San Francisco, California
Prepared Guitar Ensemble, a collaboration founded by San Francisco based composer Matt Robidoux in 2019 with Creativity Explored, a SF studio-based collective that partners with people with developmental disabilities to nurture and celebrate creative potential in all of us, is a space where artists can meet to make sound inclusively with instruments of their own design. These instruments are designed remotely, through a series of Zoom workshops, with major contributions from instrument builder Sudhu Tewari.
Prepared Guitar Ensemble is a group dedicated to expanding the improvising community. The social functions of ‘Prepared Guitar Ensemble’ are similarly characteristic of more well-known free improvisation musical structures: to actively engage/reveal dynamic modes of being, reform exclusionary practices, and provide opportunities for individual and collective human flourishing. The work we do intends to engage members of the group in a manner that does not privilege formal musical training, to exist as a collective improvisation ensemble. In this music the only constant is the individual’s idiosyncratic approach to the instrument, and a collective attempt at improvisational unity.
There is no rubric in our collective practice of right or wrong notes as we express ourselves through sound. The prepared guitar lends itself well to this goal—as it takes an instrument with specific associated sounds and re-makes it through modifications and activations via unconventionally musical objects, so that it no longer requires the same motor skills or formal musical training, thereby recontextualizing the accessibility of the instrument.
In addition to working with Creativity Explored (CE) artists’ visual art strengths in designing and painting their instruments, formal structures employed in improvisation such as graphic notation are also developed by the artists. Graphic notation has the potential to hold multitudes of interpretations, and create a jumping off point for group cohesion. Encouraging new musicians to explore in this way requires the establishment of an unconstrained, accessible environment.
We hold our sessions with an open-ended approach to encourage mutual engagement and derive feedback from participants for subsequent meetings, so as a group we collectively build upon a set of goals and guidelines by which the ensemble operates. We listen to the possibilities within our ensemble work and its potential in providing a much needed voice in the improvising community.