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Jonathan Fitzgerald lights up Fringe with electrics

5 January 2022

What happens when a classical guitarist goes electronic? Find out in this conversation with Jonathan Fitzgerald.

American-born classical guitarist Jonathan Fitzgerald studied at the Cleveland Institute of Music and the Eastman School of Music before moving to Perth.

Having trained with some of the world’s most acclaimed classical guitarists, Jonathan has spent the past few years exploring the capabilities of his acoustic instrument’s antithesis: the electric guitar. His Fringe World multimedia show Electroluminescence is the culmination of his electronic experiments, combined with abstract, visual projections, he tells Isabella Corbett.

Isabella Corbett: Welcome to the Festival Sessions Jonathan Fitzgerald. For Seesaw Mag readers who don’t know you, can you tell us a bit about yourself and your work? 

Jonathan Fitzgerald: I’m a classical guitarist, originally from the US. I moved to Perth shortly after finishing my doctorate and since 2016 I’ve taught at the University of WA’s Conservatorium of Music, where I currently serve as Chair of Strings and Guitar.

While my reputation is primarily as a classical guitarist performing “traditional” repertoire, in recent years I’ve become increasingly interested in the expressive possibilities of the electric guitar. The ease with which it can be completely transformed through electronic processing, and particularly its pairing with visual elements to create immersive, multimedia works, allows for the exploration of ideas that just aren’t possible with an acoustic instrument.

A mid-shot of Jonathan Fitzgerald with his eyes closed as he passionately plays his guitar.
Jonathan Fitzgerald will play guitar as part of ‘Electroluminescence’. Photo: Supplied.

IC: Tell us about Electroluminescence, the work you are performing at Fringe World 2022.

JF: Electroluminescence will be a concert of multimedia works for electric guitar, electronics and visual projections. The program will feature the world premiere performance of three new works I’ve commissioned from Gulli Bjornsson (Iceland), two-time Aria Award-winning composer James Ledger (WA), and emerging composer Victor Arul (WA). I’ll also be performing the Western Australian premiere of works by Eve Beglarian (USA), Alison Isadora (New Zealand), and Jacob TV (Netherlands). 

The majority of these pieces were originally conceived as multimedia works, but two are abstract instrumental pieces with no pre-existing visual element. For these works, I’ve engaged Perth-based photographic artist Lyle Branson to create still images to accompany the music. I’ve long been a fan of Lyle’s work, and was particularly inspired by the surrealism and dystopian landscapes of his most recent exhibition “A Makeshift World”, so this collaboration has been a really exciting aspect of the project.

IC: What will the audience experience in Electroluminescence?

JF: The works are highly varied, running the gamut from the very accessible to the very challenging.

On one end of the spectrum, I’m playing a prepared guitar using alligator clips, a metal rod and a bass bow, all while live electronics on stage transform it into something totally unrecognisable as a guitar. On the other end, I’m playing what is basically a straight-ahead jazz fusion tune peppered with sound samples (from a South Carolina televangelist’s fiery TV sermon!) that serve as a recurring leitmotif.

It’s a bit cliché, but there really is something for everyone on this program! 

IC: What inspired you to make this work?

JF: A few years ago, I came across the work of Gulli Bjornsson, an Icelandic guitarist/composer who’s carved out a niche creating multimedia works for electric guitar and visuals. I found his work really compelling and unique, particularly with the audio and visuals working together to create a listener/viewer experience that was greater than the sum of its parts. I approached Gulli to write a work for me and luckily he agreed! 

That sent me down the rabbit hole. As I began exploring the existing repertoire for solo electric guitar and visuals, I was surprised to discover that there wasn’t actually a tremendous amount, and I couldn’t find a single work by an Australian composer. This was something I wanted to address, and it certainly added further motivation to undertake this project. To my knowledge, I’ll be premiering the first work for solo electric guitar and visuals by an Australian composer. 

IC: What do you hope punters will take away from Electroluminescence?

JF: Audience members can expect to be taken on a sonic journey from the familiar, to the weird and wonderful, and the downright bizarre. I hope they leave the show with an expanded conception of what music can be, and what the guitar can do (and that they enjoy the ride!) 

IC: What’s next for you after Fringe World 2022?

JF: I’ve actually got another really exciting commissioning project in the works. Putting my classical guitarist hat back on, I’m part of the Perth Guitar Quartet, and we’ll be recording a CD of new Australian works that we’ve commissioned, all taking inspiration from the WA landscape. Duncan Gardiner has written an epic eight movement work called Stone, Shell, Bone and Feather, inspired by the East Perth Cemeteries, and we’re currently in the process of commissioning new works from Robert Davidson, Lydia Gardiner, and Jeremy Poole-Johnson. If all goes to plan, we’re hoping to be able to premiere those in a CD launch in early 2023, so keep an eye out! 

Electroluminescence plays Lyric’s Underground as part of Fringe World, 19 January 2022.

Pictured top: Jonathan Fitzgerald presents a concert of multimedia works for electric guitar, electronics, and visual projections. Photo: Supplied.

“The Festival Sessions” is an annual series of Q&A interviews with artists who will be appearing in Perth’s summer festivals. Stay tuned for more!

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Author —
Isabella Corbett

Emerging writer Isabella Corbett is a postgraduate journalism student at Curtin University. After completing a Bachelor of Design (Fine Arts) at UWA, she quickly realised that she preferred tip-tapping away on a keyboard writing about other people’s art and hasn’t picked up a piece of charcoal since. At the playground, you’ll find her trying to fly higher than the person next to her on the swings.

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