The New York based electric guitar quartet Dither has established itself as one of the premiere ensembles of its kind, cementing their reputation as keen champions of inventive composers and deft sound sculptors in the rich sonic world of the electric guitar. Their newest release features works by Eve Beglarian, Jascha Narveson, James Tenney, Ted Hearne, Paula Matthusen, as well as each of the four members of the group.
|The Garden of Cyrus
The Garden of Cyrus
|The Tar of Gyu
The Tar of Gyu
|but because without this
but because without this
|The Wah One
The Wah One
|The Driving One
The Driving One
|The Warped One
The Warped One
|The Floaty One
The Floaty One
On their newest album, “Potential Differences”, New York-based electric guitar quartet Dither reasserts itself as one of the premiere ensembles of its kind, cementing its reputation as keen champions of inventive composers and deft sound sculptors in the rich sonic world of the electric guitar. The evolution of the electric guitar quartet as a set instrumentation has paralleled a fascinating fusion between the worlds of notated chamber music and the sonic technology traditionally more associated with rock music and studio production. The natural associations with popular music that the instrument conjures also assert themselves powerfully, both on pieces that put that association front and center as well as others that intentionally sidestep it. Over its history as an ensemble, Dither has walked both of these tightropes admirably, advancing a sound that integrates effects in a manner that is both organically raw but refined and precise in terms of ensemble, and advocating for music that embraces a wide range of stylistic inspirations while cultivating an unmistakable group aesthetic that glues the repertoire together.
Potential Differences represents Dither’s signature repertoire – including works by Eve Beglarian, Jascha Narveson, Ted Hearne, Paula Matthusen – which the group has performed extensively over the last ten years. The album also includes their version of James Tenney’s Swell Piece and a work by each member of the quartet – Gyan Riley, James Moore, Taylor Levine, and Josh Lopes – who bring idiosyncratic approaches to the electric guitar’s sound and playing techniques.
Measured in volts, Potential Difference is a term for the difference of electric potential between two points. James Moore explains, “Though it is a technical term that might more directly refer to the electricity going through our guitar pedals and amps, we also like to think of it poetically as a reference to the wide range of voices on this record and the energy that has been produced between them.”
Eve Beglarian writes about her The Garden of Cyrus, “a four-part canon in twelve sections, where each player does faster and faster repeated notes in each section until finally they fall into sustained notes. The original version was electronic, but the excellent guitar quartet Dither asked me to make a four-guitar version.”Read More
Gyan Riley’s The Tar of Gyu takes its inspiration from the guttural chanting of Gyuto Monks, featuring two guitars imitating these undulating gestures in alternating volume swells, while the other two echo dissonant harmonics. Bell-like harmonics follow and become integrated into the texture, enhancing the ritualistic sensibility of the work.
Paula Matthusen’s but because without this was originally scored for bluegrass quartet and adapted for Dither in 2009, and explores repetition with subtle variation. She writes, “The fully scored piece gradually transforms melodic fragments, creating hockets as the ensemble merges in and out of distinct timbral areas.”
Jascha Narveson focused on idiomatic electric guitar textures in For Ones, and his working titles referring to the featured technique in each movement eventually became the final names. Strummed chords are swept through the EQ filter that is a wah-wah pedal in “The Way One,” a moto perpetuo texture propels the music forward in “The Driving One,” use of the whammy bar and sudden de-tuning characterize “The Warped One,” and a wash of harmonics closes the work in “The Floaty One.”
Inspired by horror fiction writer H.P. Lovecraft, Joshua Lopes’s Mi-Go draws on the sounds of the second Viennese school heard through a King Crimson-esque looking-glass to paint a dense, vaguely unsettling soundscape. Lopes writes that his aim was “convey a certain type of loneliness and existential dread commonly portrayed in Lovecraft’s antagonists,” and the result is a kaleidoscopic piece which highlights Dither’s tight ensemble and evocative sound crafting.
The surrealist poet Paul Éluard’s written depictions of Man Ray drawings was James Moore’s inspiration for his work Mannequin, originally written for an acoustic group of his, The Hands Free. Making extensive use of the e-bow, Moore weaves lines throughout the ensemble that swoop and sigh weightlessly.
