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‘Instruments of Happiness’ Is a Guitar Symphony for the Senses

By Philip Trapp on Mar 26, 2016 11:50 PM EDT

The eponymous debut album from electric guitar ensemble Instruments of Happiness highlights experimental works by composers Tim Brady, Rainer Wiens and Antoine Berthiaume.

The quartet, consisting of guitarists Tim Brady, Gary Schwartz, Michel Héroux and Antoine Berthiaume, advance the scope of contemporary classical music with their unique six-string symphonies.

The album was released by leading avant-garde imprint Starkland; the label describes the record as a potpourri of classic genre elements, driven by acclaimed songwriter Brady:

"The debut recording of Instruments of Happiness (IoH) combines elements of experimental art-rock, chamber music, electroacoustics, orchestral music, and more. This electric guitar quartet was founded by Canadian guitarist-composer Tim Brady, named 'One of the 30 most important guitarists for the future of the instrument' by Guitar Player."

The album features a new, expansive score by Brady, "The Same River Twice: Symphony No. 5," divided into two parts and eight movements. "River" is an all-encompassing, progressive noodle-fest, ostensibly hitting every guitar technique along the way and ending up like a music store Mozart. Movement III-a, "A Somewhat Eccentric Waltz," also features a surprising vocal part at the end: a laugh-out-loud critique of the jam.

The final cut, Brady's remix of Wiens' "What is Time?" posits an adventurous, stringed soundscape. This echoing evocation recalls the sounds of chimes, squeaks and machinations, seeming throughout its eight minutes like anything but a guitar. (It sounds to this author like a guitar version of György Ligeti's "Requiem" -- from 2001.)

Composer and guitarist Brady has been a pioneer of unconventional guitar orchestrations for more than two decades. With numerous recordings under his belt, the musician received the Prix Opus awards for "Composer of the Year" in 2004 and "Best New Composition of the Year" in 2013.

In an interview with Musical Toronto, the guitarist spoke on being both composer and performer, usually reciting his own work on the guitar:

"It is really NOT that hard to be both an accomplished performer and composer. Historically, it is the norm -- Bach, Beethoven, Bartok, Shostakovich, Charles Mingus, Miles Davis, The Beatles... to name just a few of the folks who did both rather well, in my opinion."

Fans of compelling, contemporary orchestrations would do well to pick up this album. It may also interest listeners of unconventional rock music, as it brings to mind the works of Glenn Branca, Jim O'Rourke or even Lou Reed.

Instruments of Happiness is out now and available wherever fine albums are sold. Listen to "What is Time? (Tim Brady Remix)" below.

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TagsInstruments of Happiness, Tim Brady, Rainer Wiens, Antoine Berthiaume