Sunday, July 26, 2015

Cyrus Pireh 13 Questions

Composer, performer, and instructor, Cyrus Pireh was born in 1981 in Hoffman Estates, IL. Sensitive to sound from a young age, he began his exploration of string instruments and his artistic career in 1989. His belief in all sounds as one sound and in one sound as all sounds set him apart in his study of the electric guitar. His unique approach to tone and balance feature heavily in his landmark 4-hour work for solo electric guitar, openness, as well as in his continuing P.U.S.H.T.H.E.C.U.T. and 100 Streets series. He is today a consummate improviser and engaging

He studied composition, electroacoustic music, software and computer assisted composition at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, getting a Master of Music in Composition in 2004 with Anthony J. Ptak, David Means, Vinko Globokar, Sever Tipei,  Stephen Taylor, Scott Wyatt , Rick Taube and Zack Browing. He also plays Saxophone and Violin. He's a researcher in the fields of electronic and virtual instruments, and continuing timbre and sound amplification.

He has composed more than thirty pieces for diverse instrumental ensembles, from percusión, piano, electroacoustic to electric guitar, like 10 Futures for piano (2003), Amplified piano; Simultaneous Earth Mind (2002) Clarinet, electric guitar, electric bass, cello, piano, drum set, DTHopr (2005), Electroacoustic opera, Timer (2009), for Vacation timer, 500w amplification, electric guitar, 06/21/09 (2009) for Alto saxophone, accordion, and cigar box guitar...

In all music there is the call. The call to idea. The call to move. The call to friend. The call to love. The call is there and so why not act? What other permission is there?

with Dave Scanlon

What do you remember about your first approach to sound?

I remember being very young, maybe 3 or 4 years old, listening to the Beatles Abbey Road on a turntable at the library wearing large headphones. Harrison's “Something in the Way.” That guitar haunted me for many years. I also remember at age 6 an assembly in grade school where musicians came and demonstrated an array of synthesizers. They pitch shifted children's voices to sound like the voice of an adult and vice versa. They also played the song “Axel F” from the movie Beverly Hills Cop.

100 Streets Work in Progress

My first instrument was the violin which I had the opportunity to play because at that time music was still included in usa public school education. I remember bringing the rental violin home for the first time and opening the case. We were told not to play with the instrument before the teacher showed us how to handle it properly, but I took out the instrument and made some sounds plucking the strings. I tried to use the bow to make a sound, but it had just been re-haired and I didn't know how to apply the rosin yet, so I couldn’t make a sound. With the electric guitar I remember my first sounds being very dull and hazy. I was fascinated with the tone knob and played for the first month or so with them turned down all the way-- a very dark sound for the strat.

How's your musical routine practice?

My usual routine begins in the morning around 9 or 10 am. I usually do 2 to 3 hours practice every day during the week. I start with the 9 string telecaster. I have a few etudes I have written to help warm up the fingers on my fretting hand and to loosen up my picking hand.

Then I will spend an hour working on the hybrid picking-playing pieces that utilize that technique and also improvise. I work to expand my comfort with playing melody on the high string with my middle finger beats two and four while maintaining a steady bassline with the pick then switching to a melodic bassline against a steady pulse on the two and four on the high string.

Then I will spend the rest of the time on tremolo picking, working on maintaining speed and fluidity while fretting up and down the neck and also across strings. I practice the pieces that utilize this technique and also improvise. Here I will also work with the octave guitar. I often end practice with some work on the 6 string electric guitar to reconnect what I've worked on to the instrument most of my students use.

Which work of your own are you most surprised by, and why?

I suppose I am surprised most often in performances of “If I Can Play Fast Enough It Will Turn into Food and Shelter.” There will always be a moment 20 or so minutes into the piece where the physical barriers to maintaining the tremolo picking texture start to fall away and time starts to feel like less of a boundary. The first 20 minutes is always about the physicality of the texture and the stamina required to execute it. Right around 20 minutes I begin to have a wonderful sort of dissociative experience. I have been working so hard to maintain the mechanical process of the tremolo picking through the beginning of the piece and then I feel I can start to let go and the mechanical process can continue on its own with less mental attention from me. At that point I am 90% just listening to the instrument and everything seems possible. There is an incredible flow of ideas and execution. I did a one hour version of the piece in 2013 in downtown Brooklyn, which is the longest so far, after which I still wanted to continue playing. I felt I could play for another hour at least. I would like someday to give a 3 hour performance of this piece.