Ted Hearne’s pointillistic Candy begins with a simple melody bouncing around the quartet but as the piece evolves the texture gains in intensity. Airy double stops with chorus float above a ground bass midway through the work, before one guitar steps to the fore with disruptive double time material that leads the other guitars on search to rediscover some of the music from earlier in the piece.
In Renegade, Taylor Levine draws on free improvisations he has played with various musicians, recalling some of the techniques and methods of sound production from those sessions in a notated piece. There is a post-punk sensibility to the piece, reminiscent of the days when Tonic and the Knitting Factory were the centers of the downtown scene.
Larry Polansky’s writes this about James Tenney’s Swell Piece: “The postal pieces, written between 1965 and 1971, but actually produced in 1971 (with the help of Alison Knowles and Marie McRoy at Cal. Arts) are a series of ten short works printed on postcards. His explanation of the set is that he hated to write letters, and since he had a number of very short compositions, what could be easier than to make postcards of them.” Swell Piece is a fitting end to a wide ranging album - focusing our ears inward on the fundamental nature of sound. Dither is so adept at carving out a unique sound world for each piece, and here, we are given the opportunity to hear that quality at its most elemental, as long tones emerge and recede with sensitive precision.
Dither, a New York based electric guitar quartet, is dedicated to an eclectic mix of experimental repertoire which spans composed, improvised and electronic music. Formed in 2007, the quartet has performed across the United States and abroad, presenting new commissions, original compositions, multimedia works, and large guitar ensemble pieces. Dither’s members are Taylor Levine, Joshua Lopes, James Moore and Gyan Riley.
Dither has performed and collaborated with a wide range of artists including Eve Beglarian, Nels Cline, Fred Frith, Mary Halvorson, David Lang, Ikue Mori, Phill Niblock, Lee Ranaldo, Lois V. Vierk, Yo La Tengo, and John Zorn. They have brought their live 13-guitar rendition of Steve Reich's Electric Counterpoint to The Barbican Center, Lincoln Center Out of Doors, The Ellnora Guitar Festival and WNYC's New Sounds Live. The quartet has also performed at the Guggenheim Museum, the Bang on a Can Marathon, The Performa Biennial, The Amsterdam Electric Guitar Heaven Festival, Hong Kong's Fringe Theater, The Winter Jazz Festival and the Borealis Festival.
Dither produces an annual Extravaganza, a raucous festival of creative music and art, which has been called an "official concert on the edge" by the New Yorker and "the here and now of New York's postclassical music scene" by Time Out New York. The quartet’s self-titled debut album was released on Henceforth Records in 2010 to critical acclaim. Their latest release Dither plays Zorn on Tzadik, featuring the premiere recordings of several of John Zorn's improvisational game pieces, was named one of Rolling Stone’s “top avant albums of 2015.”
Asked his feelings about the electric guitar, Andrés Segovia complained that amplification “robs the music of its poetry.” But by the time Segovia died, in 1987, that was becoming a minority view. Classical guitarists were using subtle amplification to bolster their concert sound, and composers like Frank Martin, Lukas Foss and Steve Reich were experimenting with electric guitars in chamber settings.
Still, for anyone fond of the electric guitar, classical composers’ early efforts to write for the instrument seemed meek—as if they were composing for the classical guitar, just slightly louder. Scant effort was spent exploring the effects pedals that provided sustain, distortion and kaleidoscopic timbral effects unavailable on the classical model, even though those devices were as central to the electric guitar’s expressive arsenal as piano pedals and organ stops are to those instruments’ palettes.
It took a generation of composer-players who grew up comfortable with both classical forms and rock timbres—composers like Glenn Branca, Rhys Chatham, Tim Brady and Patrick Grant — to usher the electric guitar into the classical fold. Two releases—Mr. Branca’s “The Third
Ascension” (Systems Neutralizers), and “Potential Differences” (New Focus) by the young guitar quartet Dither, both out now—offer an intriguing snapshot of new concert works for electric guitars.
The four guitartist-composers in Dither— Taylor Levine, Joshua Lopes, James Moore and Gyan Riley —are among Mr. Branca’s spiritual heirs, but they take a more formal and expansive approach to their sound and repertory, performing other composers’ works as well as their own.
