Guitar Player, January 1991

Leo Kottke:  Acoustic Pioneer Shifts Gears

By Mark Hanson

Page 4

      "The Great One," a tune about Jackie Gleason, is perhaps the best example on That's What of Kottke straying from traditional harmony.  At each cadence he inserts at least one note in the resolved chord that destroys the feeling of a true resting point.  

      "In 'The Great One,' I resolve the theme to two different keys at once," Kottke says, "so the listener doesn't really know which one it's supposed to be.  I like that.  It's particularly despicable to my wife.  She wants that resolution, but I think it's real nice.  I'm tickled with it because as I come out of this chord I could go one of two ways, and I go both ways."  

      "Czech Bounce" also exemplifies Kottke's growing compositional acumen.  "The bridge has a different kind of movement than I usually have," he relates.  "For example, the music is moving around and the chord is moving around, but for any given couple of measures, it's the same chord.  I'll invert a chord so it sounds new.  I love doing that.  You can get all kinds of motion and activity out of it.  In the same amount of space where I used to get one sneeze, now I get a whole chest cold.  I don't have to brainstorm everything like I used to, although I still do an awful lot of that.  Still, it will be a long time before I can write the way a classical composer does."  

      Kottke probably will quickly learn about classical composition techniques as he works on his first large ensemble piece, a suite for guitar and orchestra.  His composition partner is Steven Paulus, composer-in-residence with the Atlanta Symphony.  

      Leo's reasons for working with an orchestra are typically Kottke-esque.  "Frankly," he says, "I wanted to do it because I love those symphony gigs:  good building, nice dressing room, and great food backstage.  But I've never performed with an orchestra before.  We're going to find out if I can deal with a conductor.  It's beginning to sound scarier and scarier.  About half of the piece is new stuff, and half is material of mine that Paulus wanted to use.  We'll use 'Times Twelve' [My Father's Face], which has a fanfare to start the suite, 'Air Proofing' [A Shout Toward Noon], and there's an arrangement of 'The Ice Field' [A Shout Toward Noon] that I wanted to squeeze in, because I've always heard it as an orchestral piece.  Paulus isn't doing as much composition on the suite as we had hoped.  We wanted to start with a motif and build from there, but we didn't have enough time.  But we've figured out that we work well together, so we'll keep doing it."   

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