What's the relevance of technique in music, in your opinion?

In my opinion, technique acts in service of an idea. Working towards realizing an idea drives the technique and as the idea expands, the technique must evolve along with it. Technique cannot stand on its own without the idea that it seeks to express. Playing that is only technique is hollow....

Why do you need music? Can we live without music?

I need music because making music is the way I have made most of the deepest and most meaningful relationships in my life. The bond created through shared music-making experience is one I believe we could base society upon. As much as I like it as a tool for study, I think we could live without recorded music as long as we still had instruments.

In 2014 I was diagnosed with a benign tumor on my pituitary gland in my head. The tumor was about the size of the tone knob on the electric guitar. The day of my diagnosis I had a terrible headache, was unable to see, unable to stand, and was in horrible pain. At the hospital while I was in the MRI tube, I was surrounded by the sounds of the machine. The deep pulsing, the harsh shearing sounds, the whirring, were all around me and I found those sounds to be a true comfort. They relaxed and supported me. When I came out of the tube I felt ok. The MRI later showed that the tumor had ruptured and was leaking fluid or blood inside my head, which was the possible cause of my headache. In this case I believe the music of the MRI machine was very much involved in my continuing to live.

Which living or dead artists would you like to collaborate with?

Mary Timony and you, the reader.

What are the challenges and benefits of today's digital music scene?

Music (actual music made in the moment) is trust. Recorded music is closer to drugs in that the listener can play the recording to elicit a feeling in themselves over and over again as they like. The recording itself is either an attempt to capture the physical-emotional essence of a live performance so it can be revisited later, or it is a collection of sounds created with the purpose of inciting a physical-emotional reaction in the listener. The revolution of digital music has resulted in housing the complete means of production for recorded music in one generally available machine, and thus if we have a computer we can make recorded music and send it all over the world and try to have it stand in for us remotely.

This is still, even with all today's technological advances, quite different than actually traveling to a person (or people) and being in the same space with them making music. I can record music here in the usa and send it, for example, to the composer Alan/Anla Courtis or to the group Honduras: Alejandro Leonelli, Alex Kodric and Nicolas Kodric and they can record music there in Buenos Aires and send it to me, but it cannot compare to the experience of actually being together with my friends, these amazing musicians, in the same place and making the music together. There is a kind of trust that emerges between those involved in making music in the moment for all to feel able to express their sounds openly and share them freely with one another that is just not part of recorded music digital or otherwise. 

Depict the sound you're still looking for, or the sound you'd like to hear.

I am looking for the sounds created by people collectively in open revolt against the tyranny of the 21st century. I would like to go to the places where these sounds are being made and add my sound to theirs. I would like to encourage the making of these sounds in the places I live. Sound is one of the most powerful tools we have for good. People can close their eyes and they can hold their noses, but if they are in range of a sound they must hear it. It will touch them. This gives us the opportunity to make sounds that will reinforce the collectivity of people world-wide, that can demonstrate ways of organizing ourselves non-hierarchically, and that can vibrate loose both the internal and external oppressors we struggle under daily. Sound is the way. These are the sounds I'd like to hear.

What do you recall about your playing learning process?

I started playing violin at age 8 and played through high school at age 17. In addition to playing in the public school orchestras, I studied privately with a former orchestral violinist and gave recitals along with the rest of her students. From her I learned the beginning concepts of music theory: key, scale, rhythm, etc. When I was 12, I was part of a group of friends who wanted to start a rock band. It was decided that I would play electric violin. I went to the music store with my parents and it turned out that the most affordable amplifier was part of a special offer that included an electric guitar, cables, strings, 3 free guitar lessons, etc.