“Potential Differences” offers nine works by as many composers, and covers a vast stretch of stylistic ground. At the conservative end, Eve Beglarian’s “The Garden of Cyrus,” a transcription of an electronic work, is a four-part canon, played at first with a clean, transparent guitar tone that morphs into a hazy texture with an almost orchestral heft. Paula Matthusen also prefers unmodified timbres in her gently layered “But Because Without This,” although her fascination with the guitar’s bell-like artificial harmonics transforms the ensemble into an otherworldly music box, toward the work’s end.
Jascha Narveson, clearly more committed to the guitar’s rock-influenced lingua franca, uses wah-wah pedals, distortion, whammy-bar note bending, and references to a range of styles from prog to grunge in his four-movement “Ones.” But he develops his ideas with such an appealing expressive logic that it never seems as though he is using these sounds for their show-off potential.
Ted Hearne’s “Candy” is largely a pizzicato study, with pointillistic themes passed seamlessly around the quartet. But the unadorned tones of the opening gradually melt into crunchy distortion, and single line themes grow into thick, rich textures. And James Tenney’s “Swell Piece” explores, at greater length than necessary, a series of pulsating chords.
The Dither players’ works hew closer to Mr. Narveson’s approach, with varying degrees of success. Mr. Levine’s “Renegade” is like some of Mr. Branca’s earliest works, with sheer noise and energy as absolute values, and little more. Mr. Moore’s “Mannequin” ups the ante by using
bowed tones and glissandi within a haunting backdrop, and Mr. Riley, in “The Tar of Gyu,” approximates the vocal growl of the Gyuto monks, within a graceful frame woven of fade-ins, sleek jazz timbres and chordal distortion.
The most striking of the group’s works is Mr. Lopes’s stylistically omnivorous “Mi-Go,” a spirited essay with allusions to Jimi Hendrix’s spacier side, the art-rocker Robert Fripp and, of all things, mid-20th-century Serialism.
It may be some time before electric-guitar ensembles are as plentiful at classical concerts as string quartets. But by creating a repertory with poetry of its own, Glenn Branca, Dither and others are pushing in that direction, and moving the sonic boundaries of classical music in the bargain.
— Allan Kozinn, 11.04.2019
...Titled “The Dither Extravaganza!” the marathon centers around sets by the quartet, which has a raucously groovy new album out Nov. 1 on New Focus Recordings, featuring sharp-edged works by composers such as Eve Beglarian and Ted Hearne as well as ensemble members themselves.
— William Robin, 10.25.2019
New York electric guitar quartet Dither mixes pieces by its members and outside composers on Potential Differences, unveiling a panoply of possibilities for their instruments. "The Wah One" arranges damped yet lacerating chords using the titular effect to sound like a chugging engine, while "The Warped One" directs the players to detune strings through the pece, basking in queasy movement. Elsewhere, the ensemble plays frenetic rounds on the intensely pulsing The Garden Of Cyrus, forming dense thickets of shifting counterpoint that accelerate until the piece hydroplanes into sustained tones, while Ted Hearne's Candy passes around simple phrases of interlocking melodies, increasingly interrupted by tension and noise.
— Peter Margasak, 11.26.2019
If it's more guitar goodness you seek, don't, er, dither about grabbing on to this third album from a most versatile electric guitar quartet made up of Taylor Levine, Joshua Lopes, James Moore, and Gyan Riley. Whether exploring various techniques and tones in Jascha Narveson's marvelous four-movement suite, Ones (2011) or going full atmo-prog in Mi-Go (2012) by Lopes, these guys can do it all. Each of them contributes a piece, in fact, with Riley's hypnotic The Tar of Gyu (2013) and Levine's post-punk freakout, Renegade (2013), being especially memorable. We also get more Ted Hearne in Candy (2010), which is filled with patterns and textures you can imagine David Torn contributing to a Bowie album. Maybe we can get someone to commission a guitar quintet and have Lippel sit in with Dither...a person can dream. Until then, I'll just continue enjoying the ride.
— Jeremy Shatan, 11.30.2019
Dither is a guitar quartet comprised of Taylor Levine, Joshua Lopes, James Moore and Gyan Riley. The present release is their third album and, like the preceding releases is an adventure in listening. Their intelligently designed web site has some nice sound and video samples.
