Miroslav Tadic

Miroslav TadicI’d like to preface this with a personal note.

In 2006 I told friends and family that I relocated from Boston to Southern California to go to graduate school at CalArts.  I may have gone to CalArts for the degree but the simple truth is that I pulled up stakes and went across the country to study with Miroslav Tadic.

I was familiar with the Krushevo cd and enjoyed Miroslav’s contributions there immensely but beyond the immediate elements in his playing (including Flamenco, Bach, Balkan and Brazilian music) there was a depth of musicality that I just hadn’t heard from other players.  I sensed a continuity of mastery in his playing that I later discovered carried though into everything that he did.  So I wasn’t that surprised to find out that he made his own instruments and built his own amps, that he was an incredible teacher and mentor or even that he was a bad ass in the kitchen.  Miroslav had tapped into how to be present and bring himself fully into everything he did, and without knowing it at the time that was what I was there to try to learn from him.

In promoting part one of this interview, fellow CalArts alum (and monster guitarist) Andre Lafosse said, “Miroslav Tadic changed my life, plain and simple. A huge amount of what I do musically comes directly from studying with him.”  Miroslav doesn’t teach teach privately so if you don’t go to CalArts you won’t have the chance to study with him directly, but some of the things that we touched on in lessons were so profound that I knew I wanted to create a forum to expose other people to his ideas which changed my life (and many other players) forever as well.

In part two of this interview, Miroslav talks about current projects and past influences but also discuss larger topics like pedagogy, repertoire and the thread of mastery that ties together everything he does.

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On Collaboration

What do you look for in collaboration?

Miro: That’s an interesting question….can you be more specific?

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As a start what are the things that attract to collaboration? Tommy Tedesco once said that there’s three reasons to take a gig: The music is really good, the players are really good or the money is really good. He tried to take gigs that had at least two of the three reasons. Are there specific things you look for in the collaborations you do or any continuities?

Miro: My whole sort of musical path has been a natural one and very little of it was pre-conceived. Where some people might say, “Hey before I die I have got to play with Jack DeJonette” or something like that – I’ve never had that. The people I started collaborating with at the time I grew into a somewhat mature musician have been really great musicians like Mark Nauseef, John Bergamo, Dusan Bogdanovic, Markus Stockhausen and Howard Levy. They’re people I’ll still collaborate with as long as we’re around.

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I guess musically I’m looking for a true collaboration as opposed to two people playing solo at the same time. I used to be really concerned about the aesthetic of the other person and so on, but as I get older I’m much less specific about those parameters. It’s not that I ignore those things now, but I’m much more open to try things out with musicians who I really wouldn’t feel were my soul mates before.

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Perhaps it’s a simplistic way of looking at it but I do contribute it to age and experience and just mellowing out a little bit. It’s not compromising but it’s more about becoming wider as a person, being accepting of other people’s aesthetics and approaches and then trying to figure out how you and the other person fit into that and then making something out of it.

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There are certain things that are a given for me. If I’m going to sit down with (long time collaborator Mark) Nauseef, for example, it’s almost like playing with an extension of myself (except I could never do all of that by myself). That’s sort of one musical mind which is a different kind of thing…but this area of working with someone that comes out of a different aesthetic…as long as there are some overlapping points that’s also really interesting to me.

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So I guess it’s becoming a little more generous in a way and open and not so arrogant and pretentious about your approach and being uncompromising, artistic, uncommercial or whatever. I’ve played in situations that are commercial, but I’ve never yet done anything that I can’t stand behind. I’ve done things I’m not going to mention to you – but even in those situations – it’s about preserving your own identity by fitting into a situation and still not compromising yourself. That balance is really hard but that’s what’s important for me.

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Increasingly in collaboration, to be quite honest, what I’m looking for is just to work with someone I can get along with as a person. Someone who’s not uptight in a certain way or that doesn’t bring out certain aspects of myself that I don’t want to see or don’t want to project.

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I guess it’s like any relationship. It’s difficult when you’re with people and they bring out the worst in you.

Miro: Absolutely. I have a problem in situations that have what I call “too much testosterone”. And I’ve played with some incredible players who are great musicians but who also can get into that thing…whether it’s speed or just this kind of competitive thing. I don’t really claim that’s bad or unhealthy, but it’s just not something that I feel really comfortable in. It also doesn’t bring the best out of me. In those situations, I just find myself start trying to make some racket and that’s not how I like to operate.

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But it can even happen when you’re with people who are not usually like that and then you’re suddenly aware that you’re now in this type of situation. And sometimes it comes out of me even though maybe I don’t intend it to… maybe there’s a moment where I’ll get cocky and by the time I notice it and bring myself into check it’s already been 15 minutes of this thing.

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As I get more and more comfortable as a musician (and as a person) I see threads of continuity between everything. How you drive – how you relate to the people around you – how you communicate – it’s all the same as when you’re playing music.

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…and continuity

I want to talk more about that idea of continuity. It reminds me of the line in The Hagakure about how the skill set that you need to master one thing is the same skill set that you need to master anything.

Miro: Yes. At its highest level it’s all the same thing. It’s hard…. I think that most people who are involved in art are at a certain point and as an artist, you may never attain that level, but you start to understand that connectivity. It’s like when you’re on a plane you go up to a certain altitude and look around and it’s one experience but when you go above the clouds…all of the sudden you’re in a different place. You might not be up there on the top of the mountain, but you start to understand how things are connected. Eventually if you’re attained that level on your instrument you could kill a person with a chopstick but hopefully you don’t need to! (laughs).

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Because it’s the same thing…I don’t want to say the same attention to detail – but you have to see things at multiple levels and see them at almost the atomic level to perceive how they really are:

Miro: I think of it as an energy level. This is a word that’s been a verbal equivalent of the things that are clarifying to me. You can talk about the energy of a person… let’s say someone walks into a room who you don’t know at all but you have certain kind of sense (that may be wrong of course!), of that person through their energy. I don’t do any kind of religion or sect or anything like that, although I’m not putting that down, it’s purely about getting to the point of seeing things that way. It’s about starting to see in a simpler and simpler way. This person cools you down. This person lifts you up; This person makes you sleepy…. It’s all energy.

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In music as well, the bottom line is the energy. For me the energy in music is most directly expressed in phrasing. Phrasing is the actual movement of energy in music. The things in music that a lot of people really focus on having, melodic content (in terms of the modal and tonal content), scales and combinations of scales, rhythmic manipulation and so forth is all in the service of phrasing. If your phrasing is moving in a way that has inner logic, then those other elements are not as important. If you marry it with some really hip elements from those things then you have something that’s really happening. Even if you’re playing some really interesting melodic material, if your phrasing is boring you’re going to have a hard time convincing a listener. But you can play some very basic material, which is really what I do most of the time, and if you phrase it in ways that have some kind of depth – then you’ve got something going. And that’s energy for me. That’s the movement of energy.

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It makes me think of phrasing in verbal communication. If you go to another country and don’t happen to speak the language, you can convey a great deal with just phrasing inflections and gestures, if the audience is receptive.

Miro: Yes, but that brings up another interesting point actually. Depending on the sound, rhythm and pitch of language itself, you also may be really deceived. When I’m talking to my friend Z in Serbian or Croatian, people are often a little taken aback because they think we’re fighting all the time. We’re actually just talking normally but the language, the rhythm and the phrasing is more aggressive than say English. So it’s a combination of phrasing and knowing the language. It’s the same thing in music of course… You have the language (which could be the tonal, modal and rhythmic material), and then combining it with phrasing…

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Getting back to this idea of phrasing as energy, I was thinking about the issue of energy when you’re doing solo concerts because at best, you seem to have an ambivalent relationship with solo guitar music despite the fact that you’ve released a pretty substantial cd of solo guitar music. As opposed to a traditional classical guitar concert, a lot of what you do is live is improvisatory and the tunes are launching points for exploration. Having seen you do that it’s interesting that the improvisatory approach seems almost composed, in terms of having a logic in its development. It’s not gratuitous and seems to always be in service to a larger context.

Miro: And hopefully there’s enough openness there that it may take other turns that I don’t even expect. Talking about the solo thing takes us back to your question about collaboration. I like collaboration because in addition to an exchange of ideas and an exchange of energy and it’s also building a certain kind of energy together with another person (or with several other people). My issue with playing solo is the point of not playing classical music [in public]. By not playing that music, you get rid of the chains of the imitational text that you have to speak with. By that I mean, somebody wrote that music and they want you to play those notes in that sequence in those rhythms and so on and so forth and there’s only a certain amount you can do with it – because it’s someone else’s text. It’s something that weighs very heavily on a lot of classical players. Some players are born to do that and great classical players -they really get beyond that.

