John Metcalfe on Tom Kersten's 'Utopia'
'Utopia' is the debut recording of Tom Kerstens with his newly formed G Plus Ensemble. The group was created specifically for the recording of newly commissioned writing.
It is no accident that the two composers featured on this recording, Joby Talbot and John Metcalfe, both come from a background that combines art rock and classical training.
John Metcalfe, from New Zealand, was, in an earlier incarnation, the viola player for Manchester-based sonic adventurers Durutti Column and came later in his career to composition. John plays viola with the Duke Quartet, and is the arranger for Peter Gabriel's new 'Scratch My Back' album. He was introduced to Peter at Real World whilst producing his compositions on 'Utopia'.
In the G Plus ensemble, the guitar's plucked sound decays quickly; this contrasts with the sustained string sound. Combined with the vibraphone and in the absence of an inevitably dominant piano, the G Plus ensemble sounds quite magical. John Metcalfe says there is no other ensemble like this and that it reverses the role of the guitar. A rock guitar offers a vertical way of playing; there are chords and the guitar usually determines the key and how a piece modulates. John has deployed the quartet in that vertical role for some of his G Plus pieces; he has used the guitar as a linear, horizontal instrument that does not just play chords but, instead, plays melodic lines. For John, this can make the guitar line much more fluid and interesting; the guitar can act as a more harmonic instrument - the role usually taken by the piano.