So instead of only getting an amplifier for my violin, I also got an electric guitar which my parents thought I might play as a hobby. I took the 3 free lessons, but learned the most from my very good friend Tim Ranttila. From him I learned to play with only 5 strings, to use strings of a heavy gauge, and to experiment with the electronics of the instrument. I also continued my violin study-- looking for ways to apply what I was learning to guitar. I played in local bands in my teenage years, many of which were amazing. We learned to record ourselves and we held these recordings in the same esteem as those made by the professional groups we were inspired by.

I went to college with the intention of becoming a physicist, but after one year changed colleges and changed my course of study to music composition. I studied both traditional and "20th century" composition as well as electroacoustic music, advanced theory, ear training, sight singing, orchestration, and music history.  After graduating with a BA and MM in music composition, I became a composer in New York City. I learned the strategies of music performance through playing on the streets and in the subway system. After a little more than 2 years in the city, I realized that I needed to broaden my field of work and I have lived, visited, and worked in various places in the usa and internationally since.

After many years of believing that in order to be taken more seriously as a composer I needed to deemphasize my work as an electric guitarist, in 2011 at the suggestion of the composer Matthew Mehlan, I reversed this view and began an intensive course of study to both be able to more fully realize the compositions I was creating and to be better able to interact and participate in group music making with other musicians such as with the amazing group JOBS: David Scanlon, Rob Lundberg, and Max Jaffe. However it has been my collaboration with the composer and thereminist Anthony J. Ptak that has most expanded for me the possibilities of the person-instrument connection.

Tell me one musical work which has provoked a change in your music.

Alan Licht's “14, Second, 5th" from his record A New York Minute. I heard that piece and knew immediately that I would dedicate myself to learning to play the electric guitar in that manner, to achieve that kind of texture on the electric guitar no matter how long it took. It took nearly ten years for me to be able to play in an even tremolo around 15-20 attacks per second and be able to sustain that texture through a work of 30 or more minutes. I became aware of Alan Licht when I bought his record with Loren MazzaCane Connors, Hoffman Estates. I am from Hoffman Estates, IL, usa, and Jim O'Rourke recorded this record at a studio very close to my childhood home. When I moved to New York I sought out Alan Licht as a teacher. His music and his theory writing were a big influence on me. I found out much later that Alan Licht achieved the electric guitar texture of “14, second, 5th” with an electric screwdriver ....

It isn't technically one work, but when Derek Bailey died in the winter of 2005, I was working in New York in a glass mosaic studio assembling mosaics by hand. I used to listen to the Columbia University radio station WKCR on a small portable radio. I was listening every day as the station played a continuous week of Derek Bailey music in celebration of his life. This was my first introduction to his music, and while I was familiar with improvisation, I had never heard the electric guitar played in such a serious, committed, vulnerable, seeking way. This might have been the first and only time I have experienced recorded music as an actual communication between people. That week at the end of the year 2005 was almost supernatural.


Both of the above are examples of recorded music, which as conflicted as I feel about it, I still listen to almost continuously. The most change-provoking example of a musical work that I witnessed as it happened was the saxophonist Evan Parker's performance at Roulette in New York City in 2006. I was working as part of the sound engineering staff for that concert and was at the venue to receive Evan Parker when he arrived. He was gracious and affable and participated in a conversation with all those who were present. He prepared his instruments in a relaxed manner and had a beer. He carried this attitude through to concert time when it was if he had thrown a switch and then proceeded to play with more intensity and more focus than any performer I had ever witnessed. What he was able to do seemed to be so far beyond, so far out, so far removed from anything I had ever heard as "saxophone" so as to be only related to it by the name of the instrument. I saw this as an example of a musician who had so fully connected with the instrument, and whose practice was so part of their everyday life, and in some way that made that day's performance even more staggering. I came away feeling like a typical performance for Evan Parker would perhaps be the performance of a lifetime for someone else, but only because performing was so typical for Evan Parker . Maybe the advice I received one time that performing is not something separate from life, but at its peak it IS life (specifically: performing is YOU) is a clearer way of describing what I encountered that night and have sought to emulate ever since.....

