Dominic Frasca(2)

Dominic Frasca—who took top honors at GP’s first annual Guitar Hero competition after turning in a performance that left the audience and the judges breathless—began playing electric guitar at age 13, emulating the hard rock of AC/DC, Scorpions, Iron Maiden, and Judas Priest. But his precociousness soon led him to the classical guitar, which he took up four years later. “I studied classical with a guy named Steve Aron, who immediately recognized my commitment to the instrument,” recalls Frasca. “He invited me to accompany him to a major classical guitar festival and competition in Toronto, which is where I first heard Kazuhito Yamashita play his arrangement of Mussorgsky’s ‘Pictures at an Exhibition,’ and I was completely blown away.”

Frasca immediately decided to pursue music in college. He moved to Arizona from his hometown of Akron, Ohio, to study with renowned teacher Tom Patterson, and immersed himself in the classical guitar canon. But he soon grew weary of the repertoire and began to find the classical music culture stifling. “During the latter part of my freshman year I realized that playing classical music wasn’t what I wanted to do. I had begun listening to a lot of music by Philip Glass and Steve Reich, which had the visceral energy that I loved about rock, along with all the structural and musical complexity that drew me to classical music. The only problem was that neither composer wrote for the guitar.”

Frasca began writing and arranging immediately. Equal parts nascent iconoclasm and homage to his initial inspiration, his first major composition was appropriately titled “Shattered Glass.” The piece is a 15-minute tour-de-force that combines wickedly thorny polyrhythmic cross-string arpeggios with fierce percussive patterns, executed on the body of his instrument (which has been prepared by attaching pieces of cardboard, rubber, and wood to the soundboard).

As he began to write increasingly complex music, Frasca recognized that his instrument would require more elaborate adaptation if it were to accommodate what he was hearing in his head, so he began making modifications himself. He strung the guitar with both nylon and steel strings for timbral diversity, added fretboard inserts so he could capo individual strings, and installed a hexaphonic pickup so each string could be processed individually.

The effect is that of multiple musicians, which is appropriate given Frasca’s penchant for ensemble music. “My guitar technique is inspired by ensemble music, not by other guitarists,” he explains. “For instance, the technique that allows me to play cross-string arpeggios with my fingers while at the same time playing percussion lines with my thumb came from listening to the music of Anthony Davis, with whom I studied composition at Yale. Much of his music is based on instruments playing ostinatos in different meters while a drummer lays down a groove to hold it all together.”

As Frasca’s instrument and compositional ideas expanded, so did the technical demands of his music. Frasca found himself practicing as many as 14 hours a day, yielding increased dexterity and precision, but ultimately causing him to develop focal dystonia, a condition leading to a loss of motor control of one or more fingers. “My desire to create new techniques forces me to do things my hands have never done before,” he says. “In ‘Deviations’, for example, I wanted to get a pizzicato sound on one string, while playing percussion grooves and arpeggios at the same time. My solution was to plant my pinky on the high B to mute it, use my ring finger to articulate that string, use my thumb to hit my soundboard for the percussion, and play the arpeggios with my index and middle fingers.

For two years, Frasca had to stop playing while he sought to understand his condition and rehabilitate his technique. It was during this time that he began Olympic lifting. “When I started lifting, I noticed that my fingers began to fire with much greater speed and force. Now, in addition to practicing guitar for six to eight hours a day, I spend one to two hours in the gym.”

It has been three years since Frasca regained full use of his hands. In that time, he recorded Deviations [Quicksilver], a disc that contains the 20-plus-minute title track, as well as an arrangement of “Two Pages” by Philip Glass and several works by composer Marc Mellits. Last year, Frasca opened The Monkey, a boutique surround sound performance space in Manhattan, and he has also begun touring regularly. Most recently, Frasca inked a deal with Cantaloupe Records.

When asked to summarize his musical philosophy in one sentence, Frasca responded: “You can excite an audience, you can anger an audience, you can even scare an audience—just don’t bore an audience.”