A quick look at their recorded output places their performing repertoire clearly in the “new music” category and their work has been granted a kind of serious legitimacy by their inclusion (of their second album) in John Zorn’s wonderful Tzadik record label. So along comes the truly rising star of New Focus Recordings whose service to new music adds yet another imprimatur to this group’s collective resume.
A quick look at the track list on the back of this gorgeously designed album reveals 9 works spread across 12 tracks (one of the works is in 4 movements) which includes one track from each of the musicians alongside some other interesting new music and, at the end, the gift of one older piece which, though certainly modern in concept is too little known. The only negative is the lack of liner notes both on the album and on their website.
I assure you that I don’t mean to trivialize this wonderful album by calling it “post-psychedelic” but it is difficult to not hear the riffs and effects as having an ancestry in the psychedelic sound. But for this disc the psychedelic sounds appear to include Frank Zappa, Rhys Chatham, La Monte Young, Brian Eno, as well as Jimi Hendrix, Mahavishnu John Mc Laughlin, and their compatriots.
The first track, The Garden of Cyrus (1985) by Eve Beglarian, a much sought after composer who emerged from the downtown New York scene and continues to enthrall with her inventive talents. This track is generally speaking a sort of post minimalist piece with a rather immediate appeal and serves as a fine introduction to the album. It has a variety of sections with varying degrees of rhythmic complexity and harmonic density. It is sometimes microtonal, sometimes spectral, sometimes antiphonal, sometimes dissonant, sometimes warmly consonant, but always engaging.
Next up is The Tar of Gyu (2013) by Gyan Riley. Gyan is indeed his own man musically who has emerged from the shadow of his famed father Terry Riley in a most gracious manner. His collaborations with his father continue to be a must see concert event and his work in solo and chamber groups reflect a growing and fascinating identity as a composer and musician entirely in his own right. The present work makes excellent use of the timbres of the electric guitar and makes for another engaging if rather somber track. This work is largely about sustained tones and timbres and shows a real mastery of composing for this unusual chamber ensemble as well as a side of Riley’s compositional style less familiar to this reviewer.
Paula Matthusen, an associate professor of music at Wesleyan where she became the sort of heir to Alvin Lucier’s Music 109 class (documented so well in Lucier’s book of the same name). Her music combines electronics with instruments and sometimes recorded sounds. Her piece, but because without this (2009) was written for Dither and continues her unique compositional journey. Without notes it is difficult to say much about this work by a composer who tends to insert herself pretty organically into her compositions.
Jascha Narveson is a name new to this reviewer. He is another composer deeply involved with electronics as well as acoustic instruments. Ones (2012) is a four movement work written for the Dither Quartet. This is basically a set of etudes for the effects pedal. The four movements, titled “The Wah One”, “The Driving One”, “The Warped One”, and “The Floaty One” are each apparently a reference to electric guitar foot pedals and these minimalist etudes exploit the effect created by the pedal as a compositional device. Really fascinating.
Mi-Go (2012) by the ensemble’s own Joshua Lopes and it is here that the Zappa comparison is most evident. This piece (the second longest on the album at 9:38) sounds like an aural refugee from Zappa’s “Jazz from Hell” (an album much admired by this writer). Lopes creates a work of some complexity and many moods utilizing the potential of this instrumentation to great advantage creating a work of almost symphonic dimensions.
Up next is James Moore’s Mannequin (2014), one of the shorter pieces here. After a loud and somewhat cacophonous opening this piece goes on to explore sustained tones and glissandos.
Candy (2010) by Ted Hearne is the first of only two pieces here that was not written by one of the performers. Hearned earlier released a fine disc of his own music (also on New Focus). Like many of his peers he wields a tool box of compositional styles that includes jazz as well as contemporary classical techniques. This is certainly one of the more complex pieces here but Hearne’s music communicates well with the audience.
Track 11 is by Dither’s Taylor Levine. Renegade (2013) is a relatively brief piece and one which wanders furthest from my characterization of this album being “minimalist”. It seems to have its roots at least partly in noise bands but its complexity engages and seems to fit the program.
