Around the Room

A post-performance discussion with Enda Bates and Elliott Sharp. Photograph: Lori Baily.

Around the Room

Enda Bates' music for hexaphonic guitar brings together his formal training and rock influences.

Enda Bates
Issue Project Room, Brooklyn, New York
13 April 2011

The usual two-speaker PA won’t do Enda Bates justice. His specialised guitar is rigged with a hexaponic pick-up (think stereophonic times three) which sends a separate signal from each of the strings. But in an industrial section of Brooklyn near the Gowanus Canal lies a sanctum for musical experimentation called Issue Project Room which is outfitted with fifteen overhead speakers and software designed to send signals around the room.

Bates played five of his own compositions, taking advantage of the sound system in a variety of ways. There was a formalism that betrayed Bates’ university training, but within those structures he would place an alternating bass line reminiscent of a folk style, or quickly jabbed strums as if a bit of a punk song had floated by. He’d build a solid center in the bass register and send delayed and decaying treble notes echoing across the room, and used a piece of ‘flocking’ software, which caused looped notes to ‘follow’ a lead note across the tableau. He introduced rustic chords that would have served in a spaghetti western soundtrack, but he turned them into a symphonic swell filling the room. He set a simple pulse and then forced smudgy phrases through the middle, resolving after some time in a satisfying, multi-harmonic drone. This was peppered with more staccato chords which swelled to ring through the room before resolving in a soft, sitar-like buzz.

Bates has written for chamber ensembles, but he also plays in a straight-ahead rock band. Here he merged the two, with atmospheric tones occasionally revealing a tendency towards an ambient rock sound – but here it was an ambience rich in detail. In an interview with New York guitarist Elliot Sharp after the concert, Bates acknowledged that he drew more from such bands as My Bloody Valentine and Sonic Youth than more highbrow composers. ‘I’m a punk rocker at heart,’ he said.

Published on 30 May 2011

Kurt Gottschalk is a writer and guitarist living in New York City.

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