Diogo Carvalho – “Reveal” for Guitar and Tape

There are times when musical notation simply does not suffice to both technically manifest, nor artistically describe, the music that is heard.  This is the case with Diogo Carvalho’s piece Reveal.

Take a look at the score here.

There are a few very striking aspects to this piece that I wish to highlight.

This piece deconstructs the guitar, and reconstructs it in ways that unify sonority, percussion, tradition, freedom, and specificity.  The piece begins with a fairly standard arpeggiation, but it quickly devolves into extended techniques.  The use of harmonics, natural harmonic multiphonics, detuning the fifth string, and the introduction of the fixed media part (which is itself an amplification of all the sounds of a guitar that we cannot hear in live concert due to their volume, or that are nonstandard) immediately turns this into less of a piece for guitar, and more a viewpoint of a luthier: we are getting inside every nook and cranny of the instrument; exploring each corner; ensuring that every aspect is surveyed;and taking into account the smallest of details, both physically and sonically.

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We are also introduced to the Right and Left Hand Rubs (R.H.R. in the example above).  This allows us to hear “inside” the string of the guitar, and the result that is created when this resonates the body of the guitar via the bridge of the instrument.

Later on, we are introduced to the explicitly percussive sounds of the guitar:

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Here the fixed media component plays off the percussive attacks of the live performer, and vice versa.  In this way, not only is this piece for guitar, but through deconstruction it turns the guitar into a wide array of percussion instruments.  It is striking that in this way, Carvalho is saying that we can turn any instrument into its original, most basic form: a percussion instrument.

Later on, we encounter a series of passages with melody and harmony in unison with the fixed media:

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However, this is not truly unison, as the strings of the guitar have been detuned before these sections.  This detuning continues on throughout the piece, until the strings are so detuned that no comprehensible sound is heard:

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This piece is rich with so many other fascinating techniques; sonic objects and qualities; and concepts regarding the guitar and its physical construction; but I would also like to discuss the notation.  The notation used allows Carvalho to very precisely indicate what strings, fingerings (both left and right hand), adjustments, freedoms and strictnesses, percussive sounds, and relations between the tape and guitar; that the composer wishes to be heard.  There are both metered and time-based notations, to give freedom and strictness.  There are melodic rubato sections, indeterminate extended technique notation, but also very precise percussive rhythms.

This score, with its vast arrays of techniques and functions, is best used as a guide to learning, and not as a strictly fixed entity.  This is because the guitarist has to match up with the fixed media.  As a result, the precisely notated score is just one part of how one would learn this piece; one would also spend equal, if not more, time syncing up to the fixed media, learning by rote (using the recording), and memorizing the exact rubato and tempos in the tape.

In this way, this notation is both tablature and traditional notation.  It is both a map to the fixed media, and an accompaniment to the recording (instead of the recording being the accompaniment).  Carvalho thus skillfully deconstructs and reconstructs not just the guitar, but also our entire system of traditional Western notation.  The notation does not matter more than the fixed media and rote learning, especially when the guitarist is learning the descriptions of each fixed and free technique, passage, or sonority.

In all, this is a fascinating work.  I would highly suggest any classical guitarist reading this to check out this piece.  Carvalho’s website is https://www.diogocarvalho.com/.

I would encourage us all to see how we can construct, deconstruct, and flip upside down the paradigms which we take for granted, or do not examine in microscopic detail.

Happy composing (and performing),




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