Track 12 is by James Tenney (1934-2006). His Swell Piece (1966) is actually an early example of minimalism an is part of a series of compositions written on post cards and called, “Postal Pieces”. Tenney spent a portion of his career in California teaching at Cal Arts where he mentored many composers and performers working today, This is a fitting conclusion, an homage to one of the great experimental composers whose music, thankfully, is now getting fine performances and recordings.
— Allan J. Cronin, 3.02.2021
The big news about the Dither Guitar Quartet is that Gyan Riley is in the band. He’s the rare scion of a famous western musical legacy (son of iconic minimalist composer Terry Riley) who’s an individualistic artist in his own right. On the ensemble’s new album Potential Differences – streaming at Bandcamp – he makes a good fit with returning members Taylor Levine, Joshua Lopes and James Moore. This is the band’s most accessible record to date: fans of psychedelic rock and metal who can handle strange and often troubling tonalies should check it out. Dither are playing the release show at the Frost Theatre at 17 Frost St. in Williamsburg on Oct 27 on a bill that starts at 2 in the afternoon and continues into the night. It’s not clear who’s playing when, but there are a bunch of interesting, individualistic acts on the bill including but not limited to singer Alicia Hall Moran and the Mivos Quartet, sort of a reprise of the New Music Bake Sales in Fort Greene and then Roulette a few years back.
The album’s first track is The Garden of Cyrus, by Eve Beglarian, a 1985 piece pulsing with steady, emphatic echo chords, the group quickly adding polyrhythms that shift in and out of the mix. The variety of timbres, the mix of familiar and odder harmonies and the reverb in the room give it a Sonic Youth vibe.
Riley’s The Tar of Gyu is a strangely shifting blend of buzzy volume-knob swells, delicate toy piano-like phrasing and hardbop. The gently ringing harmonics and rising chromatic menace of Paula Matthusen‘s but because without this provide considerable contrast.
The album’s centerpiece, the four-part Ones, by Jascha Narveson, offers comic relief. The opening segment, The Wah One, is a playfully hypnotic mashup of the intros from the Theme From Shaft and Pink Floyd’s One of These Days. Then there’s the distortedly circling The Driving One, The Warped One with its down-and-up tuning-peg goofiness and finally the clock-chime harmonics of The Floaty One.
The group shift from gritty late 70s Robert Fripp-style riffage to eerie spacerock bubbles, austere resonance, wry hints of Eddie Van Halen and back in Lopes’ Mi-Go. Moore’s Mannequin is a desolate, morosely howling soundscape. Candy, by Ted Hearne, takes awhile to get going but eventually develops coy humor and incisively paired harmonies between the guitars.
Renegade, a Levine composition, sets growling, increasingly dissociative menace and shred over a piledriver beat. The quartet wind up the album with James Tenney’s 1967 dronescsape Swell Piece. Many different flavors; this group rock harder than just about anyone in the avant garde.
Those who have been following this site for some time probably know that I have given a generous amount of attention to the guitar and the diversity of repertoire for that instrument, not only solo but also in chamber settings, many of which consist only of multiple guitars. To some extent this is a product of the “education” I received from attending recitals at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM). When I first began to write about the performance of music, SFCM provided an abundance of opportunities to listen to emerging talents, most of which came to emerge through the instruction and encouragement of Sérgio Assad during his time on the SFCM Guitar Faculty.
These days I spend less time at SFCM, but my interest in the guitar as a platform for innovations in both composition and performance has not waned. Today happens to be the release date for the new album Potential Differences on New Focus Recordings, and my interest is still up there. The musicians, however, come from that “other coast.” They are the members of Dither, an electric guitar quartet based in New York. Specifically, they are Taylor Levine, Joshua Lopes, James Moore and Gyan Riley. Only the last is familiar to me, since I have listened to him play with his father, Terry Riley (in a performance at SFCM).
There are nine compositions on this album. Each member of the quartet is responsible for one of them. In order of appearance on the track listing, they are Riley (“The Tar of Gyu”), Lopes (“Mi-Go”), Moore (“Mannequin”), and Levine (“Renegade”). The last track is the longest, “Swell Piece” by James Tenney; and I must confess that I was drawn to this album because I am much more familiar with Tenney’s work in theory than I am with any of his compositions. Three of the other composers I have encountered on previous occasions, two on recordings of guitar music, Eve Beglarian (“The Garden of Cyrus”) and Paula Matthusen (“but because without this”). My familiarity with Ted Hearne (“Candy”), on the other hand, is through other genres, primarily vocal.
