On Salut für Cauldwell

This Wednesday, Fonema's guitarists Samuel Rowe and Shawn Lucas will perform Helmut Lachenmann's Salut for Caudwell, a relentlessly-paced duo of demanding synchronicity. In a two-part series, the guitarists interview each other, bringing you answers to questions that have come up during their long collaboration on this work. 

Samuel Rowe: You and I have different training and come from different backgrounds on the guitar (yours electric, mine classical).  Do you think this has influenced our approach to Lachenmann's work?

Shawn Lucas: I certainly think it has an important influence on the sound of the piece.  In fact, the first time we performed it last May I received many comments about how our own individual personalities were part of the magic of the performance. I believe Salut für Caudwell is aided by a contrast in characteristics between the two performers with its constant play of dialogue between them.  As with everyone, our individual personalities and training backgrounds effect the way we play our instrument. Individuality serves to enhance the overall sound and intensity of the performance, especially when considering the extremely persistent dialogue of Salut.

Samuel Rowe: What has been the most challenging aspect of learning and performing Salut für Caudwell?

Shawn Lucas: Definitely the ensemble work. Salut is a relentless piece in terms of how our instruments communicate.  It never gives you a break, there are no fermatas or significant pauses, and even the short pauses still carry a rhythmic intensity.  The piece is so detailed that precise rhythmic coordination is a must, which certainly challenged my musicianship in a way that no other piece ever has.  The piece is also extremely physically demanding both in its mental focus and physicality.  It's truly a work that takes all of my energy, nothing is left to spare

Samuel Rowe: Almost none of the techniques Lachenmann calls for in Salut für Caudwell fall within the normal range of the guitar traditions we're trained in.  Do you find the techniques Lachenmann requires intuitive?  Strange?  Demanding?  Bizarre?

Shawn Lucas: Demanding, yes.  Strange, certainly not.  I am going slightly outside the bounds of the question, but I am going to rant a little here.  As a composer, I am highly invested in inventive techniques.  I understand the term "extended technique" within a historical context.  I understand that instruments within the classical music canon were only used in specific, and dare I say, limited ways, thus a term was needed to describe everything outside of traditional boundaries.  However I believe that music in the 21st century should grow past the term "extended technique," it is a term that I believe has been used to diminish the artistic validity and power of pushing an instrument to its fullest potential.  I am an absolute believer that the idiom of an instrument is whatever sound it has the capability to create, no matter how far the boundaries are stretched from traditions.  Lachenmann has proved the power of utilizing an instrument in a highly diverse and intricate way.  There are sounds that I never imagined the guitar making before playing Salut, but I never thought of them as bizarre or strange, in fact the adjectives I jumped to were more along the lines of "magical" or "remarkable."  Especially considering how Lachenmann contextualizes every sound within a sophisticated formal framework.

Samuel Rowe: Famously, Salut für Caudwell contains an extended, and strange, passage of Sprechstimme performed by both guitarists.  Like most guitarists, neither of us are highly trained as vocalists.  Did you find it challenging to incorporate your voice into the sound-world of the piece?

Shawn Lucas: The text section of Salut is amazing.  I did not find it difficult to speak while playing, besides learning the German phonetics (something I'm still not perfect with).  Vocal work was something that I was already used to from singing and playing old jazz standards, a hobby that yields a few pick up gigs here and there.  I actually love using my voice, so it was a pleasure to practice the text section, even though it isn't easy, certainly.