The DC group Boat Burning‘s presentation of “Music for 100 Guitars” this Sunday will neither resemble a Guitar Center on a Saturday afternoon nor be a sonic endurance test. “I don’t want to give people the impression it’s a wall of noise because it’s not,” says Boat Burning’s Andras Fekete. This is the event’s fourth and largest iteration, and its organizers and participants have developed a certain way of doing things.
For starters, the 100 guitarists, drawn from all corners of the area’s music scene, will not all play at once. They’ll be broken into four distinct groups on the floor of the 9:30 Club, with a fifth group on the balcony. Each group will have a “captain” who will look for hand signals from a conductor in the middle of the room. When triggered, each faction will play an assigned pattern in time with three drummers onstage, who will share the high ground with violinists and people playing double basses. The guitarists will rely on their own amplifiers to be heard, and audience members will be “free to roam around during the bombardment,” Fekete says.
When I spoke to Fekete in November he did not have his spreadsheet handy and couldn’t give me a complete rundown of the guitarists taking part, but he expected appearances by Norm Veenstra, Mark Cisneros, Adriana Cordero, Geordie Grindle, and Andras Simonyi, Hungary’s former ambassador to the US (” I am very much looking forward to it,” Simonyi writes in an email).
The event has taken place with ever larger ensembles in previous years at Union Arts, School Without Walls, and the Black Cat. This year proceeds from the evening will go to Bread for the City. Trinary System, which features Roger Miller from Mission of Burma, will open. Robin Bell, who’s been tormenting the Trump Hotel with projections, will provide visuals. “I’d describe it as a once-in-a-lifetime thing we try to do it once a year,” Fekete says.
All the guitarists will tune their instruments to E, which will not only create unexpected overtones and harmonics, but will help thwart the urge to play solos, should anyone feel it. “It makes this incredible harplike sound,” Fekete says. “What you get floating atop the din is all these phantom instruments.” He sees the event getting only bigger in years to come: “Hopefully, we’ll be able to do this at the National Mall and have 1,000 guitars someday.”