By not playing that, I get rid of those chains – but then when you’re alone – you’re completely alone and that means that you have to generate all of the ideas for improvisations, you have to generate the direction at all times and you have to generate the energy. Once you actually generate that energy then you have to move that energy yourself and if you find yourself in a dilemma then you’re standing in the crossroads because there’s nobody there that’s going to throw you a bone or stop to pick you up…it’s just you there.

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But what about the audience? They can’t contribute musically but at least they can provide energy – it’s a whole different thing if the audience energy isn’t there.

Miro: I don’t even want to think about that! This is more to do specifically with the work of making music. The audience of course is important, like I told you earlier. I have a really hard time sitting down and improvising just for myself but having an audience that’s receptive and that gives you that kind of vessel to put your music in is really important. They have a role but you still need another musician to feed your ideas. If you’ve got Fred Frith up on stage next to you then you know that at least one of you is going to come up with something.

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The Grandmothers of Invention

Miroslav Tadic, Napoleon Murphy BrockI want to talk to you about playing with the Grandmothers. For people familiar with your acoustic side it might seem like something totally out of left field.

Miro: Well, it goes back to that issue of connectivity. With the Grandmothers of Invention (in addition to Chris Garcia), you have Roy Estrada and Napoleon Murphy Brock with Don Preston as a special guest from the original Mothers of Invention band. So it’s really just an opportunity to play really great music with great musicians.

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I should mention that the Grandmothers now has Tom Fowler playing bass with them. He was one of the original players in one of the great Zappa bands from the early 70s with Ruth Underwood, Chester Thompson, George Duke, Napoleon Murphy Brock and Bruce Fowler and it’s great. Tom is a different player from Roy Estrada. I really love Roy’s playing and personality and Tom is another incredible player with an incredible personality. So it’s been a joy playing with him.
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We also have new management that is very enthusiastic about the group and they’re booking us now world-wide. The band is supposed to tour a lot but I can’t do all of the shows so there’s another guitar player, Robbie Mangano, who takes some of those dates. I know for sure that we’re going to do an American leg that I’m going to be playing on that’s going to be happening late-March/Early April.

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Is Zappa’s music something you were familiar with?

Miro: I had some level of familiarity with it, but it was a lot of listening and shedding to get the tunes together. Those guys have been playing that music for years so you have to really know what’s going on to get on a stage with them and have it fit.

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It seems like your approach is very different than what Dweezil (Zappa) is going for in Zappa plays Zappa.

Miro: Well Zappa plays Zappa is more of an archival approach to that music. I don’t mean that in a bad way I mean it in the sense that there’s a tremendous attention to detail and really nailing specific recordings in a specific way. But I’m not Dweezil, and I’m certainly not Frank so I can’t approach it the way that they do. I try to balance what I do with the spirit of the music. Before you try something like that, you never know how it’s going to go over but based on the shows that we’ve done the audiences really seem to get it and they’ve been really supportive in general.

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So your approach is not only about the aesthetic, but is also about having respect for the source material.
Miro: Oh absolutely…especially when you’re not playing your own music, yeah. For me in the Grandmothers, it’s not about emulating or copying Frank’s playing, but instead, understanding his approach and his aesthetic and finding my own way of merging my own aesthetic with it. It’s about finding a way to honor his approach and having something to say myself while making sure that all the written parts are as accurate as possible.

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Repertoire

We talked about repertoire and issues associated with approaching a wide range of music. You talked about having an overall aesthetic as being what allows you to approach a diverse set of material. Having that allows you to be naturally inclined to make decisions about how you’re going to approach the material and then what it is you’re trying to get out of it….

Miro: But the really important element of that is this understanding of a thread that connects the material. I also want to say that although it appears that my work is very eclectic, the bottom line is that it really isn’t so much stuff. If you really count the areas where I have some level of expertise or at least some understanding…the number is not that great. For example, basically you have classical music which comes from my training. You have East European folk music. Even there I feel that my knowledge of which is also limited as it’s not all of the Balkans and actually not even all of the regions of the area. Then you’ve got the blues, which is something I have a fair understanding of and then you have Flamenco – which I have a very specific relationship with. You know, I don’t really play Flamenco and I don’t consider myself by any stretch of the imagination even a partial Flamenco artist of any kind. I simply have a passion for that music as a listener and I have a certain understanding of technical concepts, specific techniques and of certain concepts of sound which I use from that style. Those are things I find to be related to East European folk music actually….but that’s basically it.

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Yes, but each of those things contribute something different to your playing.  Classical counterpoint worked its way into your comping which is very unique and the eastern folk music repertoire has given you flexibility in odd meters that are unusual for guitarists.

Miro: When you talk to people who are actually trained in eclecticism (like studio musicians) they actually cover much more ground though some of it may be a little more superficial….

I think what you’re referring to with my stuff is a little more about the diversity of it than the actual quantity of things. You have a combination of classical music which is structured and fixed. Then you have some improvisation that’s completely open. Then you have some traditional folk music and then the Flamenco which is also a highly structured music. So it’s just a weird combination of things that (because I know them fairly well) I can combine them even though there’s apparent distance between them.

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But that connectivity goes beyond music.

Miro: Oh yeah it goes totally beyond that. That’s why I’m able to make instruments. That’s why I can cook. I really feel that ultimately it’s all connected. What you do is a reflection of who you are as a person. The way you relate to people you know or don’t know, how you drive or how you do anything. It’s connected. It has to do with you as a person and with your bottom line and your aesthetic. Your aesthetic is your understanding of what is good, what is beautiful and what life is.

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But then there’s the process of importing that aesthetic. You were talking about this before but it’s a lengthy process to get to that level. You’re always going to be informing your aesthetic but there’s a patience curve that’s a lot more challenging for people that are coming to artistic disciplines early on in their career than later on or mid-point in their career.

Miroslav Tadic - Grandmothers Of InventionMiro: I was very lucky that way in my mental makeup because I’ve never really felt impatient about things. I never felt like I wanted to be as good as player X or something like that or that I needed to be at a certain place. I always just enjoyed where I was and still do. I think the big mental challenge or mental issue with people who are studying or developing any discipline is the issue of impatience and also the issue of seeking someplace which is imaginary. It’s like they’re looking for some other place than where they are, but where you are is the only place there is. Of course you can see the road, you can see the stations along the way, but it’s all a mental construction. The only way that you will know about a place is if you are actually there, or if you have been there. Of course you can assume that you’re going to get something of the place from the experiences of other people, or from your teachers or your peers or close in terms of what your aspirations are – but ultimately it’s a construction and because we’re all different; everybody is ultimately going to arrive at certain places at a different time and in a different way and then they’re going to experience it differently.

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That’s another important thing since we’re in this area of the idea of originality. People who are actually at a point where they get involved in music at a level that is serious enough that they determine that that is going to be their calling, start becoming very concerned with originality. They’re concerned with being original and about how original they are.  I think that’s a waste of mental energy because that’s also a construction. We’re all different. To me, being original just means being true to yourself. Some people waste a lot of time trying intentionally to be original through weird repertoire or instruments or appearance and I don’t think that’s really where it’s at. Where it’s at is just trying to find who you are and that will reflect in the things you do. That’s the hardest thing in life – finding out who you are.

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Pedagogy

From a pedagogical standpoint, how do you integrate all of these different ideas into something that helps form the student and meet their goals?

Miro: Well I try to see what they’re after and then rather than tell them what to do – I just try to clarify some things of what not to do or clarify things that they’re concerned about as being very important that I feel are actually not important. For example, a lot of students who are interested in originality have an issue with playing other people’s music. They believe that if they go through a phase of playing or studying somebody else’s music or if they study a particular area of music that it’s going to make them unoriginal or somehow adversely influence their originality. The thing is, if you have originality there’s no way that’s going to influence you for good. It will influence you for a period of time of course, but this is just part of a really good and positive process.

