Electric Kompany

On stage, guitarist Kevin Gallagher’s band Electric Kompany looks and sounds like your typical rock ‘n’ roll band with guitars, bass, a keyboards and drums. Gallagher plays guitar in typical fashion; using a wa-wa pedal to provide distortion in much the same way Jimi Hendrix or Eric Clapton would have, back in the day.

“He started as a kid,” says LeMoyne College Music professor Ed Ruchalski, “playing rock ‘n’ roll.”

Gallagher says when he first started playing guitar at age thirteen, he was into heavy metal guitar players such as “Randy Rhodes and Eddie Van Halen.” It wasn’t until he was older, that he discovered the music of rock legends, “Jimmy Page and Jimi Hendrix.”

Yet, Kevin Gallagher is not your typical rock ‘n’ roll guitarist and Electric Kompany is not your typical rock band, despite of how it looks on stage. In fact, they’re not really a rock band at all. They don’t employ a lead singer. All the pieces the band performed at a recent show at the Red House in downtown Syracuse were instrumentals that had no lyrics or vocal parts. This is because Electric Kompany is a classical music ensemble that happens to use instruments normally associated with Rock ‘n’ Roll.

Ruchalski explains that Electric Kompany is about trying to expose people to new musical ideas by combining rock instruments with classical music. He says the band plays “classical music that’s gone rock,” by introducing the music of Beethoven and Mozart to the world of Jimmy Page and Slash.

Ruchalski says Gallagher and Electric Kompany are trying to “take rock out of the song form” by working with composers who are trained in the medium of classical music whom he says the band feels can bring a “classical structure to a rock form.”

One of the composers Electric Kompany has worked with is Le Moyne College Music Professor Marc Mellits, whose works were featured in the Red House show. At the performance, Gallagher explains that he had Mellit’s work in mind when he started Electric Kompany back in 2006. He says that he felt Mellits work “could be adapted to rock performance.”

Electric Kompany has worked with other composers as well. According to the show’s program, the group has “commissioned new works for rock quartet by Jacob Ter Veldhuis, David Laganella,” as well as “Nick Didkovsky, Ryan Gallagher, and Kristen Kevner.”

The idea of a rock musician working within the confines of classical music conventions is not new. The idea dates back to the mid sixties when the Beatles used a string quartet on their recording of ‘Eleanor Rigby’ and then worked with the London Philharmonic on ‘A Day in the Life.’ Guns ‘n’ Roses released ‘November Rain,’ which featured a full symphony orchestra playing along side the band. Metallica has also performed with a full symphony orchestra.

Most of these collaborations have been the result of someone coming up with the basic musical idea, then having a producer suggests they work with an orchestra. But Electric Kompany doesn’t operate like that. They don’t write their own music. Instead, they 0commission composers to write music them, the way other classical musicians work.

In their recent performance at the Red House, the only piece was written by a member of the band was Jim Johnston’s ‘Fuzzy Math.’ Gallagher explains to the audience that this is the first performance ‘Fuzzy Math,’ which he says about numbers that just didn’t make sense.

Every piece performed at the show was an instrumental. The only exception was ‘Power’ by Dutch composer Ter Vanderhaus. ‘Power’ features a recording of preacher giving a sermon, while the band stands their on stage performing like music that Veldhuis has written. This is as close as Electric Kompany seems to get to playing a traditional rock song. But it is not a rock song. Instead, it is peice of classical music the band has commissioned a composer to write for them.

What Electric Kompany is saying Ruchalski explains is that “we’re going to play new music by composers,” the way musicians who play chamber music perform; except, in this case, “you have a rock band” with “guitar, bass, and drums.”

Electric Kompany’s efforts to mix rock ‘n’ roll and classical music stem from guitarist Kevin Gallagher’s diverse musical interests. This includes both the rock music that he grew up playing as a teenager, and the classical music that he discovered later in life.

“I’m not sure there was a particular reason,” he says about getting into classical music. “It was just something that I enjoyed.” He says the more that he enjoyed listening to classical compositions; the more he started to collect classical compositions.

Another influence he sites is his former music teacher Albert Fuller. Gallagher says that Fuller was a great musical teacher, despite the fact that he played piano instead of guitar.

“He showed me the dances” he says, referring more to the rhythm of a piece of music than an actual dance. All this had an effect on how he approaches a piece of music that he plays.

Gallagher thinks of himself as an interpreter who is trying to figure out what the composer is saying in his piece. He wants to understand what is being said. But he’s going to do it on his terms. He finds himself asking questions about the composer’s motivations behind writing the piece.

“Interpreting,” he says, “is trying to understand why the composer wrote what he wrote.”

Gallagher says that before he tries to interpret a piece of music, he tries to figure out how it swings. He wants to know what the mood is and from there he can figure everything else out.

“The mood,” he says, “should justify everything that you do.”

Gallagher believes mood dictates everything that goes on in a piece, including harmony and structure. Once you’ve figured the mood out, he says he can figure out what parts to highlight, including the harmonies.

According to the biography printed in the program, Electric Kompany has performed at a number of music festivals in and around New York City; including the New York Guitar Festival, the Tribeca Music Festival, the Whitney Museum, Chamber Music Now, and the New Complexity Festivals.

Their show at the Red House was promoted by the Le Moyne College Music Department, who invited them to come and play. According Music Department chair, Travis Newton the department promotes shows like the one put on by Electric Kompany in a number of ways. This includes mass e-mailings and posters hung up around Campus. They even put up pages for upcoming events on facebook.

“That helps a lot,” Newton says about Facebook which he says is how “a lot of [people] get their information.” Newton said that the Department of Music usually has some experience working with the Artist that they invite to come and perform, like Electric Kompany, whose work Newton say the department was familiar.

According to Music Professor Ed Ruchalski, Le Moyne’s current season was set by Professor Marc Mellits, whose work Electric Kompany performed at their resent concert, and former department chair Andrew Russo. According to Ruchalski, it was Russo and Mellits who invited Electric Kompany to perform here in Syracuse. He himself is very familiar with their work, which he said was influenced by rock bands such as Pink Floyd and King Crimson.

Ruchalski also said that Electric Kompany was trying to bring Classical Music into the World of Rock ‘N’ Roll. You are having a classical structure and a Rock Form,” he said. That doesn’t mean that when someone listens to them they will think of chamber music. “You’re not going to think classical music,” he said.

Indeed, watching them perform in concert it is easy to see that Electric Kompany sounds just like any other Rock band that is currently playing. Despite the fact that the music they played was commissioned by classical composers, the band sounds like any other rock band.

Who knows where this marriage of modern rock and traditional classical structure will lead. It hardly seems to matter as much as the fact that Electric Kompany is daring to try something new, and will to explore a new idea for the purpose of expanding their musical horizons. That is the true nature of art.

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