Music review: SoftLOUD

Early, classical, contemporary, folk - it's all fuel for guitarist Sean Shibe. Picture: Kaupo Kikkas
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Edinburgh Festival Fringe: Sean Shibe is a Jekyll and Hyde of guitarists – in the best possible sense. His SoftLOUD show, which was premiered at this summer’s East Neuk Festival, switches from the acoustic delicacy of ancient Scots music to an (almost literally) stunning sonic maelstrom of multi-tracked electric guitars.

theSpace on Niddry Street (Venue 9)


To open, he took us back to 18th-century Scotland and earlier, with one of Fife-born composer James Oswald’s Divertimentis for early guitar then four tunes from historic lute manuscripts. The Oswald was gently melodious and meticulously articulated, similarly the lute tunes, their venerable phrases hanging fresh and crystalline in the air, bright with harmonics. And it was good to hear Shibe give the present-day Scots lutenist, Rob Mac-Killop, due credit for his work in revivifying such music.

Then he played a beguiling guitar setting of Peter Maxwell Davies’s Farewell to Stromness, its folk-like melody brimming with tender regret, yet with a faint sense of threat in its middle section, which was perhaps a harbinger of what was to come. Out came the Fender Stratocaster, laptop and pedals for the irresistible, headlong rush of Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoint, with its layered, partly pre-recorded guitar voices singing and shifting subtly around each other.

Working through Shibe’s suggestion that, in the face of ever more alarming world events, “we’re not screaming loudly enough”, this electric sound world intensified with Julia Wolfe’s LAD, composed for nine bagpipes but here arranged for multi-tracked guitars, building up a swarm of angry drones, over which he used an E-bow and steel slide to create terrifying Stuka howls which became a bagpipe-style lament.

To finish came the brutalist slam of David Lang’s Killer – raw, angry music for an angry world.

Until tomorrow. Today 8pm.

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