Nevertheless, the encounter that interested me the most on this album was the four-movement suite Ones by Jascha Narveson, a composer previously unfamiliar to me. This amounted to an extended étude in which each movement explored a different aspect of electric guitar sonority. The movement titles are “The Wah One,” “The Driving One,” “The Warped One,” and “The Floaty One;” and they are sufficient to guide the listener through the composer’s explorations.
I was also readily drawn into the Hearne composition. He describes it as follows: “Candy passes a simple melody around the quartet, bouncing from one player to another with seeming ease.” Much of that bouncing involves the sort of intervallic leaps from which a sense of polyphony emerges. To my ears, however, those leaps also recalled the theme of one of Thelonious Monk’s earliest compositions, “Misterioso,” leading me to wonder whether or not Monk was in the back of Hearne’s mind (even if subconsciously) while he was working on this piece.
This, however, raises my one negative impression of this new album. That last paragraph happens to have been based on promotional material I received prior to the release of the album itself. The booklet that accompanies the album says nothing about either the composers or the works they contributed; and the content provided on the Amazon.com Web page is not much more informative. I would hate to think that the members of Dither just want listeners to use these tracks as “background music,” rather than experiences that deserve attentive listening! Even a URL pointing to a Web page with information about both composers and compositions would have been of value to well-intentioned listeners.
— Stephen Smoliar, 11.01.2019
“The quartet concept: the gravitas of four corners, circle in square, life cubed and balanced.”
Elliott Sharp, from the notes in the cd “Dither”
Let’s start with giving some coordinates: who is Dither? The Dither is a quartet of electric guitars based in New York, which present a complex and sophisticated DNA based on an eclectic mix that includes composed, improvised and electronic music. They are omnivores. They are the velociraptor of experimental electric guitar music. Sophisticated. Tireless workers. Stylistically excellent.
My encounter with the Dither dates back to 2010 with their debut album, simply titled Dither, nomen est omen, made by Henceforth Records. I don’t remember where I found it, I think I bought it directly from the record company.
It was a nice surprise. At those times I was listening to Fred Frith’s guitar quartet and I was looking for something similar, new, exciting. This cd starts almost innocently. The first piece, Tongue of Thorns by Lainie Fedderman, presents several seconds of soft and impalpable sounds, almost glitches blurred in the distance, forcing to raise the threshold of attention, to watch the reading on the reader, to wonder if this is not the case for turn up the volume… don’t do it, after almost a minute four distorted guitars download a dark, heavy sound, like Black Sabbath in abstinence, played in slow motion, while a drum repeats obsessively its tum-tum, so dark and disturbing that it would look good in the Lord of the Rings’ movie sountrack. The guitars repeat ad libitum their mantra that more than to the historical minimalism or to the maximalism of Glenn Branca it seems to refer to the nihilist and amphetamine No Wave scene in the New York at the end of the 70s. But that’s not all, the first track after six minutes begins to show signs of flaking, cascading feedback is inserted, while everything progressively collapses. I watched with suspect both the album cover and the CD player…after such a start what can I expect? And instead “Dither” turns out to be a disc of contrasts, of lights and shadows, of continuous quotations to the No Wave, to minimalism, to maximalism, to post punk and post rock (the guitars in Pantagruel seem the first Tortoise), to the congestion of post modernism. Everything is mentioned, reworked and re-spoken, delicate arabesques reminiscent of the best Fripp and Eno inserted into nihilistic and twisted geometries, drones of metal guitars that fish from the Scandinavian doom that unite with structures worthy of Branca and Chatham. A truly excellent album, radical, without compromise, all excellent compositions on behalf of the aforementioned Lainie Fefferman, Jascha Narveson, Joshua Lopes, Lisa R. Coons and Eric km Clark.
