John Schneider’s “Just” microtonal guitar on #neuguitars #blog #JohnSchneider
John Schneider is an American guitarist, composer, musicologist and popularizer. Californian to be exact. For some nice game of symmetry and destiny, I live in Venice (Italy) and he in Venice (USA). Scheneider is a true specialist, an expert in contemporary guitar music. Not only is he the author of an absolutely fundamental book on the subject, such as “The Contemporary Guitar”, released in 1985 and finally reprinted in 2015, but he has also been the president of the Guitar Foundation of America, also making valuable recordings, always made by playing guitars prepared and tuned according to Just Intonation. I invite you to visit his website, and to deepen his brilliant curriculum:
I also invite you to visit the website of his independent record company, MicroFest Records:
Schneider is one of the greatest interpreters of the music of contemporary composers, all of Californian origin, all great experimenters and devotees of Just Intonation: Lou Harrison, LaMonte Young, Harry Partch and John Cage. Just Intonation is a tuning system that sets the musical intervals on fractions of whole numbers (in other words, on harmonic series): compared to a system of fixed intervals, in which the intervals are exactly equidistant from each other, the result is sounds and more nuanced tonal ratios, which make compositions rich in sonic ranges that are unusual compared to conventional tuning. Over the years I have collected his albums with great pleasure and interest, this has allowed me not only to listen to new music, but also to listen in a new way and to appreciate a different approach to the guitar. I selected three albums, all titled “Just”, they are: ‘Just West Coast’ (1993), ‘Just Guitars’ (2003) and ‘Just National Guitar’ (2018). Those are three truly remarkable records.
Let’s start with the first ‘Just West Coast’, released in 1993 for the independent record company Bridge Records, created and managed by David Starobin and his wife Becky.
All the pieces, except “In a Landscape” by John Cage, are conceived and performed for guitar prepared and tuned in Just Intonation and harp.
This is a really interesting CD. It is quite unusual to find a guitar and harp duo and I have to say John Schneider and Amy Shulman are truly remarkable, the harmony is excellent.
They perform music by John Cage, Lou Harrison, Lamonte Young and Harry Partch. The American mavericks, authors of a new phase of experimentation and detachment from the European tradition, bearers of a new innovative current.
Ten years later, Schneider returns to these composers, expanding the roster to include Carter Scholtz and Terry Riley.
This time he’s solo, with his specially tuned guitars, and the album, also produced by Bridge Records, is titled “Just Guitars”.
The album is a true masterpiece, and I recommend it. Schneider belongs to that particular category of elegant virtuosos, who make absolutely no sense of his skill. Everything seems simple, flowing.
The complexity, in Schneider’s executions, is not burdened by useless thoughts and forms. A form that is congenial to him and that never reaches moments of cerebral coldness.
He proves it again after a few years, in 2018, with the new CD “Just National Guitar”, this time produced by the new independent house Microfest Records, managed by Schneider himself. An excellent label, with a fantastic catalog that I invite you to explore, but with the terrible flaw of not having distribution in Europe. Too bad, because “Just National Guitar” is another masterpiece that deserves better exposure.
His repertoire here also extends to Tom Johnson’s ‘Rational Melodies’ and composer Peter Yates. Peter Yates is a guitarist, composer, educator and multimedia artist. His work as a guitarist and chamber musician includes collaborations and concerts with the Elgart / Yates Guitar Duo, the voice / guitar duo GuitAria and the trio ensemble FRET. Tom Johnson is a legend. Author of the book ‘The Voice of New Music’Johnson considers himself a minimalist composer, and was the first to apply this term to music in his article ‘The Slow-Motion Minimal Approach’ written for The Village Voice in 1972. His minimalism is formalist in nature, based primarily on logical sequences, as in 21 Rational Melodies (1982), where it explores procedures such as accumulation, counting, and isorhythm. We also find Lou Harrison, Terry Riley and Carter Scholz, composer, writer, performer, science fiction author, computer music programmer, graphic and font designer, publisher, multifaceted author, whom we have already met on the previous album. Schneider is a shrewd interpreter, at the service of composers, always careful not to exceed certain limits. The guitars have the authoritative voice of knowing the subject well, the composers and playing without the need to demonstrate anything. Schneider is also a composer, with great discretion he has included two songs by him, “Tombo for Lou” and “Lament”, in his albums, which deserve more consideration. His pioneering work led him to explore a little known and performed repertoire in Europe, his attention to Just Intonation has opened new creative paths capable of both renewing the instrument and generating new music and ideas. Listen to his music carefully.