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If you ask a student, “well you want to play your own thing but what is your own thing?” they generally don’t really know what it is. They just know that they want to do their own thing. So basically there are a lot of fears that people have that I’ve been able to help them work through because they feel that I have some kind of authority or knowledge or they feel that I’m not trying to mislead them. Sometimes all that it takes is to reassure a student that the path they’re taking is actually okay because often they are wondering, “well should I do this or should I do this?” Sometimes there are things that they just assume that they should be doing that maybe are not necessary for their development at that stage and all you have to do is to reassure them that, “Hey this thing that you’re doing for 45 minutes a day? You don’t really need to do that.” – and then explaining to them why that is or how to use that time in a better way and still maintain whatever they were using that time for. You’ll know if they’re ready to because at a certain point you don’t need the same amount of time to accomplish things that you did before.

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I think that a little information can be a dangerous thing. Some people read a comment on  forum that they need to focus on scales and then get hung up on learning scales and modes but learn them in a vacuum – so they have no idea for an application or a context for using them.

Miro: People just assume that you’ve got to know things and play them over and over again. Okay, let’s say for a moment that you do need to know it. Of course you need to know it if you’re applying it. You’d hardly be playing music unless you’re applying these things. But not necessarily in all keys for example.

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What I do with students in these areas is to try to get them to concentrate on a single mode and then have them be able to really negotiate their way through it and have the ability to do different kinds of things with it. This is understanding what it actually means to work with a mode and then – if you need to be able to do this with all the other modes and all the other tonics – what you do actually starts to make much more sense. Without that context, it takes a certain amount of time to learn all the modes on all of the tonics and once you do that, if you don’t know what it’s for – why are you working on it every day? Especially if you’re not really using it.

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So there are certain things that people feel insecure to let go of. These are often technical things people continue to work on once they already know them. Many people over-practice things and they also practice to the point where the music that they’re practicing starts to lose meaning for them. They practice so much that when they play; they’re just on automatic pilot and then they become completely disconnected from the music. I’ve witnessed this a lot and it comes from over practicing things and not paying attention. When you’re not paying attention, your practicing is completely useless. It’s a total waste of time. You’re better off just hanging out with your friends or doing anything else than playing mindlessly and not being really connected to what you’re doing. Some people think that any kind of playing is useful to you but the usefulness of practicing in that way is VERY limited in my opinion.

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This disconnect between technical facility and being engaged in performance brings me to a pedagogical observation involving performance. At CalArts there’s a guitar workshop which has an emphasis on getting people performing in front of other people and getting used to that environment. I thought it was a great way to get musicians out of the vacuum of the practice room and have them start developing an awareness of what works with a live audience.

Miroslav Tadic - Grandmothers Of InventionMiro: That’s a huge area in itself because it’s also a reflection of a person; of their mental state, of their relationship to the world and their way of relating to it. Some people find it easier and some people find it really difficult. It’s a skill and it’s a part of also learning about yourself that’s really really important that cannot be gained through any other means except for that very experience.

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For people who haven’t gone to CalArts,  the Guitar Workshop is a class where basically the 8-12 guitar players from the department that you see every day get to perform in front of each other in a non-competitive atmosphere. It’s very, very useful because it creates a performance environment that musicians need to experience to develop themselves as a performer, no matter how good you are in the practice room.

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Performing has both a physical and the mental aspect to it. They’re connected but people have different levels of reactivity to each of them that can only be tested in performance. The good news is, you don’t need to be in a club or a concert hall with a bunch of people who have paid for tickets to see you to develop that skill. All you need is for a couple of people to actually sit down, listen and pay attention to what you do.

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Most people, including myself, have found that there is really no difference in playing for ten people in your living room or playing for 2,000 people in a concert hall you’ve never played before. Mentally it’s the same thing and in both situations you go through the same kind of reactions. Once you learn those reactions and observe yourself in that situation, those reactions are not going to surprise you when you’re on stage and this is the most important thing.

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For example, lets say the physical reaction is that your hands are sweating, shaking or cold. These are all physical reactions to this mental state of performing for people. You don’t experience that in the practice room, but if you go in front of people and all the sudden your hands are sweaty and you’ve never played with sweaty hands, it’s a terrifying experience. But if you know that your hands sweat when you go in front of people and you know how that feels you will know that you’ll still be able to play. It’s not going to be as enjoyable as when your hands aren’t sweating, but you’re not going to be completely thrown off by that because you’ll have already had experience with that.  Eventually they’re not going to sweat, because what’s making them sweat is going to go away. That terror of being in front of people will turn into inspiration.

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I wanted to talk about focusing on strengths versus working on weaknesses. Some people put a lot of emphasis and skill set into areas that are weak instead of making their strong areas stronger. Is that something, you’ve come across at CalArts?

Miro: As a teacher you deal with those situations all the time and just like everything else, I think you need to find the balance. Furthering your strengths will definitely also make your weak areas stronger, because if your strength is a very narrow area, it starts to expand as you develop it even more, and then it starts to include some of those weak areas as well.

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Sometimes it depends on what the strength is. There are those people that can do one kind of thing like play really fast or whatever. There’s always a limit with what you can do with that and then you need to address some of these other issues directly as well. But I believe that developing strengths is extremely important. Because having a strength is a reflection of who you are. Ask yourself, “what is my natural strong point?” Perhaps it’s physical, some people have a beautiful sound, some people have great speed or a certain kind of technique or articulation, but it’s a real mistake to say, “I can play fast so now I’m going to forget about that and develop a beautiful sound”. Do both! Continue playing fast, maybe even playing faster if that’s what you’re doing and to be developing that sound. Then at a certain point you’ll be able to do those things together. So my approach would be to nurture both of those sides. You need to take your strengths to the limit because, whatever your strength is, you might be able to take it to a level that is very very high that will distinguish you from other players.

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One of the great things I got studying from you was dealing with the issue of the flyaway pinky and compromised technique. Classical guitar pedagogy had a focus from the get-go on tone and volume for performance and while there’s a lot of rock guitar literature for technical facility for playing faster, there’s not a lot that addresses technique with regards to hand tension. Do you find that you have to use different pedagogical approaches based on the background of the player, or do you have any stock approaches as commonalities that you try to get students exposed to?

Miro: I approach every student as a completely new situation. I don’t really have pre-meditated scenarios, like this rock guy wants to go into classical. I take everyone at their individual merits and state when they start to study with me.

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But addressing classical guitar pedagogy is a pretty complex area. Classical guitar has a much longer history of teaching and pedagogy than rock or jazz but there are a lot of teachers who are really excellent players but learned when they were very young. Or there are players who have some kind of combination of natural talent and also started pretty young but in both cases they don’t actually remember the process of how they initially received that knowledge. They just know how to do it and they do it really well but they don’t actually understand the process to a level where they can explain it to the student. More specifically they don’t understand it at the level where it’s universal. In other words, understanding it at a pedagogical level that takes into account that the student’s built differently than they are, that their hand moves differently, that the shape of their fingers and nails are different etc…

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So unfortunately, despite the fact that the pedagogy is resting on a fairly well defined tradition, there’s a lot of poor teaching in classical guitar. Some teachers just don’t go into those areas as much as you would think. A rock and roll player might look at the whole classical role and they think that it’s very formalized and uniform in a way, but it’s really not. Certainly it’s more formalized and uniform, than rock and roll, but the whole rock and roll thing is specifically centered on the fact that it’s not learned through formal training. I’ve had students that I discouraged from going to school who were deep in their hearts rock and roll musicians, and you don’t learn that music at school. You learn it in a garage, in rehearsal studios, in clubs and on the road…and that’s a tradition that also needs to be respected, and gone through.

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Since teaching guitar lessons can be a good source of income, you have people who both should and shouldn’t do it. A lot of people can’t really make a living by exclusively playing music, so then they have to take students. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people out there who are not really into teaching that much; they’re impatient, who are not interested in looking at their own playing and trying to break it down and explain it to a student, who are teaching.

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Flamenco

Let’s talk about the Flamenco element a little bit and how it relates to what you do. I know you were in Spain for a while, but Flamenco seems to have some radically different techniques from classical.

Miro: I wouldn’t say that it’s radically different at all. In fact I would say that Flamenco technique is just a difference of sound aesthetic (i.e. what is a beautiful sound). That’s the difference. The technique of Flamenco is just like classical technique except I think that generally it’s superior. The things that are used in classical guitar that are also used in Flamenco have been developed and further refined in Flamenco. The techniques of rest stoke, free stroke, hammer-ons, pull-offs, right hand arpeggios and tremolo are all classical techniques that were taken from classical guitar.

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I was thinking more specifically about the role of the thumb…

Miro: True…Flamenco was originally relying almost entirely on thumb and thumb work that we don’t have in classical guitar. The Flamenco guitarists (particularly Ramon Montoya) have actually taken techniques from modern classical guitar and have sort of perfected them in a really specific way which has made them more efficient and also resulted in greater speed and variety.

