“I suppose incorporating the electric guitar into an orchestral setting could be considered classical music according to someone’s cultural definition,” says the conservatory-trained Montreal native. “But I’m not interested in labels. About 20 years ago, I began ignoring the categories people established, and I started creating music that I found interesting, and that reflected my overall musical experience. Like classical music, my work is fairly structured and notated. But, like jazz, it also leaves room for improvisation.”
Brady has released more than a dozen guitar-dominated CDs of his compositions, performed with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, penned commissions for various performance ensembles, and organized two major international festivals of new music. To hear the seamless integration of Brady’s multi-stream approach, check out 2004’s Playing Guitar: Symphony #1 [Justin Time], which pairs Brady with a 15-piece orchestral ensemble on the massive 40-plus-minute title track.
“In an ensemble setting, the electric guitar functions like a chameleon par excellence for three reasons,” he says. “First, an acoustic instrument—such as a violin or a horn—has a fixed dynamic range, but an electric guitar can be as soft and intimate, or as loud and boisterous as you need it to be. Second, the electric guitar combines elements of string and percussion instruments. You can attack it like a drum, piano, or xylophone, but you have the subtlety of articulation—vibrato and glissando, for example—offered by a string instrument. As an arranger, this allows me to double a fast sixteenth-note vibraphone part in one section, and a legato string passage in another. Finally, it’s a much better noisemaker than any acoustic instrument. I can stomp on three harmonizers and a distortion pedal, and then strike a chord that arrives like a ton of bricks in the middle of a piece. Or, I can run it through a ring modulator and a reverse-delay, and produce a soft gurgling sound. It adds layers of texture and color that a string section can’t achieve on its own.”
“I’d played 24-fret guitars for years, but recently I’ve switched to Godins, which are 22-fret models,” he explains. “I thought I’d miss the high-octave E, but I don’t. I find that with the 22-fret necks, you have much subtler control over vibrato and intonation because they offer more hand space in the upper register.”
Despite the obvious advantages it offers as a compositional and orchestral tool, Brady feels the main barrier between electric guitar and classical music is a communication gap.
“Most electric guitarists come from an aural culture,” he explains. “They learn by listening. Conversely, most classical musicians come from a written culture. They learn by reading. Bridging the gap between the two cultures means being fluent in both disciplines, and that takes a fair amount of time and energy. It does, however, ultimately lead to a very broad understanding of the scope and depth of music as a human expression.”