What is some valuable advice that someone has given to you in the past?

"The role of the composer is to make themselves necessary." - Herbert Brun as told to me by Zack Browning.

What instruments and tools do you use?

I have two 9 string 25.5" scale electric guitars one of which is a telecaster/esquire and the other is a 60's Japanese model. Both guitars were made/customized by Fatdog at Subway Guitars in Berkeley, California. I started with the traditional 12 string guitar and removed the two high E strings and the octave-up of the low E string. Then I tune the instrument down three whole steps to C, so my tuning from low to high is: C2, F3 F2, Bb3 Bb2, Eb4 Eb3, G3 G3.


My first guitar was a 90's Peavey strat copy. In 2014 I had luthier Benjamin Brockway build me a custom 9 string 10 fret neck for the Peavey which is tuned one octave higher than the other 9 string guitars. I also have a Sears/National SG copy from the early 70s that I use for lessons and a 12 string Takamine acoustic. I build my own amplifiers ( and tape delays.

What projects are you working on now and what does the future hold?

Right now I am working on a second album with Alan/Anla Courtis, which come to think of it if there is anyone reading who would be interested in releasing it please do get in touch! We have all the material recorded and are simply getting everything ready to send to the pressing plant so most of the work is done!

I am also working on a series of recordings made earlier this year with the amazing guitarist Jeremy Ross Armstrong that I hope to have ready before the end of the year.

I am in the middle of work on a theoretical text on 21st century music composition that I hope to have finished in 2016.

In the hopefully not too distant future, I would like to participate in the European Jazz Festival Circuit, do a UK summer residency, return to Japan, continue collaborating with my friends in Buenos Aires, keep traveling, keep meeting amazing music-makers, and keep on ripping!