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There are a set of techniques, primarily for the right hand that are not used in classical guitar. I’m thinking specifically of rasgueado and alzapúa, the thumb technique, which is the oldest technique and also the most different from classical. Technically it’s stunning and worth admiration. The only thing that Flamenco players might concede is that the left hand technique of classical guitarists is more highly developed, but this was more true before Paco de Lucia came onto the scene because up until that time in Flamenco guitar the left hand technique was really rather limited to lower positions. There was still great speed but there wasn’t a great harmonic vocabulary so there weren’t a lot of left hand patterns and chords and long passages and barre chords and so on that were common in classical music that are rather difficult, but since Paco the left hand in Flamenco has highly evolved.

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What’s your relationship with Flamenco?

Miro: Well my relationship with Flamenco is that I admired that music a lot as a listener and I didn’t really want to touch it because I knew it was a whole world onto itself, sort of like bebop. Either you’re going to do it or you’re not and I felt that it’s just too large an area and I just didn’t have time or space or energy in my musical world to actually address it. And this happened until I went to Spain.

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I took a trip to Spain in 1991 that wasn’t connected to music. I happened to see some Flamenco performances and one of them was probably the most significant event that happened to me in my development as a guitarist. There was a particular concert that I went to almost casually, it was an open air Flamenco festival in Madrid, and it was all people that I didn’t know because I knew nothing about Flamenco. There were 3 acts. The first act was a young guy named Jose Antonio Rodriguez. He was at a level that could knock you out but not also to bury you – where the second act – Tomatito – could knock you out and bury you. The third act was a singer (José Mercé) and a guitar player named Enrique De Melchor. The guitar player had like a sports coat and glasses and looked like a lawyer. (laughs) He just didn’t look like he was going to rip it up – but he came up on stage and just killed it. It turns out that he’s one of the great Flamenco players but I only found this out later.

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But when I saw them play I realized, “Yes this music is a whole world unto itself but these people are playing what I play. I play the same instrument; it’s got same number of strings and it’s tuned the same… I have to deal with this.” I started getting interested in it on the level of, “What is this? What’s going on here?” and asking that on both a musical, structural and technical level. So I started diving into it.

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The next time I went to Madrid I went specifically for Flamenco. I went to really check out this music and to see what was going on and I got connected with some people. I was fortunate to be able to get some lessons and to just sit down with some players and get a really close look at what’s happening. It was a chance to observe some players and some (guitar) builders and see a lot of concerts. It was just inhaling that whole vibe which you can’t really do for a long time w/out getting sick from staying up really late and breathing in a lot of cigarette smoke (laughs).

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It’s got to be hard for Flamenco because it’s been pushed to push a technical extreme that there’s a real question on how much further it can go.

Miro: Well you should check out this guy Vahagn Turgutyan (“Vahagni”) he’s just finishing at CalArts and he came because he’s trying to deal with Armenian music with the Flamenco context he’s really good and he’s really doing something with that music. The thing with many Flamenco players is that they’re so steeped in it that it’s really hard for them to combine it with something else because they don’t know as much about other kinds of music. It’s really hard to know something so deeply.

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In terms of Flamenco and exploring those forms and expanding it harmonically and rhythmically, it just can’t go any further because ultimately you run into limitations. It’s like blues. How far can you go with that? You’ve got these scales and these chords. You can make variations and can step outside to a certain point, but then beyond that it becomes something else. So what do you do? You start writing stupid lyrics and it becomes novelty or start copying other people or whatever. Getting back to Flamenco, after Paco De Lucia where do you go? Where can you go after this guy who’s been around for 40 years and just pushing the envelope? I’m glad I’m not in that vein because it’s been totally stretched out.

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It’s interesting that you can actually point to someone as a pivotal figure in a musical movement. For example you could say that you have Flamenco pre-Paco and post-Paco because even outside of guitar, he changed the landscape and paved the way for further innovation.


Miro: It’s always been a kick ass thing though. The attitude of it is really vibrant and just the whole relationship to time and those cycles and everything. Sort of like Indian music. A lot is changing but some sort of inner thing is there from the beginning.

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Brazilian Guitar

We’ve talked a little about Flamenco but we haven’t discussed Brazilian music – which I hear in some of the melodic (but more often in the harmonic) material and approaches that you use. You’re improvisation and comping certainly draws from that tradition as well so what was your pathway into it?

Miro: Well ever since my early teenage years I knew about Brazilian music and I’ve really been drawn to it. I’ve really enjoyed it as a listener and have also played it quite a bit. But I have absolutely no expertise in it. In other words, I’ve met people from Brazil (and other places) who really deal in that music and have a really vast knowledge of an incredible number of forms that come from different kinds of influences historically and different kind of rhythms and the way that they’re played in different regions, etc. – I just don’t have that knowledge and awareness.

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So my work with that music really has to do to with things that I’ve listened to and that I’ve assimilated by ear which is really sort of traditional Bossa Nova music that starts for me with people like Baden Powell and Joao Gilberto and then goes to somebody like Joao Bosco. That’s basically the span. There are a lot of incredible musicians there operating in that area, and some of them like Baden Powell and especially Joao Bosco are incredibly knowledgeable and bring in all kinds of different elements of regional Brazilian music and I just haven’t studied that. I’ve assimilated some of it…I could probably do a whole concert of Brazilian music – but I just don’t think that I really have enough to say about that to do that in that context. But if I’m hanging with my friends in Croatia on the Adriatic and Brazilian music is what’s going to happen then I’ll play all night.

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In terms of what you hear in voicings, that’s very guitar-oriented music. Yes, basically it comes from taking the really simple piano voicings where you’re basically moving as little as possible to get to the next harmony. There’s a lot to be learned from that. For me that was the step that you make from, for example, the patterns that you learn from the Mel Bay book for chords and coming to the understanding that there are no chords or scales. There are just these notes that you combine in different ways to get the harmonic effect you want. Take a D major chord for example. In some situations you might play not a single note from the D major triad but it still has that function.

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For me anyway, you can’t understand that until you start dealing with the Brazilian approach; having the minimal movement in the internal voices to get another harmony. In my approach to playing chords specifically, I rarely play barre chords. This comes from Brazilian music where you have a finger on every note of the chord so that you can actually move those notes. Whereas for example, in Flamenco, which is also a totally guitar-oriented music and all the voicings and harmonic combinations are guitar-based- there are many more barre chords because it’s a different approach. The Brazilian approach is a more piano-based universal harmonically, where Flamenco is based more on idiosyncrasies of the guitar and guitar tuning.

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The voice leading is also a key component of classical music as well – particularly in classical guitar. A lot of the music arranged for classical guitar is really position oriented to accommodate smooth voice leading so there’s a continuity there as well.

Miro: Yes there is. I still play classical music (just not really publicly), but my fingerings are worked around where every note gets a finger rather than barring things. Jazz players have those barres with any of the fingers and I understand it because there is no other way to play those notes, but it’s bad for the tendons and also you can’t really control notes within those chords. They’re also dealing with other issues like harmonic combinations so the movement within those chords may not be as crucial to them

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In some cases it seems to be a velocity issue as well. They’re playing the changes so quickly that they’re not concerned with internal motion. By the time you start messing around with adding tensions you’re already two chords behind…

Miro: They’re already on the next tune (laughs)!

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Practicing Improvisation

Vlatko Stefanovski, Miroslav Tadic, Theodosii SpassovSo getting back to one of your earlier points and talking about your solo approach. For the classical players that might be reading this, how did you go about practicing improvisation?

Miro: That’s a difficult question to answer because I didn’t really do that. I didn’t develop it through any kind of methodology. It was just a natural process. A lot of people who are classical players learn by starting out as classical players. They might learn a few chords and things like that, but mainly they start by focusing on reading, fundamentals, learning simple repertoire and then a little more complicated repertoire and so on and so forth. Within a couple of years they’ll cover a good range of music of harmonic complexity, counterpoint etc, but they really won’t examine it the same way you would if you were improvising. The focus is what’s written on the page.
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Most classical guitarists don’t use their own fingerings and my question is always, why should we use somebody else’s fingering? I mean…ok use the composer’s fingerings – but I don’t know who the editors (of say, the Bach Lute music or the Sor Studies) are. The fingerings interpret the music and has a lot to do with the phrasing (and I’ve already talked about how important I think that is), so training yourself to do your own fingerings from the very beginning I think is really crucial. I’m going a bit to the side but if I can give any advice to classical players the first piece of advice is – use your own head with fingerings. Because if you’re not using your own head, you’re just being someone who’s reproducing something that someone else has put in front of you. In that case, you might as well work in an office or something because your creative input is extremely minimal.

