Amy Brandon‘s mixture of guitar and electroacoustic music has been described as ‘… mesmerizing’ (Musicworks Magazine), ‘… a model of classical guitar clarity’ (The WholeNote) and ‘[a] clashing of bleakness with beauty’ (Minor 7th). Holding degrees in jazz and composition, she is completing a PhD in music cognition and guitar at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia in addition to composing. She has performed internationally (Canada, USA, Australia, New Zealand, UK) and recently released her first CD Scavenger. For Sound Symposium Amy will share the concert stage with Susan Alcorn, lap steel guitar master.
This interview has been edited for length and concision.
Annie Corrigan: How did the collaboration with you and Susan Alcorn come to be?
Amy Brandon: I met Susan at a SuddenlyListen concert in Halifax on April, 2017. She was here playing with Norm Adams and Tim Crofts. We got to talking a little about guitar and I told her a bit about my PhD work on visuomotor control and guitar performance. Her perspective as a pedal-steel guitarist was really interesting as pedal-steel involves more than just the two hands – but also manipulations with the feet as well. I was going to New York a few weeks later and asked if I could drop by Baltimore and see her. She was incredibly welcoming and we played a bit. Playing with Susan is quite the experience, and so I really hoped I could figure out a way to bring her back to Canada again.
AC: What came first for you, the guitar or the electronics? And then how did you think to mesh the two?
AB: Guitar came first. I’ve been playing since I was fifteen, primarily teaching myself before I went to do my B.Mus. at Carleton in Ottawa. And I’ve always written music. My audition pieces were almost all original instrumentals. That was because I didn’t know how to read music at that time! But they let me in anyway! Then I played and worked as a jazz guitarist for several years before going back and doing a Master’s in classical composition at Ottawa U. I only started doing electronics after I finished this degree. I had written and recorded the music for my solo album Scavenger, but something was missing. It needed more. So I created a whole album’s worth of electronics to accompany it. And since then I’ve just been exploring the wonderful world of electroacoustic music. I created an hour-long acousmatic work for Videodanse Bourgogne which is premiering at Normandy Castle in Cerisy on May 17th. And I did my first installation at BEASTFEaST at the University of Birmingham called ‘Hypervigiliance’, which also featured the fantastic improvising saxophonist Andrew Mackelvie.
AC: Describe what it was like to record your album Scavenger?
AB: Writing and recording Scavenger was like pulling my guts out and carefully arranging them on the table. It was a painful process. I experienced a level of frustration in writing and creating this album that I didn’t know was possible. Some pieces I re-recorded over and over again, because I was never satisfied. Others were first take. Making the electronics was a shot in the dark. I didn’t even know what I was doing when I began. I had no idea how it was going to turn out. On top of that, all of the electronic sounds are manipulated recordings of performances I made at the Banff Centre’s Jazz and Creative Music program in 2015. That program was intense — it was like an interrogation — shining a light on yourself and asking, is that really the best you can do? Intense. So those Banff recordings have a deep personal meaning. And to take them and form them into something new was very cathartic. I’m happy with this album.
AC: I will definitely be attending your workshop Saturday morning. What do you enjoy about teaching? What can we expect from that workshop?
AB: I am very excited to do this workshop! I’m going to be talking about my work with VR and AR notation which is part of my PhD research. I want to show everyone that VR and AR offers some exciting pathways for improvisation, and that the equipment and software needed can often be easier to source and use than one might think. And I get to show the new META headset which has a clear visor — so you can integrate your 3D notation with your environment — possibly even your instrument.
Amy Brandon At Sound Symposium XIX*
- Concert — Friday, July 6 at 8:00pm (D. F. Cook Recital Hall, MUN School of Music)
- Workshop — Monday, July 9 at 4:00pm (Choral Room, MUN School of Music)
*Times and locations subject to change.