Cristian Amigo is an American composer, guitarist, producer, and educator who explores connections between art (classical and jazz) music and American popular and roots musics. Known as an acoustic and electric guitarist, and improviser, Amigo writes avant-music for chamber ensembles, orchestra, opera, theater, and film; he composes and performs in various roots and experimental music groups including The Gotham Roots Orchestra and Kingdom of Jones.
with Elliot Sharp
His awards include fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the Smithsonian Institution Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, and Meet the Composer. His work has been supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council for the Arts, the Brooklyn Philharmonic, the American Composers Forum, and Innova Recordings, among others.
with Angela Babbit
He has worked with hundreds of artists including Wadada Leo Smith, Elliott Sharp, Eve Beglarian, Mary Rowell, Kathy Supove, Jason Hwang, Andrew Drury, Gustavo Aguilar, Du Yun, JACK Quartet, Carlos Hayre, Corey Dargel, Renato Rosaldo, Juan Felipe Herrera, Royce Vavrek, David Ornette Cherry, Jill Sigman/thinkdance, and Miguel Frasconi. Cristian is currently composer-in-residence at INTAR Theater in New York City where he produces concerts and the INTAR Roots & New Music Festival.
with Nick Didkovsky in Tilted-axes-music-for-mobile-electric-guitars.
The 2012 New Grove Dictionary of American Music contains an entry on Cristian and his music. In 2011, he produced the recording NYFA: 25 Years of New York New Music, an anthology that includes music from Meredith Monk, Pauline Oliveros, Joan Tower, ETHEL, and hundreds of others.
What do you remember about your first guitar?
It was a no-brand Spanish guitar (nylon strings) that was lying around the house. My father had two licks he could play on it from an intro to an Argentinean zamba. The strings were literally about a half inch off of the neck so it was nearly impossible to play or tune.
SPEAK (Big As Records 1997)
Why do you need music? Can we live without music?
I do not know why I need music because it is such an ingrained part of my living. At this point, I cannot separate nature from nurture. I am just used to doing it every day for three hours minimum. It is scary, but when I take a break from playing the guitar, I can easily forget about it. But I begin to get ill-tempered and uncentered.
Which is the main pleasure of the guitar?
The physicality of it.
Which work of your own are you most surprised by, and why?
When I improvise freely in a concert context, new things happen; things I don’t ever practice. That’s nice, liberating.
Where are your roots? What are your influences?
I grew up with so many kinds of music. My family emigrated from Chile when I was three, I think largely due to my father’s imaginary American rock ‘n’ roll soundscape. He liked 50s and some 60s rock, tango, Argentinian folk music, French chanson, American country music, and pop music. In the early 70s he had a radio show in New Haven, CT where he explored the mixture of “Latin” music with American music, back when there was not a common use word for intercultural. My uncle Arturo jammed with Louis Armstrong once.
My own influences are more musical than guitaristic although I love so many guitarists. Miles Davis and Stravinsky have been the biggest continuing musical influences in my life by far.
I am a fan of roots-based guitar musics, so some of my favorite legendary guitarists are Atahualpa Yupanqui, Violeta Parra, Charlie Patton, “Mississippi” John Hurt, John Lee Hooker, Carlos Hayre, Oscar Avilés, Jerry Reed, Chet Atkins, Merle Travis, James Burton, Falú, Paco de Lucia, Sabicas, and on and on. On the jazz side my all time favorites are George Benson, Tal Farlow, and Joe Pass. On the experimental side Sonny Sharrock, Elliott Sharp, Bern Nix, Dom Minasi, and Hans Tammen among many others. Carlos Santana of course for being himself and the only Latino role model in mainstream American culture when I was growing up. Jimmy Page and Led Zeppelin for the sound and dream of freedom. Anybody with soul and/or an open vision.
Cristian Amigo - Joel Harrison - Andrew Drury
How many guitars do you have? Select only one and tell me why.
Seventeen. I choose the 1962 ES-175 given/perma-loaned to me my good friend and author Glenn Kurtz (Practicing: A Musician's Return to Music) It is the finest electric guitar I have ever played. The wood, the age, the frets, the set-up… are from a different age. It has a specific voice like a great singer. It’s been very hard for me to figure it out, but I keep trying. I'm scared Glenn's going to take it back if I don't figure it out soon.
Anders Nilsson - Les Paul guitar/ Andrew Drury - Drums /Cristian Amigo - Stratocaster/William Lang-trombone
Define the sound you're still looking for, or the sound you'd like to hear.
I want a sound like Miles and Violeta Parra; a sound that immediately touches the listener’s heart, a sound wherein the player and the listener are one vibrating entity.
What would you ask to the next guitarist in this serie?
Why the guitar?
What's the importance of technique in music, in your opinion?
Well, it is very important to my development and confidence as a musician, but sometimes I think it is a fetish that musicians use to give conceptual meaning to something (sound) that the body can understand without so much conceptual mediation. Alas, Western people, including me, are still stuck in this limited concept of mind detached from body duality. The other day, I saw something in the Times about “the continuing mind-body problem.” Ha! That’s a white culture white man problem that a yoga class and meditation can help alleviate.