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This process is about finding yourself and the place for yourself in music that you didn’t write. There aren’t a lot of spaces for that to happen in the music. One of the places is the fingerings and another is the actual understanding of the music (i.e. what’s actually going on harmonically etc.). Everyone who goes to school to study music learns how to analyze music. They’ll know how to break down, say the Sor Study Op.6 No 8 (in the Segovia book it’s #1). It’s a beautiful and simple piece that’s really well written for the instrument and also one of the rare guitar pieces that’s written in true 3-part counterpoint. I’m sure that most people who have gone to music college would be able to sit down and analyze the progressions with the modulations and changes etc. But if they play the piece and I stop them on the third bar and ask,”what chord are you on?” They won’t know what chord they’re playing. They’ll be able to analyze it technically and mentally but they don’t know what they’re playing when they actually play it and that’s the crucial difference.

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Understanding what you are playing while you are playing it puts you into a whole different place. This is extremely rare with classical players and this is what marks a great classical player and sets them apart from the other players. You have a player like Glenn Gould who had everything memorized and knew what was going on in every note that he was playing. After he stopped playing concerts he would go to the studio and everything that he recorded (and he recorded a vast amount of music) was all played from memory. The reason why you can have that kind of memory is because you understand what’s going on in the music. It’s not just having photographic memory or sitting there and having a technique for memorization it’s having the understanding of music. Even if you’re only going to play classical music, if you sit down and as you’re playing, go through the piece and ask yourself – what am I playing or what is this? The Sor pieces are a really good example, they’re easy to do. The Bach pieces of course… some of that early 20th century music has got a lot of tonal ambiguities that’s a little more difficult to deal with – but all of the stuff before that should be more accessible.

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You can really make it much more enjoyable and can really help you eliminate the dreaded memory lapses because you know what you’re playing. It’s not just this part that’s abstract to you. If you blank out all of the sudden and you have no idea of where you are. But you can always remember, oh that’s the F major part, before the cadence that takes us back to D minor or whatever. It’s not the theoretical knowledge of someone who’s a music student but the connection between theoretical knowledge and the actual living knowledge of music. The sonic knowledge. This is a really important thing. For example, you can know what a Neapolitan chord is – but you’ve also got to be able to spot it every time you hear it. Those guys who wrote that music – you can bet they knew what it sounded like. It’s not an issue of them sitting there and making calculations or something. It’s a flavor – like hearing a pentatonic scale. If you hear Pentatonic Minor riff, is there any question about what someone is playing? No. You can hear it and recognize it for what it is because it’s the music of our times. The same way, if you’re playing music from some other time well you should know it like the music of your own time.

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Repertoire

At the same time, that brings up another difficult issue – repertoire. If you were Bach, and you’re improvising pieces based on themes, then you’re improvising in a very specific style that did not really have a whole lot of musical history (and music) coming before it. By the time you get to Romantic music, now you’ve got this new style as an emerging tradition and then Classical and Baroque before it. By the time you get to the 20th century, now stylistically everything is everywhere and it starts to bring up a different issue of assimilating those things.

Miro: Yeah, of course it’s a totally different scene. Like you said, a Baroque musician had their own environment. They didn’t have radio or TV, and they didn’t have a constant influx of information for even their own music. They knew that there was the local guy here and there.  When someone like Bach travelled to another town to hear some guy that he was really into –  he spent days or weeks traveling to get to the place where he could check the guy out then writing the shit down from memory in the hotel and then travelling back.  There are a couple of thoughts that I have on that.

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One thing is that we need to feel and understand what we’re really connected to and to pick a few things [to focus on]. You have to pick a few things because you really can’t be in command of all of the other stuff. The deeper you go into a particular area other things become clearer to you as well. I feel that the thing that’s common is a thread that runs through all of it. Sort of like a backbone. Then, there are the styles of music which are sort of like clothing on a person. So it’s like you have a spine then you have the skeleton and then you have the body and then you have the clothes and the clothes are like a style of music. But as you go deeper in, you get to the skeleton and the spine which are going to be shared by all of it.

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Here’s something I recommend to my students because it worked for me. If you’re doing things in parallel,  I think that it’s really important to do them one at a time. Let’s say you’re dealing with Flamenco and Blues and Renaissance music, for example. So rather than spending each day playing 6 hours – 2 hours of each one of those – I think that it’s better to spend a week just playing Renaissance music for 6 hours a day and then moving onto another one of those areas and then onto another one. By going deeper into each one of them you’re kind of moving them all together at the same time. If you’re doing a little bit each day of one of them, then you are not getting as deep as quickly.  Getting deeper into one of them means that you’re automatically getting deeper into another one because you’re getting closer to this core which is common to all of them.

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On Performing Classical Music Publicly

I wanted to touch on another area. You made a very specific career decision not to be a classical player.

Miro: To clarify – it has only to do with playing classical music in public because I just didn’t have fun performing it – but there’s also a parallel with that and what we talked about before in terms of collaboration. I play classical music as long as it’s not just me. I play duos…I just played some continuo in a private concert.  In terms of a conscious decision that can be fully defined, the only conscious decision that can be fully defined is not to play classical music in public as part of my concerts, and that could still change. You know when I get good enough then it’s all going to be the same. Really!! Because what I’m saying is if I get to like the Musashi level then whether I’m playing some Macedonian piece or a piece from the second lute suite it’s all going to be the same…but don’t hold your breath (laughs).

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You had a break in public performance but you also broke away from the concept of learning set repertoire and only staying within the confines of that repertoire and instead moving more towards an improvisational /collaborative based element. Obviously you still have that repertoire as a core but a performer you’ve broken away from that to a certain degree. We talked before about classical guitar but there’s often a kind of a frozen aesthetic associated with it. You have Segovia and then you have hordes of people copying his fingerings and phrasing, etc.

Miro: Well… that’s already something that happened in the past and now the whole classical guitar world is really opening up, because it really has to. We have very little that’s written of really high quality music for classical guitar. No matter which way you turn it or how much you’re into people like Leo Brouwer – we’ve got nothing from the people who really matter. I mean we have our own composers but how many pianists or cello players play music by Leo Brouwer or Sor or Giuliani or something like that? There aren’t many. The fate the instrument is only now being taken seriously by serious composers. This is not to belittle the other people – many of whom are good composers – but the only place to go in classical music is in creating repertoire and I feel I’m a part of that movement. I mean I’m not like my friend, the great Dusan Bogdanovic who’s really enriching the repertoire and writing significant music for the instrument. But still more widely speaking, we are still a part of this same movement; which is basically looking for sources of music today because we don’t have sources of music from the past. We’re not going to unearth the Beethoven sonatas for guitar because there ain’t no Beethoven sonatas for guitar in no library nowhere and there never will be.

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The only thing we’ve got is ourselves and working in a similar way like the great composers. We’re working with folkloristic material like people like Bartok for example, we’re working with improvisation (like really all of the great composers who were great improvisers), and we’re working with education. It’s an effort to bring people out of this box of very limited repertoire that has already been played to death. So I feel the exciting thing about classical guitar is that it’s opening up and that there is contemporary repertoire for the instrument that is being created as we speak which is exciting.

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It’s difficult with a lot of older repertoire because it’s now starting to reach (and has been reaching) a level of technical expertise and expressiveness where it starts to not only become a question of how much further can it go – but also is it even worth the exponential expenditure amount of energy to take it to that additional fraction of a percentage point?

Miro: I mean it comes back to the issue of, again I’m sorry to make this judgment, but it’s not the kind of repertoire that deserves that kind of study.  I mean it’s good music but people play Beethoven quartets because that’s the greatest music of that time and we just don’t have the equivalent of that. So we’re working with music that – even if we have players who have the capacity – it’s just not in the music, so then we have to come up with something else to work with.

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Balance

Earlier, you talked about the thread going through material and you mentioned Eastern European Folk music and your knowledge of it being limited to specific regions…and one your observations was , “Well you know I’ve got these different things that I do that I can try to pull together but I’m not really doing any one of them at the depth of anyone that’s a specialist in any one of those areas. I’m just combining these things.” But my take on it is that no one else is combining those things on guitar – and certainly not at your level. You have people who are addressing elements of it, but what you’re doing is a very unique bag. I’m sure that some of that is humility but there’s not a lot of other players that can play a set of classical guitar music and then slap on an electric and hang with the Grandmothers.

