Interview with Duo 19 – Part One

I had the enormous pleasure a couple of weeks ago to meet up and chew the fat with Dan McKay and Antony Field of Duo 19. These guys, highly respected and well-loved figures on the Melburnian and Australian classical guitar scene, released their first recording, Fluid Lines, back in April last year (check out the review here). We had such a fantastically awesome, in-depth chat that I’m splitting it across two posts – lucky you reader!

So I took the opportunity to head over to the north of Melbourne, where Dan and Antony both live (and incidentally have taken the name for the duo from the no. 19 tram line which runs through their suburb into the heart of the city), and have a bit of a chinwag about what they’ve been up to, what their plans are for 2013 and how life is treating them. Here’s what we got up too…

An easy partnership

Antony and Dan had known each other for a long time before actually formally coming together as Duo 19. They started playing just a piece here, a piece there for a couple of years, learning things for Antony’s masters recitals, the occasional classical guitar society event, some Frederick Hand and Andrew York pieces. Before they came together as a duo they had a long musical background and association with one another – friends, teaching for one another, playing pieces here and there, hanging out. So it was fairly natural that they would play together at some point.

It was really only a couple of years ago that we thought maybe let’s string a whole programme together and play a concert” (Dan)

The first full-length concerts they played as a duo was one of Ken Murray’s Guitar Perspectives concerts here in Melbourne, roughly two years ago. Coming out of that it was then that first spoke about making a recording. A lengthy, but very natural and organic gestation.

“Kind of the way you want a musical collaboration to happen in a way. It just sort of happened. Kind of nice.” (Antony)

Antony used to pass through Canberra on the odd occasion when Dan was still studying there, with Dan actually receiving a masterclass from Antony in one instance. “A hugely influence masterclass, that had a massive effect on me” said McKay rather tongue in cheek, “Yeah right, pulling my leg there” was Field’s response, with considerable giggles and boyish grins on faces ensuing!

And their approach to recording Fluid Lines was similar to that of their coming together as a duo – recording of a piece here and there, a fairly relaxed style until they had the whole album together. All in all it took them about 12 months to get all the tracks down and a further 6 months to get them all mastered, finalised and ready for release. Dan quipped that may be the next one will be even quicker!

New stuff and exploring ideas

The guys are working on a Rodrigo’s Concerto Madrigal for two guitars currently and hoping to do that with an orchestra at some point. They’ve also been working recently with Michael Avery on a video clip, hopefully to be finished in the next month or so, as a bit of a “calling card”.

They’ve also started throwing ideas around for their next recording, “some more modern, minimalist type of pieces in the Hinchinbrook (Riffs) style of piece”  says Dan.  Being backed up quickly by Antony confirming that they “dont want to do the same old kind of pieces. We like to do things that are a bit more aligned to where we are as people and musicians.” These guys are not up for cracking out an old standard of the repertoire just because they have a gig coming up. They are true explorers of the instrument and their viewpoint is summed up well by Antony when he says that “the world needs more interesting things, you know!

Doing more interesting collaborations with composers, stuff like bring in turntables, tape and other objects and instruments into the performance situation also appeals to the duo. They’re really looking to push into unchartered water. So watch this space for some wiki-wiki-can-I-get-a-rewind classical guitar action from these guys soon. Hah hah!

They do recognise the need, however, to strike the balance between providing difficulty and challenge for themselves as players, interest to the listening audience and accessibility for those that may not be too familiar or comfortable with “non-standard” repertoire and grab people in.

Antony is also keen to point out that “I don’t buy the whole ‘ah yeah, let’s just do that’ thing”. 

At the same time, you’ve got to play something”  counters Dan, with the two agreeing that it’s about striking the right balance.

Music lovers

As one may expect from two musicians who are into exploring the music that they play and create on their instruments, their listening tastes are fantastically eclectic too.

Dan’s favourites include The Beatles, The Band, Radiohead (particularly the In Rainbows album), Sigur Ros, King Crimson, Frank Zappa, Tom Waits, and most recently US hip hop duo Death Grips. From the classical repertoire Dan loves the French composers Debussy, Satie, Ravel as well as Bach. Dan says he likes to take a whole bunch of vinyl records out to his shed out back that he can’t play in the house as he knows his kids will hate it, his wife will hate it, heck maybe even he will hate it, and just sit and listen and give some totally different stuff a spin. Guitar-wise Dan finds himself listening mostly to Alirio Diaz, Julian Bream and Segovia.

Antony’s tastes include Queen (good man – this is my own latest musical obsession!) and Joni Mitchell. He describes himself as more of a functional listener, digging into the music and sounds of a particular artist or composer when starting a particular project featuring their music perhaps.

Antony likes to listen to a lot of guitar music, checking out the various ways in which different players approach the same music. He finds this assists him in his teaching too, “I like the research approach and being as informed as I can.” Most recently he’s listening been listening to guitarist Alieksey Aianna, who was out in Australia last year.

Part Two coming up!

That’s all for today folks! Check back in next week for part two of the interview with Dan and Antony’s views on the guitarists they most admire, and their top tips for guitar students.


Duo 19 CD Launch

Melbourne’s “guitaratti” were out in force on Tuesday night this week for the launch of Duo 19’s (a.k.a. Antony Field and Dan McKay) new recording, Fluid Lines (Move Records). 

It was something I’d been waiting in eager anticipation for for a number of weeks now. Both Field and McKay are undoubtedly musicians right at the top of their game, nationally and internationally. For me, aside from having the opportnity to hear these superior guitarists, the opportunity to see them perform live in the flesh is an opportunity not to be missed.

I always feel thorough enchanted and entertained by both performers through their natural rapport with the audience and super expressive playing. There’s no doubting that these guys bloody love what they do and it’s totally infectious and inspiring.

And they did not disappoint on Tuesday night.

Duo 19 showcased four pieces from the CD, including:

  • Horo by Atanas Ourkouzonov – a gorgeous opener, highlighting a natural ease of interplay between the two guitarists, intertwining one another around distinctly eastern European melodic and harmonic lines and changes in meter.
  • Songs from the Forest by Nigel Westlake – my personal favourite from the pieces showcased on the evening. It is arguably an anthemic piece in the guitar repertoire, but the pair bring a stunning beauty to it via their gorgeous tones, thumping harmonics, great use of colour and tonal variation, and percusive effects.
  • Brolga by Phillip Houghton – another favourite piece of mine, full of typically Houghton harmonies. The duo gave a truly gutsy performance of the piece, evocative of the eponymous bird and conjouring up images of the northern Australian landscape where these birds live.
  • Hinchinbrook Riffs by Nigel Westlake –  an extremely well executed rendition of piece that was originally intended to performed by one guitar with digital delay effect. What must have been a grand feat of concentration was made to look and sound masterfully easy by Field and McKay, creating a rich, glittering wash of sound throughout. Flawless.

As one would expect from performers of this calibre, al four of the pieces were played with the highest level of precision, musicality and characteristic flair.

Tuesday night’s performance was not merely a case of two great guitarists playing on the same stage together. Field and McKay really work extremely well together as a duo, both affording one another the space to phrase and shape as the music requires. The both have exceptionally well balanced and equally matched tone qualities – both equally very full-bodied, “fat” sounding tones. There was also a great deal of spirit and energy from both and of course, very importantly, just a wee bit of witty repartee with one another an the audience.

I have the CD on rotation as I write, so watch this space in the next week for a review of the CD. But don’t wait for me – make sure you grab yourself a copy! I promise you won’t be disappointed.