The aural aesthetics of today’s instruments has evolved over time. Pick your favorite instrument and I guarantee that what it sounds like today is different from even 30 years ago. Musicians and instrument makers constantly find new ways to improve upon existing instruments. Whether it is exploring how to improve the construction of an instrument or changing the materials used, instrument builders are explorers of sound.
I bring this up because of the new album from Delos, Reinventing Guitar, which features instruments that incorporate a variety of guitars of different construction. Smaro Gregoriadou, the performer on Reinventing Guitar, is the official representative of the Kertsopoulos Æsthetics. I’ll provide a more comprehensive review of Reinventing Guitar, but I feel it appropriate to dedicate a post just on the Kertsopoulos Æsthetics. Reviewing Reinventing Guitar just wouldn’t make much sense without exploring this methodology.
Taken from Gregoriadou’s website:
“Kertsopoulos Æsthetics” consist of a 30-year continuous research in guitar’s retrospective history and tradition accomplished by George Kertsopoulos, Greek guitarist and instrument-maker with international acclaim, which has ended in numerous achievements on the fields of guitar’s and strings’ construction and technology. It is a series of innovations and intelligent solutions aiming:
a) to connect contemporary guitarist with obsolete forms and sounds of guitar, that nevertheless determined the instrument’s rich evolution from early centuries until today, since the so-called “guitar” instrument has during its long history undergone enormous changes in form, construction, tunings, number and materials of strings, dimensions etc, and
b) to expand modern guitar’s technical limits and offer potential solutions to its undesirable complexities (small volume, imbalance in the transmission from 3rd to 4th string, dullness of trebles, pure tone-color etc).
The obvious question is: What does this all mean? For anyone not as familiar with classical guitar history or its repertoire, this really doesn’t mean anything. Allow me to interpret and summarize.
The following provides a glimpse into what is meant in part “a” from above. The classical guitar has an interesting history that goes back to the Renaissance with the vihuela. Throughout the history of the guitar, the number of strings has ranged from 4 to 6 courses. A course is a pair of two strings that were tuned in unison or octave. The baroque guitar had five courses. It wasn’t until the 18th and 19th centuries when the classical guitar began to resemble the modern classical guitar of today which uses six single strings. As a result, much of the guitar’s early repertoire is transcribed and arranged to fit within the current framework and “technical limits” of today’s guitars.
To explain part “b”, I am going to tap into my personal experience as a classical guitarist for a moment. The classical guitar uses a combination of nylon and metal strings. Nylon is used for the top three with metal-wound strings used for the bottom three. As a whole, the volume the majority of guitars can project is much lower compared to other string instruments. When I performed with a violinist, my range in volume had to remain on the “louder” side. In many cases, I had to push the instrument to its limits hoping not to pop a string or pluck in a bad manner.
The research conducted by George Kertsopoulos has simply tried to combine today’s guitar making techniques, improve upon them, and construct a series of instruments that give guitarists options to interpret older music accordingly. Classical musicians constantly debate about how older music should be performed. Should performance of music written in the 16th century sound like we are in the 16th century? Or, should musicians adapt to contemporary instruments and “modernize” interpretations of the music? This is an ongoing debate that will likely never come to end.
To provide greater clarity around what Kertsopoulos has developed, I managed to conjure up a video on YouTube of Gregoriadou performing “Cueva del gato” by Paco de Lucia, the great flamenco guitarist.
What follows is a recording of Paco de Lucia performing the same song. Please note, flamenco guitars are built slightly differently from the classical guitars. Flamenco guitars are designed to sound more percussive. There are other distinguishing factors, but I won’t bore you with gory details.
If you compare the first minute of each video, the instrument Gregoriadou is using is tuned to a higher pitch. The warmth heard from a flamenco guitar is missing.
For more I information about the Kertsopoulos Æsthetics, visit Smaro Gregoriadou’s website.