony #1 pairs both directions: a score for real instruments (the musicians of the Nouvel Ensemble Moderne, conducted by Lorraine Vaillancourt) and samplers playing back stacks of overdubbed guitars. This 45-minute symphony in five movements represents Brady’s most ambitious recorded work to date. It is also one of the most convincing attempts ever made at integrating the electric guitar to a “classical” music group (and not turning it into one, as with Glenn Branca’s symphonies), in this case a 15-piece contemporary chamber ensemble. One doesn’t detect the slightest distance between guitar and orchestra, both entities talking the same language, which is neither rock nor classical, but Brady’s. And Brady’s language stems from Glass’ velocity, Reich’s sense of interlocking rhythms, Stravinsky’s grandeur, and Goebbels’ cross-stylistic approach — yet it is also more flexible than the first one, less hypnotic than the second, more rapturing than the third and definitely warmer than the latter. The first movement is extremely dense and fast, walking a fine line between complexity and cacophony. It is obviously meant to nail the listener to his or her seat, while offering a lot of melodic and harmonic material to assimilate all at once. Things settle down a bit afterwards, especially in the second and fourth movements. The samplers help blur the distinction between orchestra and guitars, composition and manipulation, performance and treatment. The second half of the last movement lacks panache and brings the piece to a slightly disappointing conclusion, but otherwise this is a very impressive work that manages to shake off the rigidity of (some) contemporary music while heartily embracing the pomposity of the symphonic genre. The stellar recording and lively mix are icing on the cake.
Rounding up the program is Frame 1 - Resonance, a very different 12-minute piece for electric guitar, electronics and piano. More electroacoustics than anything else, the piece sticks to a gloomy atmosphere, hammered piano notes reverberating through large chambers of guitar soundscapes and treated echoes. The piece is interesting in itself, but doesn’t stand comparison to the preceding symphony and, truth be told, Ambiances Magnétiques should have ignored duration issues (46 minutes is still a respectable total duration) and limited the contents of this album to only Playing Guitar: Symphony #1.