A perfect debut. I said before that the Dither are tireless workers and therefore we just have to wait. After a formation change, David Linaburg comes out and Gyan Riley enters, the quartet settles with the founders Taylor Levine, Joshua Lopes and James Moore. We are in 2015 and the Dither show all their omnivorous hunger realizing with John Zorn’s Tzadik this “Dither plays Zorn, John Zorn’s Olympiad Vol.1”
From compositions, to 70s and 80s style game pieces. A not so strange jump. In 2010 Eliott Sharp rightly suggested investigating the technical meanings of the term “dither” and its multiple uses: a method to synthesize intermediate colors not normally available using dot patterns. Or: intentional application of noise forms to eliminate the quantization error manifested as drop-out or unrelated noise. So that’s great for Zorn’s game pieces.
“I never specifically told anyone anything. I set up rules where they could tell each other when to play. It’s a pretty democratic process. I really don’t have any control over how long the piece is, or what happens in it.”
John Zorn in Talking Music, William Duckworth, Da Capo Press, 1999, pag. 462
John Zorn’s game pieces were a fundamental moment for his own musical training as a composer, as a musician, as an improviser and also as a cultural animator within a music scene that was being created in a New York in the 70s, during a full economic and political crisis. The result of this commitment was a series of pieces based not on writings, well-defined scores but on a series of instructions, rules that allowed a group of musicians endowed with particular characteristics and ability to create music every time new, based on the respect of these rules and on their mutual musical and social interaction. All these pieces had been effectively documented in the excellent CD box set by Tzadik in 1997 and entitled “The Parachute Years 1977-1980”. This box seemed to end an era, but after so many years, Zorn seems to have found a new generation of musicians interested in repeating these works, re-reading them in a new and creative way.
“Now, almost 40 years later, a new generation of musicians has appeared who are perfectly suited to execute these challenging and artful composition schooled in improvisation composition and realizing both written music and open forms – musicians who deeply understand the group dynamic of working together as a team, which is so crucial in performing these largely community-based compositions."
John Zorn, 2014, in the booklet accompanying the cd.
The Dither were the first of this new generation (and unfortunately so far the only ones) to whom the difficult task of playing these “impromptu compositions” was entrusted. Three are the pieces played by them: Curling, Hockey and Fencing for eight total tracks. In fact, as a demonstration of the possibilities of these open structures, all the tracks were recorded two or three times, demonstrating the broad scope of possibilities and choices available.
The result is a CD that I found to be really fun, with a music so challenging but at the same time not sad, dark or … “dry”. There is a sense of fun that hovers over all the music and I promise you that you will have fun yourself looking for all the quotes and the musical digressions it contains. The Dither are very good and certainly don’t regret the first generation of musicians who had played these pieces almost 40 years ago.
The design of the CD is also very beautiful, the libretto inside seems to follow the formal structure of the game pieces with intelligence and elegance: the texts are divided, fragmented and assembled in precise sequences that force the reader to a fun game of “literary pursuit” to read them. All thanks to the talented designer Chippy (Heung-Heung Chin).
2019. It takes time for certain things. You must choose a new repertoire, try it, integrate with it and not repeat it. The Dither are good at this. One of my favorite record labels, New Focus Recordings brings out their latest work: “Potential Differences”.
With this new, interesting album the quartet of electric guitars of New York reaffirms itself as one of the best ensembles of its kind, consolidating its reputation as enthusiastic experimenters and interpreters of inventive composers and skilled sculptors of sound in the complex and varied sound world of contemporary music for electric guitar. The evolution of the electric guitar, of the quartet of electric guitars intended as an organized sound source, as scenic instrumentation was accompanied by a fascinating fusion of the worlds of chamber notated music, among the sound technology traditionally most associated with rock music, between studio production and the most radical forms of free improvisation.
An unstable and eclectic crossover, where the natural associations with popular music evoked by electric instruments are firmly established and combined with ideas from other areas of music, sometimes creating a friendly relationship, sometimes a direct confrontation. A sound hijacking.