What is some valuable advice that someone has given to you in the past?
The Afro-Peruvian and Criollo maestro Carlos Hayre (I was his second guitarist for a time) told me once: “if you are going to play cowboy music, play cowboy chords or else you’ll be taken for an idiot and also get your ass kicked.” These were wise words about context.
What gear do you use?
I have lots of gear, but my set-ups are always simple. Guitar (tele, Les Paul, semi-hollow body types) to some kind of light overdrive to Malekko delay is the most basic right now. I play with my fingers, use different picks, and beat, rub, and vibrate what I can. Oh, and Fender amps: a vintage 1957 Champ, a Super Champ XD, a ’65 Deluxe Reverb reissue, and a vintage ’69 Bandmaster Reverb head into various speaker configurations.
What artist, living or dead, would you like to have collaborated with?
Goya and Eric Dolphy in a free-form trio.
What are you currently working on?
Some projects: An operetta with anthropologist/poet Renato Rosaldo and composer/drummer Gustavo Aguilar; a dance piece with jill sigman/thinkdance and glass instrumentalist/composer Miguel Frasconi and vocalist/composer Kristin Norderval; two plays with playwright Migdalia Cruz; various improvisation-based collaborations (Bern Nix, Elliott Sharp, William Hooker, Charlie Rauh); writing/producing songs with Emmy winner Kevin Mambo (Fela on Broadway), Juno winner/drummer/producer Alain Berge (Youssou N’Dour), and Grammy award winner/producer/monster guitarist Dave Cabrera; and a couple of CDs: a solo piece on Elliott Sharp's Metaguitar (Vol. 3), and with microtonalist Johnny Reinhard's bassoon and three electric guitar quartet. I am also writing a book about advanced harmonic concepts as applied to the blues (in the largest sense). Studying Bach, Miles, Monk. and Mingus--the usual suspects. I think there is some other stuff, but I can't remember.
LIST OF WORKS
100 Americana Songs + 50 More (2010 -2012) Heart Sutra (2012) The Buzzy Garden (2012) – nono/nona Recordings Notes on the Balinese Cockfight (2012 -) w/librettist Renato Rosaldo and composer Gustavo Aguilar. opera in progress Amigo/Aguilar Duo (2012) – nono/nona Recordings Cristian Amigo and Blaise Siwula Live (2012) Cristian Amigo and Gustavo Aguilar Live (2012) Moving Through Systems (2011) Cristian Amigo and Dom Minasi Live (2012) Three Truths (2011) by Naomi Izuka The UMF Book of Notations (2011) (outsidein) Guitar Quartet No. 1 (2011) Right Here, Right Now (2011) Testosterone Jam (2011) A Bad Time To Be A Fish (2012) The Gotham Roots Orchestra (2012) - nono/nona Recordings Trombones of Doom (2011) Solo or Group Event No. 1 (2011) CCR Music (2011) Western Spaces (2011) song trio w/librettist Royce Vavrek 7 for solo piano (for Jenny Lin) (2011) The MOMA Yellow Notebook (2011) Cosmicomics #1 for clarinet, cello, and electric guitar (2011) for/4guitars: electric guitar quartet (2011) Clementine in the Lower Ninth (2009) by Brad Dietz Picasso: Payaso (2008 - ) opera in progress String Quartet No. 2/Ambiguous Dog (2008) Songs from Jose (2008) Kingdom of Jones (2008) CD - innova Recordings Dos/Two: Fieldnotes (2008) CD – BA Records Minotaur (2008) – by David Anzuelo Nylons (2008) one-act opera Killing Play (2007) ABC Identity Songs for piano, violin, clarinet, and 2 perc. (2007) Brooklyn Dances for Orchestra (2007) Songs from a Socialist Cabaret (2007) Songs from José (2007) Salsalandia (2007) - by Juan Felipe Herrera String Quartet No. 1 (2007) Ten One-Minute Pieces (2007) – Danish Intuitive Music Conference Swoony Planet (2006) – by Han Ong Rosmersholm (2006) by Henrik Ibsen deathvariations (2006) – by Jon Fosse Monk Sketches (2006) – Twelve instrumental pieces for electric quartet Echoes of Latin America (2006) – Teatro del Pueblo (Minneapolis) Routes of Folklore (2006) Points of Departure (2006) – by Michael John Garcé Impressions of Energy for cello and guitar (2005) – CSI/CUNY Cristian Amigo: Live LA Sessions (2005) CD – BA Records Monk Sketches (2005) Grace (2005) by Craig Wright Soldados (2004) Thunderweavers (2003) The Upside Down Boy (2003) by Juan Felipe Herrera Folklore Neoyorquino (2002) Time, Emit Time (2001) – Asian Aacific Performance Exchange (APPEX) (3) Film Shorts (1999) – Sundance Film Festival Overstay (1997) – a film by Ann Kaneko Essence (1998) – BA Records 35 Miles From Normal (1997) – a film by Mark Schwahn SPEAK (1997) – BA Records