Miro: Well no – I’m not trying to put myself down. I mean I’m not cocky but if I sound humble it’s because there are players that I’ve been fortunate enough to be around that are really great musicians and they’re people that I just really look up to a lot and that I know the depth of their knowledge and understanding. The thing is that it’s all a trade off. Coming back to that word again….it’s all a balance.

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Just to clarify that point, I feel like I need to know enough about something to be able to work with it.  However, from what I understand (and from what I see around me) in the world of “world music”, that standard has usually been very low. Some people give themselves a license to work with music from different areas of the world without really knowing almost anything about it, and that’s obvious to somebody like myself or to people who know more about that music than I do. You can see that it’s just somebody who’s kind of using it out of boredom… and not really as substance.

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At the same time if you have, I don’t want to say too much reverence for something, but if you begin to look at the enormity of any particular style of music it’s probably going to be so intimidating that you’re never going to put your foot in the water.  For example, I remember Aashish Khan telling me about how his grandfather once made him spend a year on a single rag.  That’s a year of  1 rag – every day – 12 hours a day. Did he tell you about the hair?

Miro: Oh did he do that too?

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His grandfather did. His grandfather tied the back of his hair to a piece of string and tied the other end to the ceiling so that if he fell started to fall asleep that the string would pull his hair and wake him up. So I thought about that and I wondered, “What would my perception of music and life be like if for a year all I practiced was the C major scale and learning songs only in that key and then every time I brought it to my teacher for a lesson, he would listen and say, ‘you’re not ready to move on’”?  

If you look at studying music in that manner you could come to the conclusion that you don’t have the time for that, but if you don’t investigate the music at any level you might miss cool things that you’re never going to be able to incorporate into your playing. It comes back to that issue of balance – having respect for the music but at the same time acknowledging that while you respect it enough to know that you’re not going to be able to master it, that you’re also going to try to take some of the vibe from it and at least inject some part of it into what you do.

M: Right.

Invisible Writing

Miro Tadic - Invisible WritingI know you have a number of projects that you’ve been working on, but the Invisible Writing dvd release coincided with a recent concert so I’d like to discuss that before we talk about Vidarica. Can you talk about the dvd and the corresponding live performance associated with that?


Miro: I’ve just completed a live performance of a piece called Invisible Writing. It’s a collaboration with a group called Single Wing Turquoise Bird which is a group of visual artists who are operating in the film medium that originally did light shows I think back in 1967. They not only did light shows with some of the great bands of the time like Pink Floyd and The Velvet Underground but they also worked with the music of contemporary music composers at that time like Steve Reich and Pauline Oliveros. It’s an amazing group of people. A few of them work with oils, which is a classic light show kind of material that involves having a plate with oils in various colors and moving them around while projecting them onto a large screen. At the same time, you’ve got 3 people who are operating slide projectors and projecting slides and then 2 more people projecting film and they’re all projecting onto the same space. It’s a crazy combination of things.

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We did a DVD together that was commissioned by the Getty Museum and has just been released. It’s now also a formal installation that’s in the Denver Museum of contemporary art that’s going to travel to several museums in the country. So the piece has been installed in a dark room with a large screen for the projection and then my music is piped into the room. Part of the commission was for two live performances that happened in January of this year at UCLA, so I put a group together for that. It had some of the same tunes that we were playing on the DVD as well as other tunes and some truly free improvising as well because they’re also improvising in their medium. Their work is high quality and really fascinating to me.

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How did you get involved with them?

Miro: Michael Scroggins, one of the members of the group teaches film at CalArts and knew my work from the time I was a student there. They were operating in the late 60’s and early 70s. Eventually they disbanded and went their separate ways and then they put the group together again, so when they were talking about the live musicians to collaborate with I was recommended. I sent them some of my recordings and then we collaborated on it. We’ll see what comes of it. Unfortunately, it’s a very expensive project because you’ve got 8 visual artists and all of their equipment on top of a band of at least 4 people so it’s not really sustainable as a regular project. You can find out more about the group (and order the dvd) by going to their site.

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Vidarica and The Teofilovic Brothers

Vidarica - TadicSo you have a new CD that’s just come out with the Teofilovic brothers.

Miro: Yes. The CD is called Vidarica and we’ve set up a website there’s information about it on the website at vidaricamusic.com. It’s an important project for me and it would be great to give it some attention.

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As I understand it, the Teofilovic brothers only do a capella music so how did you meet up with them?

Miro: We met at a concert that Vlatko (Stefanovski) and I gave in Belgrade in 1999. Vlatko suggested that we have them as guests on a couple of tunes and it was a good choice. The concert was a major step in our career as a duo. We played for a sold-out 4500 seat hall and it gave birth to our first live CD, “live in Belgrade”.

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The numbers with the brothers didn’t get make it onto the CD because we were recording direct to DAT using only the feed from the two guitar mics. I liked their singing but the time wasn’t right then to do something with them. I feel that they’ve really developed and refined their sound in the meantime and the new CD presents us all at our peak.

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Vidarica was recorded in LA by Scott Fraser, the long-time sound engineer of Kronos quartet (he takes care of their studio recordings as well as live sound) and then I did some additional guitar tracking at home and mixed it. Scott just mastered it last week and I’m really happy with it. It’s not overly compressed and it’s a very nice, natural sound. Since it’s a very minimal approach and a basic production, sonically it’s counting on the power of the actual music being played rather than anything else.

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Listening to it, I think most people would be surprised at the recording process….

Miro: How do you think people would think it was cut? Because you’ve heard it….

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With any recording, I think most people just assume that everything is multi-tracked and corrected to Hell as opposed to saying, “We’re just going to sit down and let the shit go.”

Miroslav Tadic & Vlatko - Live In Belgrade

Miro: Well to be honest there are definitely some interventions there. It wasn’t really that kind of a thing. There are some merits to that approach, but it would require a certain mental preparation and that would be different because I knew when we went into that I’d have the option to change the guitar part if I wanted to. Also, on some pieces I didn’t play solos or intros depending on what we were getting into but we really did very few takes of everything…We didn’t do more than three takes of any of the tunes. But let’s say, by the third take, if there was something they wanted to do differently I wouldn’t usually play the whole guitar thing. We had isolation when we recorded so I did do a bit of guitar recording at home later. Mainly I was concerned with getting good recordings of the vocals and getting good energy with the guitar.

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What I meant was it’s a live recording in the sense that it was initially tracked live and there aren’t any real interventions on the vocals. You have two brothers show up to a studio with a repertoire of some really challenging material using all kinds of meters, ornamentations and inflections. To then say that they can call out any one of hundreds of tunes at will and be able to sing it down with just a reference pitch seems really accessible to a lot of people conceptually, but the reality of the dedication and actual skill set that entails is alien to most listeners.

Miro: As a matter of fact their thing in the studio is opposite to what most people do because they want to be there for the shortest time possible. There’s a certain amount of time that you can sing and then you just can’t sing anymore because the voice gets tired. We originally booked two 8 hour days but ended up recording everything with the three of us in 5 hours. We spent a little more time recording some a capella tunes of theirs afterwards. So we have about 35 minutes of a capella music that’s really cool. That’s maybe going to go into another project or perhaps get used for some kind of experimentation or something like that. They can easily sing one whole cd’s worth of material in a session. Even a session without a break and then they can repeat that. This reminds me of the Stevie Ray Vaughan Texas Flood sessions…

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I remember reading that for those sessions the band’s PA was set up in the studio and then they just ran down the set twice.  It was recorded in a weekend, but at that point they were so…almost over-rehearsed that they could have rolled out of bed and done that set.

Miro: I’ve had that experience with record by Dusan Bogdanovic, Keys to Talk By in which I was involved along with my close friend and collaborator percussionist Mark Nauseef. It had some very complicated music that was quite difficult with an unconventional percussion part that was all written out. It involved playing tuned gongs and instruments in an unconventional setup. We didn’t play a lot of gigs…maybe 3-4 concerts before that, and then we went and did it with this audio file style recording – just a stereo (mic) pair in a hall.  We just played it down and that was it.

