NATE CHIVERS - 28.05.2018
(SD) Thanks Nate for taking the time to speak with us. Let’s start by discussing your work and musical career so far. You studied guitar and composition at Berklee before moving to Manchester to study Postgraduate Composition with Gary Carpenter and David Horne. You’ve produced various works for various ensembles on both sides of the pond, and also you’re an accomplished electric guitarist, currently championing new repertoire for the instrument
with your ‘I’m Gonna’ Play’ concert series. You’ve also been a repeat performer in Michael Brailey’s VIRTUALLYREALITY series, which showcases new experimental music focusing on human relationships with technology. Tell us more about what you do, and what you’re trying to achieve overall as an artist.
(NC) Thanks for having me Shaun. So at the moment, I'm writing music for solo electric guitar for myself. It is a mix of everything that I've learned, so it has elements of rock, pop, jazz, classical and others. I am always looking for a challenge, and always exploring new concepts and ideas that I don't understand.
(SD) The guitar is arguably the most versatile instrument in existence... how have you developed your voice on the instrument, if you feel you have, and what has influenced you along the way?
(NC) Haha, I would argue for that!
It's been a long process, a lot of it that I've been unaware of, like I recently realized I picked up a lot of things from Ani DiFranco. I pick up things from different people, and have never said no to a different technique, and always try to see where techniques and styles can go. Also in listening and playing to different instruments, I figure out their roles and tones and try to replicate them, and then screw them up. I get bored very easily. And I like noise. It's hard to answer though in many ways.
(SD) What techniques and uses of the guitar are you excited about at the moment?
(NC) Using as much distortion as possible, yet still delicate. Also making harmonics ugly. Both are pretty impossible so it's fun.
(SD) Nice! I'm aware you have a background in Rock & metal music like myself, so that absolutely makes sense. How are you making harmonics ugly?
(NC) Bending them, dissonant harmonies, hitting them hard, using a fan, etc... It's still a work in progress, but it's exciting and inspiring to see the results.
(SD) Now that sounds fun. And what about your composition for other instruments - would you say you have a particular style which embraces certain things?
And do you ever experiment as much with other instruments as you do with guitar?
(NC) For the latter, mostly yes. I think that these extended things bring out the true character of the instrument. I always try to make things idiomatic and grounded. I try to bring out the quirks in the instruments, and of the players that play them. To me, if they are natural and organic quirks, the music is natural and organic, just like people.
(SD) And have you explored physical alterations to instruments at all? Like disassembling for example, or any manipulation similar to that of effects on electric guitar?
(NC) Not at the moment, there's a lot of unexplored territory that hasn't been done. But I like composers who do things like that, like Mauricio Pauly. I just find the naked instrument more exciting right now. Even on the electric guitar, I find it clean to be more interesting at the moment.
I come from the hardcore punk and jazz world, so effects were always considered secondary.
(SD) Absolutely, and there are so many unorthodox possibilities for the guitar just on the clean setting, with it being a string instrument
(NC) Exactly! Not to say effects can't be...effective...
(SD) Haha so eloquently put!
(NC) Good for an American.
(SD) Not bad - I mean, your president doesn't provide the best
(NC) Yeah... That's become clear since being here. Anyway...
(SD) Yeah, getting back to music...
So we’ve programmed the World Premiere of ‘In the Dead of Night’ for 2 classical guitars, which will feature on KINETIC #3 @ LEAF MCR on June 13th - what should we expect? How have you approached the instrument, and the combination? Tell us about your process when composing the piece and what effect you want it to have on our audience.
(NC) A friend said that the classical guitar is the most boring and colourless instrument made. I beg to differ. I know classical technique, so it wasn't too difficult finding interesting sounds, while using fairly conventional harmony.
On what the audience should listen for, I will only say for the gradual change in timbre from percussive sounds to pitched sounds, and back. Any other personal feelings are personal.
It was composed during the night as well.
(SD) Yes I wholeheartedly disagree with your friend also - once you start thinking outside of the traditional mindset, and outside of its general use in classical repertoire, then vast possibilities become apparent.
In a single night, or separate nights?
(NC) Separate nights.
(SD) A great example of what you can with a classic guitar is our mutual friend Callum Coomber, who will of course be performing the piece! Have you any prior experience working with Callum and/or Dave? And if so, have you learned much about approaches to the instrument from them?
(NC) I took some lessons with Dave! He gave me some crucial advice in how to learn repertoire, so it's nice to see him performing a piece of mine. I've done a fair amount with Callum. We've played together in VIRTUALLYREALITY, and in the EEE (Electronic Experimental Ensemble) together, where I gave him some advice for electric playing. So it's actually really cool that they're playing.
If there is a contemporary music concert you will definitely see one of these guys there, if not both. They are both champions of the contemporary scene, so it's always inspiring. I've had many a discussion with Callum at the pub, and he's showed some special techniques for the classical guitar.
(SD) Excellent! Yes, I know Callum fairly well now and have seen Dave in various new music situations. Both of them are doing great things for contemporary music for sure!
