"Now for something completely different," as the Monty Python Troupe used to say. The Los Angeles Electric 8 is a classical repertory ensemble consisting of eight electric guitarists, and this is its first, self-produced disc. Some might be surprised to learn that the use of electric guitars in classical music goes back quite some time, at least to the 1950s when French composers such as Jean Barraqué and Marius Constant began to score electric guitar parts into mixed chamber ensembles; think the theme to The Twilight Zone, composed by Constant. All-guitar orchestras have been an established mode of instrumentation in the New York "Downtown" scene since at least around 1980, when Glenn Branca, Rhys Chatham, and Elliott Sharp began experimenting with such textures, ultimately leading to ensembles based on that formula. However, just because a composer develops a specific kind of ensemble to perform a given work doesn't mean that it's going to catch on; both Haydn and Louis Andriessen have been rather lucky in this regard.
It appears that Los Angeles Electric 8 has taken it on its own initiative to create such a group, and it doesn't sound like Glenn Branca; a fair amount of the repertoire thus far consists of transcriptions of traditional Balinese gamelan works. The opening piece on the CD, Nathaniel Braddock's Ill Tempered Lancaran, is to some degree related to the milieu of the gamelan and to that of no wave, and it's a real ear opener. Randall Kohl's Balinesa also touches on monkey chant, but at two minutes it's a bit short (and sounds like it's fun to play). Wayne Siegel's Domino Figures, at 22 minutes the longest piece on the program, is basically minimalistic in approach and requires some patience, but it does reward in the end. Some of the free-floating harmonies encountered along the way have a tuneful and attractive effect. The disc is filled out with a crisply played and appropriately acerbic transcription of Shostakovich's Two Pieces for double string quartet, Op. 11; the weakest piece being a rendering of the Prelude from Mendelssohn's F minor Organ Sonata. It is arranged and played nicely, but conventional romantic harmony gains a certain plumminess once it gets electrified, much as is the case with Rick Wakeman's solo piece "Cans and Brahms" on the Yes album Fragile. The production is a little dry and straightforward, though as it seems to be breaking ground here, one cannot blame Los Angeles Electric 8 for wanting to play the production card close to the vest. Los Angeles Electric 8 is an extremely exciting album, not to mention enjoyable to listen to, and gives one the feeling of being on the ground floor of something fresh and new.