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The problem was that the guy recording us, Todd Garfinkle (who is now one of the leading experts in the area of the 1 point recording), at that time was still developing his skills and he wasn’t happy with the sound. So he would want to move us around and move the mics a little bit and then we did it again. But he was still not happy with the sound. Actually the issue was we were listening to the playback and it sounded like shit – the sound quality – the playing was great – but the sound was terrible. And it was just getting to the point where we really didn’t have any reason to record anymore. I was like, “Hey we’ve done it once. We’ve even done it twice – so what are we supposed to do?” And it turned out that we just had bad monitors and the recording was fine. But this idea of being on the road and then going into the studio and having that kind of intense concentration…. having that precision combined with that kind of connection that you get when you’re on the road is really exciting.

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Getting back to the brothers, we were originally talking about how you’ve added this harmonic element to an a capella style. It’s a unique spin on what they’ve been doing.

Miro: Well…yes and no – a unique spin. There’s been a lot of this so called “world music” where people take a line from a singer from someplace and then put a synth pad or a couple of chords underneath. That’s been really explored a lot – but generally speaking it’s been explored in what I think is (with a few honorable exceptions that I cannot name off the top of my head but assume are there) really a very superficial way and the treatment of the material was very similar.

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So for me the challenge was to do something that has a balance between not trying to be like a folk musician also not to be pretentious or too complicated…because there has also been some really sophisticated musicians who have taken simple modal melodies and have sort have over harmonized them, or just made them overly complicated. My whole thing is the idea of creating balance between the things that I know. So if I’m combining things, I don’t even think about it other than intuitively. That’s where my work lies for me. Any recognition that I have [as an artist] is for having an ability to balance different influences in a way that is personal and yet is not sort of pretentious or forced.

Tadic - LulkaIn approaching this material, you’ve sort have come full circle from where you were with the Lulka cd – which was almost a field recording approach towards the vocal that you treated heavily with a lot of different overdubs and approaches to take it in a different direction. Now you’re coming back with almost more of a traditional approach – in terms of accompaniment – where it’s much more straight-forward.

Miro: With Lulka I just wanted to have vocals isolated completely. All I wanted is for her to sing in her way of course and to be on pitch and on time. When I recorded with her it was really just to give her those references of pitch and time and then I treated every piece as starting from square one. Whereas this new recording was made with the idea of keeping as much as we can keep from what we recorded. It’s just a matter of approach.

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I’ve made a lot of cds and Lulka was my attempt to show many different ways of approaching that music. Each one of the pieces is treated in a different way. And that’s very ambitious and maybe it was just something I needed to do at the time. But this is a more relaxed approach in a way… doing something simple and organic and then intervening on it as little as possible. That’s that balance of asking what is the minimum you need to do to get your results as opposed to, what are all the things I can do to these tunes?

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When I interviewed (engineer and producer) Will Kennedy he talked about a hidden advantage of analog recording was its limitations. You’re limited to a set number of tracks and how at a certain point over dubs don’t sound bigger – just more crowded.

Miro: Of course. That’s lesson number one. Things just choke each other. People who are not experienced with these things don’t understand that things tend to cancel each other as much as they reinforce each other and often cancel each other more. There’s much more to it than asking how many layers does the cake have….

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Getting back to Vidarica, are you planning on touring?

Miro: We’re starting to book concerts for Europe for late spring/early summer and there will be dates and information about that at vidaricamusic.com  We’ll have the music available through the usual online outlets as well (iTunes, CD Baby, Amazon, etc) but people can also go to the Vidarica website to find out more about the material on the cd as well as about ordering and availability.

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How do you see Vidarica in relation to your other recent recordings?

Miro: I really feel like I’m coming back to my roots in terms of aesthetic and so on. In terms of the projects I’ve been involved in, the last several years have certainly had a lot of my input in it and I feel strong about them. But still this is something that I feel really close to in terms of what I have to say about that music (which is the music from Macedonia, Kosovo, Serbia, Bosnia and Dalmatia).

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Migrations

Miroslav Tadic - MigrationsWe mentioned Dusan before so can you talk about the other new cd that’s out now, Migrations?

Miro: That’s right. It’s something people should know about. We actually recorded it a while ago. It’s 100% improvised. The only sort of compositional intervention is editing. The pieces are edited but usually editing means if we have a piece where maybe it took 20 seconds to get something moving, we’d just take the first 20 seconds out of that but the whole recording was completely improvised and was done without any pre-meditation or setting any parameters. We had several different guitars that we were exchanging between ourselves and we just recorded for about 4-5 hours in one sitting with some breaks. We ended up with a lot of material that we both thought was quite good. When I listen to that recording now although we’re both older and probably know more – I am kind of amazed at it. I don’t know if we could play it as well today.

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Part of it is that both of you are extremely familiar with each other’s playing. There’s clearly a lot of communication going on between the two of you.

Miro: Well in thinking about it, I realized that we have actually known each other as players for 20 years prior to making that. I met Dusan in 1983 and we started playing immediately although I consider the gap in playing between us today very large – in his favor. But back then it was extremely large and I was very fortunate that he liked me for some reason and wanted to play with me and brought me into some of his music. There is a span of many years of doing different things and different projects. We were both in LA when we met, but later Dusan moved to San Francisco so we didn’t meet as often. Ultimately the cd was a long time coming and it just happened naturally.

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Sheet Music

Let’s talk about your sheet music revival.

Miro: It’s not really having a revival because it was never available before.

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Well I mean revival in the sense that your music is getting performed by other people more and more….

Miro: While it’s not a big hit among classical players, it has gotten some notice. It’s just been published by a Canadian publisher called Doberman-Yppan (http://www.dobermaneditions.com/en/search-composer/p17520371.html). They’re a very strong publisher, particularly of guitar music that recently has gotten pretty much everyone including Dusan and Leo Brouwer. They’re a very cool company.

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The first thing I published was a piece called Walk Dance which was inspired by Scott Tennant who wanted to play it. He played it and recorded it as part of a LA guitar quartet cd. They are a world known ensemble and he is a world known player and my understanding is that he’s still playing it in concerts. So a lot of people through him have found out about that piece and two of my other pieces that I wrote for him. They’re now published in Laments, Dances and Lullabyes, vol. 1 (DO 655 TADIC, Miroslav). Recently, they’ve also published my Four Macedonian pieces (DO 684 TADIC, Miroslav) for alto flute and guitar. I’ve just had a request from LAGQ (The LA Guitar Quartet) for a new piece so I’m looking forward to working with them and looking forward to getting more music published as well.

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The 72 Days Soundtrack and Rade Serbedzija

Rade - TadicYou did the soundtrack for Sedamdeset I Dva Dana (72 Days). How did you get involved with working on the film?

Miro: I wrote a lot of experimental film music for shorter films, animation and weird projects like that but 72 days is my first feature film and I wrote the music and played all the guitars on the sound track. It’s a Croatian film by a Croatian director, Danilo Serbedzija. It’s basically a black comedy that’s set in this hillbilly area in Croatia that involves some of these themes of different ethnic animosities between Serbs and Croats but also talks about how complex that issue is but doesn’t directly talk about the war. It’s set in this mountain village in Croatia so I wanted to have a combination of kind of California Sound – like something maybe Ry Cooder would do but tint it in that music from there. So I’m using a folk tune as kind of the basic theme and taking it through different kinds of treatments. It’s a very sparse and heavily guitar based score that features a lot of my electric baritone guitar and some acoustic nylon string. There’s some participation from Chris Garcia on toy drum set and percussion as well.

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The film just got the Croatian candidacy for an Oscar nomination so Croatia sent that as their nomination for best foreign film and it already won a handful of prizes over there. It was interesting to do that. I’m happy with my work on the film as well as with the way that the whole collaboration went. It was very atypical for movies (in a good way) in the sense that there were none of the high pressure horror stories that you hear about some Hollywood productions. It was just a real pleasure to do. There’s a limited American release so people can keep an eye out for that as well. As a matter of fact, I found one of the pieces from the film on YouTube  and it just has a couple of stills from the film with the piece behind it. It’s got something like 10,000 hits which is kind of wild for me because it’s a good piece, but I haven’t gotten a lot of other feedback on the film music from people.

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You also have a project with the actor Rade Serbedzija.

