BY LAURA BIEMMI
Darryn Santana has dedicated his new album to someone he loves: Erik Satie.
The Perth guitarist has described the self-titled release as “not strictly classical”, but marking a transition from his interest in rock music to different styles, such as those found in the impressionist composer’s Gnossiennes.
It follows on from Darryn’s exploration into musical projects as varied as music theatre direction to rock bands, along with his duo performances in Pluck & Strum and his involvement in the UWA Guitar Ensemble. He started out as a busker and playing covers, and along with Satie, his influences are Radiohead, Massive Attack, and even Debussy.
Now you can find Darryn presenting Plucked Strings on RTRFM 92.1 on Sunday nights, and tutoring guitar students throughout his city. This is all while he’s undertaking studies in classical guitar at the University of Western Australia. We chat about his love of music and his new release.
Hi Darryn, thanks for chatting to us here at CutCommon! How does it feel to release your first solo guitar album?
Hi, thanks so much for having me. It’s really a mix of many emotions. Obviously, it’s a massive relief and joy to have something done. It’s been surreal to have an album out with my name on it, and humbling to have people say that they are really enjoying it. I’m just happy to get the ball rolling and hopefully this momentum carries me towards even better projects in the future, and I can build on what I have learnt making this one.
Your work on this album is heavily inspired by Satie. How has he influenced your creative decisions on the record, and your work as a musician at large?
Less is more. Satie has a way of saying so much emotionally with so little actual music. I tried to take that into account when making this record. I was reminded about how beautiful music can be with very little technical ability or business, and in many cases with simply just one instrument – the piano on the Gnossiennes, for example.
He was the first classical composer I ever heard, and I know this because I remember the exact moment I first encountered his music. It was the Gymnopedie No .1, of course, but the name and composer remained a mystery to me for a long time because the music played from an old electronic piano my parents bought for me when I was very young. You could play the piece from the keyboard, and I would listen to it for hours. It wasn’t until much later in my teens that I found out who he was, and I went on a journey of discovering all things classical.
His music has had a massive impact on me and I guess, in a roundabout way, led me to this album and to my journey studying classical music at UWA.
What is it about the solo guitar that warrants such intense musical exploration in the work of artists such as you?
As an instrument, there is just so much you can do with it. And it seems that people keep discovering new ways of playing the guitar. In the last 10 years or more, there has been an explosion of steel string ‘fingerstyle’ guitar players that offer truly unique ways of approaching it, like Andy McKee, Pino Forastiere, and Antoine Dufour. You can get percussive ‘kick drum’ and ‘snare’ noises, new techniques like ‘slap harmonics’ and other tapping techniques that, until fairly recently, were not really known about. I found all that really inspiring and wanted to incorporate that into the music I play.
With classical and steel string guitars, you can also change the timbre by playing at different lengths of the string giving it a warm or bright sound. You also have things like pizzicato, artificial harmonics, sliding, bending and many other devices that allow for even greater expressiveness. For me, it’s probably the only instrument other than the piano and harp in which you can create a very dense and complete sound with just one instrument.
Your work as a guitarist encompasses classical and rock traditions. How would you describe the relationship between rock and classical guitar, and the influences on your approach to performing?
In terms of performing, I think being a classical musician is very severe. You just have to be self-disciplined and work really hard if you want to be able to perform any classical music at a reasonable standard, and the competition is so extremely high.
On the other hand, I think the goal with both is to always express the music that was intended, and rock music reminds me to channel the parts about a performance that get towards that goal. Sometimes under stress and deadlines, classical musicians can get bogged down on the details in order to finish a certain amount of work in a given week. If this is done too often, there is the risk of becoming detached from the music. I see performances all the time that are ‘correct’ or well done, but there is something missing. Listening, enjoying and, in some cases, contextualising the music is as important – if not more – than the practising of music.
Alongside your solo work, you also perform in a Pluck and Strum, a guitar-harp duo with Eliza Bourgault.
Eliza is a truly talented musician and I am very lucky to be working with her. She is also one of my truly closest friends and she has been a great supporter of me in so many ways. The friendship has translated really well into the music we play, and the chemistry we have on stage is something I have not had with many musicians before. I am so excited about this unique chamber group we have.
We are actually planning on finishing our first album of contemporary classical works for this unique combination of instruments before the end of the year, but I don’t want to give too much away at this stage!
You’re a graduate of the WA Academy of Performing Arts with a degree in music tech, as well as a student at the University of Western Australia School of Music. How have these institutions shaped your musicianship?
At WAAPA, I did a degree in music technology, so it was more production and recording based. Those skills have made it possible to record and produce my own stuff, which I did for this CD and have done for other people’s records. My album was mostly done in my bedroom, but I am very happy with the results. The degree also gave me an awareness of the production process that a lot of classical musicians steer away from. Recording and production will always be an important part of the process of making music for me. It impacts greatly on the final result that goes far beyond simply solving technical issues or making things ‘sound nice’.
Classical guitar performance at UWA has been an unbelievably strong educational experience and I feel like I learn and grow every week as a musician there.
Perth can be a close-knit and isolated musical community. What are your thoughts of the musical culture of Perth, and the city’s guitar community?
I think Perth punches well above its weight in the musical world, as well as the guitar world, and there has been so much talk as to why this is. I’m not really sure myself, but I’m so glad it is the case. I think RTRFM, Fringe, PIAF, WAM, and venues like the Blue Room or the State Theatre Centre, institutions like WASO, UWA School of music, WAAPA…and the list just goes on. These institutions, they exist because there are a lot of extremely hard working and passionate individuals who will do anything to make Perth an interesting place for music of all kinds. I’ve met some people in Melbourne who talk about the Perth music scene with great respect. It’s perhaps something we don’t really realise as Perthians, but is becoming quite the phenomenon.
Pre-order Darryn Ricardo Santana online. You can also download digitally by typing the guitarist’s name into iTunes or Spotify.