(Note: this post is part of a series.)
Day 6: Curt Golden, “Bicycling to Afghanistan”.
Every player has at least one personal nemesis. This one is mine! During my involvement in Guitar Craft, I came by the score of this piece and, ambitious SOB that I am, resolved to bring it to Guitar Circle Colorado. During one of my many extended business trips of that time, I spent…a lot…of time studying all three parts, and the extent of the “reverse beer goggles” phenomenon was astonishing.
The way I remember Curt telling us the story about the piece, he by God wanted to write a Guitar Craft piece that you could count in four and in three like everyone else. (Guitar Craft is somewhat known for its fives, sevens, and the occasional thirteen) So…he, ah, did. In such a way as to (re-)earn his nickname, “Curt You Bastard”.
Note this YouTube of a Guitar Craft trio, bravely attacking “Bicycling”; I’ll use them as a backdrop for explanation:
The fella on the left is playing the “fives” part, which you might call the main melody line. Its core figure is a five-count, which features completely counter-intuitive finger movements, and it must “catch up” to the main song’s four- and three-counts.
The fella in the middle is the bass part, which is mostly counted in six, and with some of the most glorious syncopations I have ever seen. (Curt writes absolutely bomber bass parts.) Finger gymnastics are demanding, as is the string skipping to get the octaves at the suggested tempo. (The score indicates it is intended for 98-104bpm, which given the technical demands borders on outrageous.)
The guy on the right is the “harmony” part, also known as the sevens, with an over-the-top eleven in the C Phrygian section, and two extremely challenging turnaround descents. Like the fives, it has to “catch up” to the overall four- and three-counts, and on top of it all, there is this motif, which you can hear go up an octave in the F# Phrygian section, that is actually handed from the fives part to the sevens part.
Curt you bastard, indeed. It’s freakin’ glorious.
But here’s the thing. I learned all three parts, both just to do it (and understand the piece better), and also to be able to take it to GCCO with the aim of playing it as an ensemble. And so I did; we divided up the parts, studied a bit individually, and then the trio came together to work on it.
Each part, on its own, is so engaging and interesting that it really stands on its own; in one way it’s a real shame that the ensemble covers so much of what is going on in any one part. And so Dave and I sat down to work on the sevens against the fives…and I completely fell apart on the sevens, simply because I was so mesmerized hearing him play the fives against it. It was a whole different learning curve to play it together…and yet we were already a seasoned ensemble with an existing repertoire of complicated, interlocking parts. This, somehow, is a whole different beast.
That first link is of the Atomic Chamber Ensemble, one of Curt’s various Guitar Craft projects; it is a great reference standard for students of the piece–especially as it has the “fourth part” ending, which gilds the lily in a truly beautiful and over-the-top way. (The fourth part is absent on the League’s 1990 A Show Of Hands album.)
And here is another YouTube link to the piece being performed by the League in Atlanta:
The evil SOB on the right is Curt, by the way. (You…bastard!)
Kudos to the trio at the second YouTube link for getting out there and playing it. I can certainly hear a few clams, but then again we had ’em too! And you can see their hands–players can perhaps get some idea of how challenging it really is.
I’m happy to call it my nemesis; may I never stop studying it! 🙂