The Tuesday Conversation: Aaron Grad
Guitarist pays tribute to his father with unusual sounds from homemade instrument
More than a decade after his father's passing, Aaron Grad is bringing a piece of him back to life through the unlikely sounds of a homemade instrument.
The guitarist and composer found a connection to the parent he lost as a teenager when he discovered the clavichord his father John built from a kit sitting neglected in his the attic of his family home.
Originally intending to use the bulky wooden frame as a desk, he became inspired by the unusual sounds he could make with the warped and worn instrument.
Grad recorded hours of scrapes, plucks, dings and sour notes in his New York apartment in 2001, and the sounds later served as a backing track and inspiration for a 10-movement piece titled "The Father Book."
The abstract musical story of father and son told though a seven-string eclectic guitar and the accompanying recorded music of the clavichord will premier Thursday at The Mansion at Strathmore in North Bethesda.
Taking a break from practice, Grad talks about his new work.
Cody Calamaio: Your upcoming performance at Strathmore will feature some very personal work. Tell me about "The Father Book."
Aaron Grad: It's a new piece. It's about 40 minutes long for solo electric guitar and all the electronic sounds come from the clavichord. It's an instrument my father built in 1967. About 10 years ago, I got the idea to record it and I didn't know what I was going to do with it. It finally came together as this very big piece. I treated the clavichord almost like a noise generator.
CC: So, what exactly is a clavichord?
AG: I get asked that a lot lately. It is a relative of a harpsichord; it was popular in Bach's day and the baroque era. The difference between a harpsichord and clavichord is that the string is struck rather than plucked. Because the strings are only being touched, it's an incredibly quiet and delicate sound.
CC: Describe some of this accidental music and how it fits into the finished work.
AG: When I started making these recordings, I was primarily a jazz musician. I was improvising a lot at the time. I was so fixated by the sound coming out of the clavichord that I would get my hands inside it, tapping it, and getting underneath it. I ended up with eight or 10 hours of recordings. Every movement of the piece has some fragment of the initial improvisation I did 10 years ago.
CC: Your performance also will feature songs by Johann Sebastian Bach, Béla Bartók and Axl Rose, Slash and Izzy Stradlin of Guns and Roses. Why did you choose these songs?
AG: Everything ended up relating to the father theme. The real heart of the piece is a sense of commitment with my father who died when I was 17, and I feel like I have a lot of unfinished business with him, especially with this music we shared.
CC: Is there anything else you want the audience to know?
AG: I just really want to stress that it's a very personal piece and it feels very exposing. It's scary and also really exciting. It's just trying to get at the heart of what music means to me and the real heart of it. Above all that, I'm just trying to say something that means something to me and sharing that with people.
See Aaron Grad perform Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at the Mansion at Strathmore, 10701 Rockville Pike, North Bethesda. His performance will be accompanied by bassist Rob Jost. Tickets are $28 and can be purchased by calling 301-581-5100 or visiting www.strathmore.org.