Selected Cyrus Shop with Free Streaming Sounds

4GRE066 cyrus pireh Music as Cultural Resistance 22 minute piece originally released as part of a 4-way split on the ZOME label. Alto saxophone, 9 string telecaster, hearing tester, synthesizer, tape delay, patience tester.
CD 1 2015
4GRE065 cyrus pireh Music as Social Change UMD042015 Performance/presentation of new anarchist music composition at the University of Minnesota Duluth. 40+ participants plus 9 string telecaster and metronome. CD 1 2015
4GRE064 kawol samarkand & cyrus pireh DUOS V: Live @ Club AIREGIN Yokohama 07/13/2014 Spontaneous duo performance at Yokohama, JAPAN jazz club AIREGIN. Electric guitar plus future lute. One of my all time favorite performing experiences.
CD 2 2015
4GRE063 cyrus pireh 4GRE prescription bottle electric guitar amplifiers Portable, practical, prescription strength. $25. Please read all about it HERE Rx
4GRE062 cyrus pireh SPACED OUT TRACKS FOR ALE ( track 1 track 2 track 3 ) Surfing the tape delay into deep space: swirling, floyd-esque. Final jazzmaster recording. Also features future lute strat and drums.
CD 3 2015
4GRE061 cyrus pireh Live in-store @ Electric Fetus Duluth June 13, 2015 9 string telecaster, future lute strat, pill bottle amplifier with reflex horn, and pignose. Epic 70 minute set-- the furthest out and most burning yet. Coltrane, Ornette.
CD 1 2015
4GRE060 cyrus pireh Live @ Jefferson People's House Duluth, MN June 12, 2015 First use of pill bottle amplifier with reflex horn speaker. 9 string telecaster. Ornette
CD 1 2015
4GRE059 cyrus pireh Live @ Gamut Gallery Minneapolis June 6, 2015 9 string telecaster through pill bottle preamp and Dayton Audio power amplifier. Freebird.
CD 1 2015
4GRE058 cyrus pireh Live Radio K Feb. 15, 2015
CD 1 2015
4GRE057 cyrus pireh Live Ridgewood Jan. 21, 2015 A 9 string telecaster seance-session at Trans Pecos II complete with circle of candles. Borrowed a tube Deluxe that bubbled away under the strain adding a queasy, rubbery coat to the proceedings.
CD 1 2015
4GRE056 cyrus pireh Live Boston Jan. 23, 2015 Live performance at NEC house party Jan 23, 2015. 9 string telecaster through keyboard amp in kitchen. much cooking of the amp.
CD 1 2015
4GRE055 cyrus pireh working CD 1 2015
4GRE054 cyrus pireh Burning:Duluth CD 1 2015
4GRE053 CYRUSVANCE Banned from Hexagon
DVD 1 2015
4GRE052 cyrus pireh Live in Downtown Brooklyn CD 1 2015
4GRE051 SHILOH baba yaga CASS 3 2015
4GRE050 cyrus pireh Still Here, Still Ripping: Live in Japan 2014 CD 3 2015
4GRE049 Angry Feminists Tour '10 CD
4GRE048 older BUS CD 7 2015
buy from shinkoyo
book n/a 2013
SHIN043 cyrus pireh & honduras CYRUS PIREH & HONDURAS
buy from saki buy from Viajero Inmóvi
LP 3 2013
4GRE047 cyrus pireh 2005 CD 6 2013
4GRE046 cyrus pireh LIVE AT TURF CLUB 11-29-2012 CD 1 2013
4GRE045 cyrus pireh 100 STREETS #41-50 CD 1 2012
DSC#097 alan courtis & cyrus pireh URITORCO
buy from dumpsterscore
C-32 6 2013
4GRE044 cyrus pireh 100 STREETS #31-40 CD 1 2012
4GRE043 cyrus pireh FACE medium-form guitar and electroacoustic music piece CD 1 2012
4GRE042 bucyrusohio NEY DREAMS ON THE COAST OF INFINITE SILVER 5 tracks of psychadelic ney flute performance from free-free jazz performers BucyrusOhio. CD 5 2012
4GRE041 cyrus pireh LIVES IN BSAS Live performances from 2011 Buenos Aires CD 2 2012
4GRE040 cyrus pireh P.U.S.H.T.H.E.C.U.T.#6 Sixth release in the PTC series of solo electric guitar studies. Recorded to tape in Buenos Aires in a single take. Features the amazing sounds of Avenida San Juan. CD-EP 1 2011
4GRE039 cyrus pireh AUTOGUITAR Two motors spin and pluck strings continuously. Controls: motors on/off, pickups on/off. Runs on 9v battery. Featured on 4GRE32, 4GRE29. $10,000. 2007
4GRE038 cyrus pireh (SOLD)JAZZ STYLE ELECTRIC GUITAR Neck pickup wound out by hand from stock 6.4K ohms to 9.86K ohms for amazing piano-like sustain. No other j@zzmaster will match it. 6-string config. Featured on 4GRE12, 4GRE27 2009
4GRE037 cyrus pireh (SOLD)LOTUS ELECTRIC GUITAR styled for portability. Featured on 4GRE30 2006