(NC) Callum's been with Kinetic since the beginning, right?
(SD) He has actually, yes! We had him, Mark Reid and Hayley Swanton premiering a piece by Caroline Bordignon at The Wonder Inn back in December 2016... Ohhh the early days...
What are your thoughts on the divide between traditional classical audiences and contemporary audiences, and how we could effectively go about exposing new music to those not directly involved in the scene?
(NC) Ignore the traditional crowd.
I think new music should be targeting people that are looking for
something a little different. We just need to make people aware of
it. Frank Zappa, Phillip Glass, Laurie Anderson, and others have
been very successful without comprising their music (whatever you
think about it). It's about exposure, and letting people know that
there are good things in this scene... you just might have to have a
little bit of patience.
Things like Kinetic are really helping, especially by getting it out of
places like London, New York, and LA.
(SD) Yes - I recently met an avid concert goer at Southbank Centre and we were chatting about the Proms - he says that most people who are hardcore Prom attendees won't go to any of the new music concerts if it's over 30 mins. I wasn't surprised...
(NC) Sounds right.
(SD) We ought to be doing what we can with other contemporary art scenes instead, and like you say, people who are just looking for something different. It's debatable whether it should even have the word "classical" attached...
(NC) I try not to bother with the genre. It helps in a basic description, but It is basic nonetheless. Yes - art, film, theater, any art form really. Creativity always works well together... most of the time...
(SD) Yes, it seems just to serve as a way of categorising / marketing something.
The music industry, and the nature of the music we create, is moving so quickly with developments in technology and the growing power of social media / surrounding media in general. What are your thoughts on how recent developments in Western society have effected the creation of new contemporary music, and do you think certain aspects of our discipline have become more or less important / engaging to a modern audience? And does this subject have an effect on how you approach composition?
(NC) Well right now you're across the Atlantic, and we still talk. And
I've done some work with people far away because of technology.
In a general sense, it's easier to get your name out, but it's harder
to make an impression on people. And I am the first to admit that
my self-promotion is lacking, but it's something we definitely need
to concern ourselves with, in a business sense.
And the world is more content-driven, but the music we make takes
months if not years to write. So my approach isn't different, but the
way I promote and bring it to people's attention is definitely
adapting to these changes.
(SD) The self-promotion point is critical, and it's not just doing it, but how you do it depending on what is considered appealing I guess.
Would you say that your compositional approach hasn't changed much then in terms of incorporating computer-generated sounds and such? Is that something that you see yourself getting involved in, or not?
And what about interdisciplinary collaboration? We live in such a visual society these days.
(NC) Me and computers don't get along. I use pedals, but not computers.
I would love to do more with that. I love collaborating with people. I did a thing with Rafael Milcic, a Croatian graphic designer, where he had projections that responded to what I was playing, and that was one of the most rewarding experiences of my career so far.
(SD) Ah yes - was that at the mill in Salford?
(SD) That was great... In general I just think we ought to be doing more to make performances of our music memorable experiences, especially now that music is so devalued with everyone consuming it free of charge. Plus, other art forms are cooooool.
(NC) Totally agree.
(SD) It's as if we are to consider ourselves as choreographers or directors rather than simply composers.
(NC) There are some that are like that It's all very exciting. There are not as many restrictions about what people can do anymore.
(SD) Agreed - it is exciting times to live in as an artist!
What are your thoughts on what Kinetic is doing and how those involved can benefit from the experience? And how do you hope to benefit personally?
(NC) It gives us a venue for our music. You and Ai are involved in the scene, and are very supportive of composers and performers, always looking for ways to promote them and expose them to an audience. Also your insistence that performers be rewarded is remarkable.
I remember you guys sending an email for the first gig at the The Wonder Inn. You've come a long, long way, and have accomplished a lot. Yet, you're not resting on your laurels and have got a straight head, which isn't common. Personally, I look forward to working with you in the future, and seeing where you guys go.
(SD) So kind - I'm glad you see it that way!
Before we finish up, is there anything you'd like to plug?
(NC) Yep! I'm going to pursue a PhD at the Royal Northern College of Music, so my 'I'm Gonna' Play' series will be coming over. There's a concert June 9th in Wilbraham, MA, USA where I'll be performing mostly original material. I am also looking for composers to write electric guitar pieces for me, and am open to anything. Visit my FB page as well! (link below)
(SD) That's excellent news and it'll be great having you back in Manchester for sure. And composers reading this, get on it!
I'd like to finish just by saying thanks a lot for taking the time to join me in discussion, and I very much look forward to seeing how 'In the Dead of Night' turns out in 3 weeks' time.
(NC) Thank you! I'm looking forward to it. It should be great!
To find out more about Nate's work, please see his website, and also his Facebook Artist page.
Be there for Kinetic #3 @ LEAF MCR for Nate's 'In the Dead of Night' and much, much more. Tickets now available at: http://ticketsource.co.uk/kinetic-manchester, and please see our social channels (top right!) for updates.