Signal To Noise Interview: Tim Brady

by James

A great interview with composer/guitarist Tim Brady, conducted by Mike Chamberlain in the recent issue of Signal To Noise! Full interview below…


What do the sequencing of “Revolution #9” and “Good Night” on the Beatles’ White Album and the contrasting passages in th

e second movement of Charles Ives’ 4th Symphony have in common? They both inspired guitarist and composer Tim Brady to liberate himself from notions of genre.

“The juxtaposition is so incredibly powerful,” Brady enthuses. “It creates a meta experience. For me, music is about the totality of the musical experience. Sometimes I want to write really loud music. And sometimes I want to write incredibly pretty music. As a composer, I should be allowed to write whatever I want.“

Over the past almost thirty y

ears, Brady has explored a variety of approaches to the electric guitar—both writing music for it and wringing sounds out it—combining disparate elements into a body of work that includes chamber, orchestral and musical theatre works, playing solo, in duos and trios, with string quartets, with his longstanding Bradyworks ensemble, and with symphony orchestras. As he puts it, “I just don’t see why my hands need to be tied by ideology.”

Brady has been called “Montreal’s contribution to the accessible avant-garde,” and it is a label that Brady could find difficult label to live down. His music is too avant-garde for many in the mainstream audience, yet too accessible for hardcore avant-gardists.

“I’ve been dinged by that from both sides. At a certain point, it all comes down to fuck ‘em if they can’t take a joke. This is what I do. It used to bother me. My music in this gray zone, and it does become difficult to categorize. But about five years ago, I gave up. “

The 56-year-old Montreal native began composing at 19. He had been playing guitar and playing in rock bands, but quickly realized he didn’t write good pop tunes and didn’t enjoy singing. Meanwhile, he discovered jazz and read about John McLaughlin, who was citing the influences of Bartok and Stravinsky.

And then he discovered George Gershwin, who lived in both the jazz and pop worlds. “He was a composer, he wrote songs, and he was a great piano player. He could do all that stride piano playing.”

By his late 20s, all these disparate styles had begun to come to the fore in his playing and writing. “There is no single simple model for what new music has to be. New music is more vague and decentralized, so I felt less personal and artistic pressure,“ he says of his move to so-called new music.

“Twenty-five years ago,” Brady relates, “independently of one another, about five of us in different places, began thinking about using the guitar in new music. Steve Mackey, Bang on a Can, myself, that was about it—there was no previous history. No one had done anything with electric guitar and string quartet, for example. So I could just start composing. I found it very liberating, the fact that there was very little historical precedent. That probably says more about my own psychology than it does about music, but I felt very liberated.”

Brady is in the midst of a busy year, performing Amplify, Multiply, Remix, and Redefine, a piece for 21 electric guitars with orchestra with various Canadian symphonies. He’s premiering a violin concerto in April, a short concerto for guitar and orchestra in May, and a new symphonic work with Bradyworks in June. He’ll do solo tours of the U.S. and Europe in the fall, playing sections of the solo guitar and video piece which appears on his latest release, a 3-CD, 1-DVD offering titled 24 Frames— Scatter + Trance (Ambiances Magnétiques).

24 Frames is a project that Brady has been developing for the past six years, and the way he feels about it encapsulates his total approach to music making. Determined to create a large-scale musical structure lasting over two hours, Brady states that it was his aims as a composer that inspired the project. However, he found it challenged his capabilities as player as well.

“I’ve been playing guitar for over 40 years,” he asys. “Each day I pick it up, and it’s fun, even though I’ve played everything so many times. With 24 Frames, I wanted a project where I could accept the limitations of the instrument and simultaneously push beyond them. So as I was writing this big 24-movement piece, I had to see what the relationships and logical connections were between each section.” In the end, no matter what combination of musical materials he employs, it comes down to the question of coherence for Brady: “Does the piece have a flow?”✹

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