I Yell at Traffic by Leo Kottke (b. 1945)
“I Yell at Traffic” is a dramatic piece that invites you in with a soft, descending minor scale that
gradually builds in dynamic. By the third measure, open strings are ringing through, and the
scale becomes less harnessed. This introduction ends unresolved on the second scale-degree
with a fermata before landing on the tonic played on the open sixth string in the following
section. This piece has other jarring moments such as the “traffic chords” in measures 16 and
17, and measures 50-59, which Kottke describes as a “Fruehaufian ostinato.” “I Yell at Traffic”
was first performed in 1981 as an independent composition, however, the piece has evolved as
he integrated parts of it with other compositions and played it in medleys.
Busted Bicycle by Leo Kottke
“Busted Bicycle” first appeared on Kottke’s, 6- and 12-String Guitar (1969), an album that would
distinguish himself in the fingerstyle landscape. The piece was originally played on a 12-string
along with several other pieces on the album. “Busted Bicycle” has a bustling quality that is
portrayed through its quick tempo, driving bassline, and use of left-hand stops. A characteristic
of the piece is the repeated bend played over the bass in the opening theme. In many of
Kottke’s pieces, a theme will return in a higher octave, which restates the original idea with an
equal level of familiarity and contrast.
Two Days Old by Michael Hedges (1953-1997)
“Two Days Old” is a heartfelt piece that first appeared as a recording on Breakfast in the Field
(1981), featuring Hedges on acoustic guitar accompanied by Michael Manring on fretless bass.
Hedges’ intricate use of right-hand string-stopping creates a coherent interaction between the
melody, bass, and harmony. The B section exemplifies this through the sustained melody over
the staccato bass. String-stopping is also used to build a concise melody. During climbing
melodic passages, particular notes are cleared to project subsequent notes. Hedges’ sense for
rubato creates space after these pivotal melodic sequences. “Two Days Old” also exemplifies
Hedges’ skill at creating variations by reimagining a previous passage rather than simply
changing a few notes.
Arrowhead by Michael Hedges
While working on his album, Torched (1999), Hedges was pushing the boundaries in search of
techniques that fulfilled his compositional vision. While Hedges is well-known for playing with
two hands on the fingerboard, this technique was used to serve his compositions rather than
the sake of using an unconventional style. “Arrowhead” exemplifies this concept by its use of
extended techniques such as sixteenth-note subdivisions in the right hand, right-hand slaps,and left-hand rakes. These features along with its unique tuning, D2 G2 D3 D3 A3 D4, all contribute
to the significance of the piece. Additionally, the bridge offers a fresh contrast to the A and B
Which Will by Nick Drake (1948-1974)
“Which Will” is the fourth track featured on Drake’s third and last album, Pink Moon (1972).
Drake’s vision for Pink Moon was to record an album with just him and his guitar. Besides the
brief piano solo on the title track, the album is just that. Drake struggled to find commercial
success during his life, and the stripped-back nature of Pink Moon in many ways reflected his
mental state as he became more reclusive.
“Which Will” is a brighter-sounding song on the album, which represents Drake’s artistry of
pairing somber lyricism with relatively cheerful phrases, expressing melancholy without
sounding miserable. Drake is known for his unique alternate tunings, and “Which Will” is one of
seven songs that uses the tuning, C2 G2 C3 F3 C4 E4. A common feature of Drake’s compositions is for the melody to ride in the bass, while the higher strings fill out the harmony. This
characteristic is present in “Which Will.”
Orange Room by Leo Kottke
“Orange Room” is a chipper, country-influenced piece composed in 1978. The title is a
reference to the bedroom Kottke’s son would stay in at his mother-in-law’s house. The piece
opens with a sassy introduction that bounces between the root and fifth of the first chord with
eighth-note ticks plucked between them. The rhythm carries a trotting characteristic akin to a
country classic, and the B and C sections are comprised of country-sounding riffs played over
open chords. By 1982, “Orange Room” found its place in a medley alongside “Eggtooth” and
“Grim to the Brim.”
Because It’s There by Michael Hedges
“Because It’s There” is the first piece Hedges wrote for harp guitar and was featured in the
soundtrack of a film about the Japanese explorer, Naomi Uemura. The piece is notable for its
lush soundscape, in part due to the nature of the instrument but even more to Hedges’
composition. The melody rides in the subbase while the harmony is played in the six-string neck
of the harp guitar, which consists of right and left-hand tapping. Additionally, the harmonics
provide another voice that shines through the melody and tapped harmony. Since its release,
“Because It’s There” has become a seminal piece in the repertoire of harp guitar.
T.C.L.D. by Stefano Barone (b. 1978)
Italian composer, Stefano Barone said he was inspired by techno music when composing “T.C.L.D.” It is a primarily rhythmic piece featuring various percussive elements in the right hand. The percussion with the wrist present throughout the piece emulates the bass drum you may hear at a rave. This piece uses the entire guitar as an instrument, including the body, neck, and strings behind the nut.
Cammino by Pino Forastiere (b. 1966)
“Cammino” translates to “walking” in Italian. When composing this piece, Forastiere thought of the “obsessive” walking that occurs throughout Italian cities. This thought is represented by a reoccurring figure comprised of a minor-second interval. The dynamic between both notes is balanced to represent small, even footsteps. This imagery is expanded upon through additional voices and varied tone colors, representing the spontaneous events taking place during the walk. The composition features frequent but seamless changes in meter, which further represents the organic character of the piece.
Turning by Alex de Grassi (b. 1952)
De Grassi was one of the forerunners in the genre of New Age in fingerstyle guitar. His debut album, Turning: Turning Back (1978), presented a new impressionistic perspective on fingerstyle guitar. The opening piece, “Turning,” was played at pivotal life moments such as weddings and childbirth. The piece features careful voice leading and contrasting tone colors. The opening four measures establish a motif that reoccurs throughout the song. At measure 5, the melody emerges from the texture in the intro. As the piece continues, bright clusters of three notes are played near the bridge. All of these features portrayed de Grassi’s new impressionistic style. The piece concludes with an ear-catching sequence of arpeggios, beginning in eighth notes, then doubling the time using sixteenth notes before returning to eighth notes.