It starts with The Garden of Cyrus by Eve Beglarian, a composer who had already donated that impressive piece that is Until it blazes to the electric guitar and that is replicated here for the quartet, Paula Matthusen enchants us with the quiet of but because without this, Jascha Narveson explores the possibilities of effects and pedals with his four Ones, Ted Hearne’s Candy pushes guitars to the limit and James Tenney’s Swell Piece closes the record, almost a minimal greeting and a lamented for this great American composer and theorist. But for the Dither is not enough: each of them engages in a composition. Gyan Riley signs The Tar of Gyu, Joshua Lopes is the author of Mi-Go, James Moore his Mannequin and Taylor Levine his Renegade. Surprising the knowledge of the electric guitar by these composers. Each piece shows incredible potential. The electric guitar here isn’t seen as an oddity, but as a complex instrument and as such is understood and respected. The results are surprising.
Throughout their history as an ensemble, the Dither have walked like tightrope walkers between composition, improvisation, popular music, New York winking, creating an organically raw but at the same time refined and precise sound, which supports a music that embraces a wide range of inspirational styles while cultivates an unmistakable group aesthetic that glues the repertoire together.
Dither are from New York, they are good, they are heavy, and they do not hide a certain irony, we are at all avant-garde, cerebral but not radical chic, no good lounges, but lots of feedback. Once again, hightly recommeded!
— Andrea Aguzzi, 12.02.2019
Different strokes for different folks. Here’s a record for the rest of us that are intimidated by eggheads enthusing over pots and pans music left wondering what the big deal is. Proving that experimental, electronic music can be outré and still keep it’s edge, this guitar quartet from outer space might not be making music for everybody but if Steve Reich is your idea of a musical gateway drug… Probably MacArthur geniuses of tomorrow, this crew is sure to take you places you’ve only heard in dream. Wild stuff that works.
— Chris Spector, 10.17.2019
Dither are an electric guitar quartet based in New York City. Their third album, ‘Potential Differences’, collects 12 pieces, most of them from the past 15 years and attesting to how younger composers, weaned on alternative rock and electronica as well as classical styles, are melding these influences. Many of these pieces have an admirable clarity that, as well as attesting to Dither’s fine playing, one can’t but link in stylistic character to the positive influence of experimental rock. Gyan Riley’s The Tar of Gyu nods to 1970s rock in its harmonised lines. Eve Beglarian’s The Garden of Cyrus uses repeated staccato pulses to generate a coasting polyphony. The centrepiece is Jascha Narveson’s Ones in four movements (‘The Wah One’, ‘The Driving One’) – no dry study but a wide-ranging workout bubbling with ideas. As a closer, Dither realise James Tenney’s Swell Piece (1967) with e-bow sustained tones, lush and beautiful. Dither’s performances are full of personality, their ‘chops’ impeccable.
— Liam Cagney, 1.28.2020
The idea of an electric guitar quartet is fundamentally exciting; is a natural next step from the classical guitar quartet. The sonic possibilities inherent in the concept are virtually limitless, and the similar expanse of subtle styles and techniques serves as an infinite palate for the instrument. On Potential Differences, Dither offer a masterful exploration of these possibilities in an atmospheric collection of works by contemporary composers, including the members of the quartet.
Eve Beglarian’s The Garden of Cyrus open’s the disc. Although it is not apparent on a first listening, it is in many ways the most traditional work on the album. Beglarian was inspired by Sir Thomas Browne’s eponymous essay, which focuses on the concept of “decussation.” Bringing elements of Minimalism, Modernism, and experimental music together, the piece takes the form of a four-voice canon in 12 sections. Originally an electronic piece, it is heard here in transcription. The heart of the program is Jascha Narveson’s four-movement suite Ones. Focusing on the wah, overdrive, and distortion pedals, tremolo bar, and other electric guitar effects, he weaves a cogent essay on the various styles that have developed for the instrument over the last 60 years or so. Other highlights include Ted Hearne’s pizzicato-driven Candy and Mannequin, and ethereal study in the silky texture that the electric guitar can create through bowing, glissandos, and slides. Joshua Lopes’s Mi-Go also stands out, a Postmodern, eclectic blend of progressive and classic rock styles as well as 20th-century Modernist techniques.
Dither is, by their own admission, focused on experimental music, and listeners expecting something more structured are forewarned to expect spacey, explorative music that might be described as autotelic at its core. There is a great deal to recommend, here, especially for those who grew up with the electric guitar as a sine qua non of popular music and are keen to see it taken seriously in art music.
— James V. Maiello, 5.02.2020