Kaleidoscope Ears: Gyan Riley and His Unfamiliar Solution to Nylon-string Guitar

From the Could perchance perchance furthermore/June 2022 discipline of Acoustic Guitar | By E.E. Bradman

Gyan Riley’s huge ears and deep abilities beget taken him from solo shows to classical ensembles fancy the Falla Guitar Trio to the knottier terrain of electrical-guitar quartet Dither, along with to good-wanting but highly interactive duos with guzheng virtuoso Wu Fei and violinist Timba Harris. Riley’s wide-ranging credit score also encompass horny work with Pakistani vocalist Arooj Aftab, violinist Iva Bittová, composer-clarinetist Evan Ziporyn, and a handful of collaborations with John Zorn; two gems are 2020’s Virtue, with guitarists Julian Lage and Bill Frisell, and 2018’s Chesed, one volume of the 11-disc The E book Beri’ah, also with Lage. By technique of the years, the Northern California native has also led his beget trio and seemed on several releases with his father, esteemed composer Terry Riley, in conjunction with Are residing (2011) and Diagram Out Yonder (2018). The latest of the youthful Riley’s six albums are Refuge in Home, released in 2020, and closing 365 days’s solo day time out, Silver Lining. It all started twenty years ago with Meals for the Bearded.

Gyan Riley playing acoustic guitar
Checklist by Laura Giannone

You’ve had a lifetime’s worth of adventures due to you released Meals for the Bearded in 2002.

I listened to that yarn all over again fair no longer too long ago, and it was fancy reliving an outdated dream—extraordinarily familiar, but in a peculiar, a ways-off design.

You had good-wanting carried out at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music when that got here out, correct?

I was in point of fact in my closing 365 days at the conservatory, and I was thinking more fancy a “unique classical guitar composer”— I’d utilize three hours on one measure of track.

Was as soon as that comely? [Laughter]

I enjoyed it, butI’d incessantly be upset that the 2nd didn’t closing longer. At some level I noticed that I predominant to revel in in those moments. 

When did you resolve to are trying something diversified?

I was writing a share for my album Sprig [2018] after I noticed that there were two or three measures I in actuality cherished, so I decided to scrap all the pieces else, obtain those two or three measures, invent them the backbone of your entire tune, and no longer dismay about whether or no longer it was rather ample or smartly-conceived ample or whatever. It felt good.

What did you earn out of your time at the conservatory?

The most predominant four years were all about classical track, design, and idea. For my graduate compare, I centered on composition and improvisation with Dušan Bogdanović. He was a authentic feature mannequin for me and for the transition I made into being a composer and improviser.

Fabricate you originate mainly on guitar?

Certain. Tips usually start in my head, and then I instruct them precise into a instrument or jot them down. 

What are your most predominant instruments for the time being?

A classical guitar made by Paul Jacobson in 1998, with a cedar high and Indian rosewood abet and aspects, and one more, which I’ve been playing more fair no longer too long ago, built by Robert and Orville Milburn the same 365 days. That one has an nice looking high and rosewood abet and aspects. Each guitars beget a 650mm scale dimension and are strung with Savarez Alliance high-stress strings. I utilize BlueChip TP40 picks, too.

What is your historical previous with those guitars?

Around 2010, I was composing a huge recent share for guitar, and I was finding my then-latest instrument in actuality cumbersome for some things. It was conserving me abet. I was residing in Oakland, and sooner or later I good-wanting more or less freaked out and bought in the automobile and drove to L.A. due to I knew there was a in actuality mountainous classical guitar dealer there. I spent six hours in the shop playing dozens of instruments, and then I chanced on this one [the Jacobson], which completely blew all the pieces else out of the water. It felt good, and it had this unprecedented, practically piano-fancy quality to it. The total strings and notes sustained evenly, which is queer for a classical guitar. So it was in actuality evident, fancy, “Oh yeah. This one. I’ll obtain it.” I bought the Milburn guitar mighty earlier, as half of the prize in the 1999 Portland Global Guitar Competition.

It’s beautiful to listen to that you just utilize a obtain on a classical guitar.

Certain, the BlueChip is the simply one I’ve chanced on that has a in actuality comfy sound on nylon strings. For 20 years I only conducted fingerstyle, in conjunction with on electrical guitar. In tell to simulate a flatpicking sound when predominant, I developed an substitute picking design the usage of my index finger, which is incidentally featured in my “Etude 4.” Nonetheless, the tone was no longer repeatedly robust ample, so I started finding out to flatpick so I could per chance well per chance perchance also earn a chunk of more punch when predominant. I’m comfy I did and I’m gay to beget chanced on a obtain model that provides a good tone.  