Miro: Rade is the main actor in this film and he’s one of the most prominent actors from the former Yugoslavia. I’ve been a fan of his for a long time. He’s a very special actor. He’s primarily a stage actor but has also done a lot of films and television series over there so he’s also a very well known face and personality. He’s an incredibly skillful actor in all fields. My mom was an actress so she was very rigorous in terms of her opinions and she thought he was the best actor in that area. So of course I was influenced by her opinion and by him as a teenager, and checked him out and he really was special. In addition to acting he was also putting out records where he was reciting poetry and sometime he would also sing. So many years later around 2005 or so I got a call from him here in LA and I was blown away because I’m a big fan. He did a Macedonian film called Before the Rain, then went to America and played Boris the Blade in Snatch. He was also in Eyes Wide Shut and even in the last installment of Harry Potter, so he acts in some of these huge productions but also in a number of small films as well.

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He loves to sing and he’s one of these people that just loves to have music in his life and throws these great parties with a lot of interesting people and always has people perform. It’s a very inspired kind of vibe around him. So we started working together and we’ve released 2 cds in Croatia. They haven’t tried to do anything with them outside of Croatia because they’re kind of local in a way. The first CD is acoustic and called Imam Pjesmu Za Tebe (translation – I have a song for you) and another one that we just did recently that we did with primarily American musicians. We recorded it here in LA and it’s called Ponekad Dolazim, Ponekad Odlazim (translation – Sometimes I’m coming and Sometimes I’m going). The first cd was more songs by some of his friends and some folk tunes where the new record is basically more of his lyrics and my music. Then we did some other material by an Italian songwriter named Fabrizio De André, who was a great poet and songwriter sort of along the lines of someone like Leonard Cohen.

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I really like that last record particularly because I put in some of my influences like Tom Waits and Ry Cooder…that sort of California sound. And those records did really well over there. The first one was like a gold record (which doesn’t take a lot there because it’s a smaller country but still…) and for this last one we got the equivalent of a Grammy in Croatia. They’re not commercial records or anything like that but they’re a nice addition to what’s being presented over there because generally there isn’t a lot of interesting stuff going on. There’s a lot of copying things from the west or things on the old western crooning style or old music. So that’s been a nice collaboration and a nice friendship. And we’ve been selling out 2-5,000 seaters over there. Sometimes it’s just the two of us and the way that he’s able to hold a crowd is amazing. He’s got a great way with the crowd and has a personality and presence on stage that a lot could be learned from.

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I’m really concentrating on this new project now with the brothers and thinking about smaller venues, because I’ve been playing those bigger concerts and sitting there in front of thousands of people. On one hand it’s really great because you get a lot of attention and people are really listening and are quiet and everything but on the other hand you sit there with a guitar and all these thousands of people and it just looks like this big monster in front of you. It’s hard to relate to a mass like that even though it’s an appreciative audience. I’m more tuned into 3-400 people situations you’re not playing in a club for 15 people but you’re not playing for thousands of people. So that’s what we’ll be focusing on with the brothers. I also did some solo concerts this last year which I don’t usually like to do but I really enjoyed the few that I did. So I might pursue that a little more. I haven’t really decided. I’m in a little bit of a resting phase and recovering from a hand injury so I’m trying to take it a little easy.

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The instrumentation on the first cd with Rade is fairly sparse. Was the recording of that cd similar to how you approached Vidarica?

Miro: Well, it was a little different. That CD was recorded over a period of 2 years and we would just go into a studio and record a couple of tunes. Rade would come over for dinner and I’d set up some mikes (literally in my living room). There’d be dogs barking and shit and we’d record and then one or two of those tunes would be, “wow we really captured a moment there.” I don’t remember exactly how many tunes are on that record – maybe 14-15 tunes but we recorded over 40 tunes over that period actually and he was sort of capricious with the ideas. We had a few different concepts that we’d follow a bit and then we would go to something else – but the first idea was to do all of the music of this friend of his, a great Croatian poet and songwriter, Arsen Dedic, who was basically on his deathbed. We wanted to do a tribute to him and record a whole record of his songs, so we started working on them and then he had a liver transplant and all of the sudden he was okay. The idea was to somehow pay tribute to him and we still wanted to do that but when he recovered and got back into performing it didn’t make sense to do a whole record of his music when he was still around and doing it himself. So it became a part of the record. So I think we had 3 of his songs but we recorded like 15 of them.

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Working with Rade was kind of haphazard but in a good way. It was sort of random and very spontaneous. We recorded in different places and tried different things and then somehow we ended up with the material on that record.
The new cd was much more organized in terms of repertoire so we knew what we were going to record because we recorded with a live band so we of course had to know what we were doing and had a short time to record it in. I think we recorded in one day and then I did some additional recordings later at home.

Miro and Vlatko StefanovskiI was talking about your mindset in the playing and the arrangement of the tunes. Both cds are very stripped down in terms of the arrangements so I guess that’s the similarity I’m referring to.

Miro: Yeah I guess that’s generally my approach. It’s the same thing with the film music for example. If people approach me about writing film music I don’t do big stuff (in terms of large instrumentation) and not only do I not do it (I mean I could learn of course) but that’s not what really turns me on. I like more intimate sounds so that’s usually what I would opt for because I like it and because I’ve been doing it for so long that I feel like I’m good at it. So then I feel like I can really offer something in that area.

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But, to contrast that, I do have some orchestral gigs coming up. I got a call from Kristjan Jarvi, who is one of the top conductors in Europe. We first worked together with the Grandmothers in Norway (with the Bergen Filharmoniske Orkester) and then had a performance in Vienna with Vlatko Stefanovski, Theodosi Spasov and the Tonkünstler orchestra (which is a truly adventurous orchestra) and it was a big success.
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We haven’t heard from Kristjan in a while and now he’s the director of the MDR (Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk) Symphony Orchestra (also known as the Leipzig MDR Symphony Orchestra). Four dates with myself, Vlatko, Theodosii and the Leipzig orchestra have been scheduled for 2013. We’re playing Monte Carlo on January 6th, Weimar on January 11th, Leipzig on January 12th and we’re going to play with the London Symphony Orchestra in London on February 2nd in London. So we’re talking about some serious gigs….

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I’m tying it in because I was talking about larger forces like (working with) an orchestra. I would do that if it comes from somebody else and if I’m a part of that project. Of course I’m into that as a performer but I usually wouldn’t think something up that would involve those kinds of large ensembles. I’m thinking much more on a smaller scale, so any kind of project that I would be behind is not only as a player but also as an arranger/producer/composer would have that more intimate sound. Even the other record with Rade which has more instruments is still pretty sparse I think by most standards. Sparser is the way I go generally.

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Do you have any other performances with Vlatko coming up?

Miro: Not in the immediate future. We’re sort of taking a break right now. He’s involved in another project right now a guitar trio called The Kings of Strings with Tommy Emmanuel and Shochelo Rosenberg.

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That’s a big diversity of styles. It seems like it could be a strange triple bill.

Mro: It’s actually not that strange of a bill. Sometimes you have these managers who put things like this together that just don’t work because it’s sort of too much of a certain kind of thing. But Tommy Emmanuel is a really good choice for this kind of thing because he’s a really good player who can provide the harmonic background (bass movement, etc). Vlatko is much more of a linear line player so when we play duo, I’m the one providing bass and harmony so Tommy is great at that and that creates a great base for Vlatko and Stochelo. So we’ll see I’m hoping that it’s going to be successful and that it’s going to be musical because there’s a lot of guitar talent there, chops and stuff like that so it could get out of hand pretty quickly.  I think it’s got really good potential.
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I also feel that it doesn’t really threaten my project with Vlatko which is sort of a separate thing. It’s a good thing for Vlatko because he’s not as well known outside of that area and now he’s playing with bigger names so I hope he’s going to get some more recognition that he really deserves. There have been several suggestions for some new projects but we’re basically both involved in other things right now. We might play a concert here or there until we come up with another project, but I don’t think we’re going to do as much playing as we’ve done in the past because we’ve sort of exhausted our program that we have right now and we’re both currently deeply involved in some other things. There’s still the possibility that some time in another year or two that’s going to result in some other things like the orchestra performances. There will be a recording associated with that, so that might take off as well.


Thanks again to Miroslav Tadic for his generosity, insights and observations.  More information about Miroslav (and his extensive discography) can be found on his website www.miroslavtadic.com.  Miroslav’s latest recording, Vidarica is out now on Itunes, CD Baby and Amazon.  More information about the release can be found at www.vidaricamusic.com.

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Scott Collins (64 Articles)

Scott Collins is the author of the pedagogical/reference series, The GuitArchitect’s Guide To: and several e-book titles that include: An Indie Musician Wake Up Call and Selling It Versus Selling Out. His playing is inspired by a wide range of western and non-western music, and, as a performer, he specializes in real-time composition.