4GRE036 cyrus pireh (SOLD)ULTRA-LIGHT PORTABLE AMPLIFIER 1/4" mono input, 1/4" mono line out. 5 watts through 2.5" speaker. 9v battery power. 2009
4GRE035 angry feminists BRA BURNERS All tracks recorded live to tape. CD-EP 5 2010
4GRE034 angry feminists TOUR09 Complete recordings of 4 shows from 2009 tour. Chicago, IL @Ron's the's Hill's; New York City @Cakeshop; Durham, NC @Lou's; Bloomington, IL @Pool Party House. 2xCD 4 2010
4GRE033 cyrus pireh TOUR09 A wild set at ABCNORIO father's day 2009 that was the second of three NYC shows in two days (never again!) and a brain in the frying pan slab of electric guitar recorded at Chicago club Metal Shaker a few days later. What a decade. CD 2 2009
4GRE032 cyrus pireh LYVE/MYLD STPAUL Two tracks of electric guitar recorded during an evening-length performance at Metrostate University. The third track is a weird autoguitar-sax set at Big V's that was much further out than what I was playing when I got kicked out of that place. CD 3 2009
4GRE031 cyrus pireh LYVE/WYLD MPLS This is the introduction to Minneapolis 2007. Electric guitar set at Castle Greyskull which I discovered I lived down the street from. Electric sax-synth with Joe Damman in the Belfry Center. I remember there were a lot of wide eyes and scratching heads. CD 2 2009
4GRE030 cyrus pireh 100 STREETS #21-30 CD 1 2007
4GRE029 cyrus pireh P.U.S.H.T.H.E.C.U.T.#5 CD-EP 1 2007
4GRE028 bucyrusohio YOU COULD TELL THAT! CD 2 2007
4GRE027 cyrus pireh LIVE 3/24/07 6/18/06 solo elec. guit. Flushing Town Hall + ABCNORIO performances CD 2 2007
4GRE026 cyrus pireh P.U.S.H.T.H.E.C.U.T.#4 $75 - autograph score 2007
4GRE025 CMOSCM 02/25/07 live ensemble performance personnel: c.pireh on alto and tubesax, m.mehlan on alto, o.junker on percussion and keys, s.dulberger on upright bass, c.welcome on electric guitar, m.krausch on vocals, clementine. Whenever people came to town, I had gotten it into my head to put together shows for them to play in. Otto was in town so I put a call in to Goodbye Blue Monday way out on Kosciusko. It was a frigid, snowy night in February but the assembled players laid down a burning, firey set. CD 1 2007
4GRE024 David Zielinski + cyrus pireh DUOS IV sax, trumpet, synthesizer, perc CD 2 2007
4GRE023 10/18xTRN NYC WINTER PERFORMANCE SERIES 2006 - 2007 personnel: c.pireh, m.krausch, d.zielinski, t.ranttila, m.mehlan, s.dulberger Three live recordings by the group of an amazing gig at the Cakeshop, a New Years eve set at ABCNORIO before the whole night went to hell, and an extremely chill happening on the World Trade Center E platform. The set on the Staten Island Ferry will have to live on in our memories because I forgot to un-pause the tape. . . CD 3 2007
4GRE022 cyrus pireh 100 STREETS #11-20 CD 1 2006
4GRE021 cyrus pireh 100 STREETS #1-10 CD 1 2006
4GRE020 cyrus pireh P.U.S.H.T.H.E.C.U.T.#3 CD-EP 2 2006
4GRE019 MIR VOL1 - SPEAKER MELTERselect max or min. includes source code. USE AT OWN RISK $1 (max) (min) (fmax) (fmin) - source code 2006
4GRE018 HCA 2005 VOL.1 VOL.2 $1 - CD 8 2006
4GRE017 Jeremy Armstrong + cyrus pireh DUOS III mandolin + elec. guitar + sax CD 2 2006
4GRE016 cyrus pireh P.U.S.H.T.H.E.C.U.T.#2/M.I.N.O.R.A.N.T.H.E.M.S.solo electric guitar/violin CD-EP 2 2006
4GRE015 cyrus pireh cyrus Thirdly May '06 out of print - CD - 2006
4GRE014 Anthony Jay Ptak + cyrus pireh DUOS II *please contact for info* - CD - 2006
4GRE13 Anthony Jay Ptak + cyrus pireh DUOS I *please contact for info* - 2xCD - 2006
4GRE012 cyrus pireh P.U.S.H.T.H.E.C.U.T.#1 CD-EP 1 2006
4GRE011 DTH DTHOPR CD 5 2006
4GRE010 cyrus pireh cyrus Thirdly Jan '06 out of print - CD - 2006
4GRE009 DIY DISCOGRAPHY - 2xCD 22 2005
4GRE008 cyrus pireh WORKS II: 2003 - 2004 CD 4 2004
4GRE007 cyrus pireh OPENNESS $100 - VHS 1 2004
4GRE006 DIY/END ME SPLIT 7" - 7"vinyl 4 2004
4GRE005 cyrus pireh WORKS I: 2001-2003 CD 8 2004
4GRE004 cyrus pireh RECITAL 05/08/04 CD 6 2004
4GRE003 older CARSONGS - CD-EP 7 2002
4GRE002 matt cohn + david zielinski + cyrus pireh LIVE@JOE'S - CD 1 2000