I noticed that you just beget got recording credit score for no decrease than one of your albums. Fabricate you beget a particular setup that works simplest for you?

After asking engineers that I respect—and years of experimenting—I’ve chanced on that I fancy the sound of an AKG C414 and a Neumann KM 184, recorded in stereo. I’ve tried a pair of 1 and a pair of the factitious, and I’ve tried diversified configurations, and to my ears, here’s what sounds the most efficient.

Contain you ever carried out any film scoring?

I did some work for Hemingway, along with 1 more Ken Burns documentary that’s no longer out yet. The single other film challenge I’ve labored on was François Girard’s Hochelaga: Land of Souls, which I co-scored with my dad.

I watched videos of shows you did with your dad years ago, and also you seem so mighty more confident onstage with him for the time being.

Many folk buy I must beget studied with my dad, but due to I was a guitar player, he sent me off for classes, which was mountainous. I was practically 20 years outdated when he first requested me to play in the band he had at the time. 

How did your conservatory coaching jibe with his setlist-free beautiful?

It was enjoyable, but I had very miniature improvisational ride, so it was disagreeable when he’d play something I’d by no manner heard earlier than. Whereas you beget only about a parameters—no location, no key, no plot—theoretically, you would possibly per chance invent anything else, but the subtext is, “Right model don’t play the awful thing.” [Laughter]

How did you’re employed it out?

By doing more improvisation and making it half of my note, I turned more confident, and I turned my beget artist. By the time we were performing as a duo, he relied on me to make a contribution whatever I felt. In the end, we bought to a enviornment the assign we would also originate collectively improvised pieces as one more of good-wanting playing track of his, which was repeatedly evolving and I had originate of learned.

How did being round Indian track beget an designate on you as an acoustic guitarist?

Having grown up hearing rather about a Indian track but no longer formally studying it, I must snort that it taught me to no longer flee the building of a idea, to let things organically invent over time. Within the Indian track custom my dad studied, in most cases there are 20 minutes of good-wanting letting things unfold. That in actuality sunk in for me.

How did The E book Ber’iah connection reach to be?

I was already a huge fan of the Masada repertoire, so when John Zorn requested me and Julian [Lage] to invent Chesed, it was a massive thrill due to I’d heard that track being interpreted in so many diversified ways. 

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How mighty work went into those arrangements? 

Plenty. We indubitably rehearsed greater than we did for the trio album with Bill [Frisell]. 

What goes by your mind as you embark on an adventure fancy that? 

We good-wanting sat down and started studying by the charts. Julian and I didn’t know mighty about one one more, so we were starting from scratch. It was presumably larger that design. 

It was a thrill to be all ears to Virtue and be in a enviornment to listen to each of you so clearly.

I was centered on trying to earn by all the pieces the most efficient I could per chance well per chance perchance also, but after we listened abet after a obtain of the most predominant tune, it sounded wonderful. It was not like anything else we’d heard earlier than.

You’ve also reach out with no longer one, but two albums throughout the pandemic. 

I was sitting on this booklet of tips, so I went by your entire snippets and made Refuge in Home. Besides the one solo note, practically every tune has a sure lineup. It was a enjoyable album to invent. 

Who’re the mentors to whom you dedicated Silver Lining

The title note is dedicated to Bogdanović; a series of three pieces is dedicated to David Tanenbaum, my other teacher at the conservatory; and I dedicated “The Dilapidated Castle” to John Zorn. “Kaleidoscope” is for my dad, and “Cyclone” is dedicated to [Italian classical guitarist] Aniello Desiderio. I wrote “Typically You Bolt Motivate for More” for Kenton Youngstrom, who’s in the Falla Guitar Trio with me and Dušan. 

You’re in every single place the draw. Fabricate you in point of fact feel fancy you resolve up something from each ride?

I wouldn’t invent it in any other case! I obtain on projects due to I do know I’ll earn something out of them; I do know I’m going to learn loads, and I do know I’m going to revel in the collaboration.

What would you tell to a classically trained guitarist who’s struggling to improvise?

Fabricate it every day. With any luck, that’ll invent you relish end to must invent it more. And the more you invent it, the larger you earn.

This article in the starting assign seemed in the Could perchance perchance furthermore/June 2022 discipline of Acoustic Guitar magazine.

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