Liverpool Music Week is in full swing at the moment, and one of the most intriguing performances looks set to happen at this Friday’s mega-massive-closing-party shindig.
Dustin Wong is a musician who’s carved an interesting niche for himself doing hypnotic, beautiful instrumental music – using only guitar melodies looped over themselves. These multilayered works form his latest album ‘Infinite Love’, and in an ambitious project the album’s loops and layers will be broken apart and performed by an orchestra of nine guitarists, live, on Friday.
We caught up with local promoter Jon Davies, who came up with the idea, and Wong himself, for a chat ahead of the one-off gig.
What can we expect from this Infinite Love Orchestra business?
Jon: Like the record itself the Infinite Love Orchestra is a mix of dudes you’ll recognise from Liverpool’s local scene (including members of Dire Wolfe, Chrik, Vasco Da Gama and Sun Drums) as well as more classically trained guitarists that have performed in other scratch orchestras and member shifting ensembles (Apatt Orchestra and Frakture). On top of it being in the LMW closing party, it’s also a commission for Mercy’s Overlap Festival, which is focusing on repetition and mantra. I guess this project was also inspired by the Rhys Chatham ensemble that I was fortunate enough to be a part of, having a large guitar ensemble made of non-classical musicians playing pieces that are considered part of the modern classical canon. Dustin Wong isn’t a classical guitarist, and Infinite Love isn’t necessarily considered a minimalist record, but no doubt it’s got similar elements to Rhys Chatham. I’ve really had to think about choosing the right guitarists for this performance. The music Dustin writes is really accessible, and he’s got a really good ear of layering melodies on top of each other and creating music that’s full of emotion and joy.
What’s the logistics like of dealing with all those musicians?
Jon: To begin with I had written a list of guitarists that I wanted and knew would be interested. I also wanted to make sure it was a mix of guitarists that the Liverpool scene would recognise as well as those who are a bit less known but, all the same, great musicians. For example, first on my list to contact was Chris Lynn of Chrik/Vasco Da Gama, I think he’s definitely seen as one of the most talent rock guitarists, and then musicians like Richard Harding and John McGrath who are very talented individuals, but a bit more academic. So I think it’s going to be great for them to get involved in projects like this, but all in all I’ve got a lot of confidence in the guitarists that will be involved. In terms of logistics, it’s going to be tricky, I think there will be only one day where we’re all in a room together to rehearse, but everyone’s incredibly committed, and it’s just all about gelling, making sure we have clear channels of communicating when we’re on stage and just no freakouts!
How difficult was it – and how long did it take you – to transcribe all of Dustin’s music?
Jon: I’m a classically trained musician, but I’ve never taken a guitar lesson in my life, so to say it was a cakewalk would be an overstatement. I had kept in close contact with Dustin over creating the scores, although he’s given me free reign over writing everything, and he was kind enough to send me over individual guitar tracks from the ‘Infinite Love’ sessions, so some tracks flew by. Others were really difficult to work out. There are some parts in the album that is basically Dustin improvising, so some parts I’ve tried to appropriate them for this performance, others I’ve left for the guitarists freedom to jam. It took me the best of 3 months on and off.
Dustin, what was it that attracted you to this particular idea? Is it
exciting to extrapolate your music like this?
Dustin: To be honest I’ve been shying away from the idea of having multiple people playing my music, just because I felt like it would be such an imposition. When I played in Liverpool a few months back in April, Jon Davies proposed the idea of having a guitar ensemble to play my music from ‘Infinite Love’, I was extremely flattered and didn’t expect someone to be proposing this idea to me. Jon did an amazing job of transcribing the melodies and ideas. It’s very exciting.
How different do you think it will be to performing it live and solo, like you normally do?
Dustin: The thing with playing alone is when you set up a loop you are setting up a perimeter or a grid for the other melodies to be laid on top, then I have to keep activating the melody to keep the loop from dying. With multiple performers the grid isn’t going to be completely straight, the lines can get wavy there will be some phasing, and because of the multiple guitars, minor tuning differences may create a chorus effect. I want the different players to be able to change the patterns around while they play as well so that’ll change the song into becoming something a lot more alive.
Will this kind of performance change how you approach writing, or your solo work in general, in future?
Dustin: Yes! I’m going to learn so much from this experience, it’s extremely exciting. I was part of an “In C” (Terry Riley) performance in Baltimore a couple of years a go and it revealed so many things to me. Whatever that may change or come is a little scary, but I welcome.
Dustin Wong’s Infinite Love Orchestra @ Liverpool Music Week closing party
Contemporary Urban Centre, Friday 11th November
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