MacDowell Downtown in Peterborough features guitarist Erik Santos
The immediacy of live performance fascinates composer and performer Erik Santos, who will bring his voice, acoustic guitar and electronics to Peterborough’s Bass Hall on Friday.
Classically trained and thoroughly modern, Santos embraces a good melody and enjoys performing in a variety of popular genres including rock, country, jazz, soul, reggae and bossa nova. A multi-instrumentalist at a very early age, music making has been the unifying theme in Santos’s life. And while he earned his doctoral degree at the University of Michigan’s School of Music where he now teaches composition and directs the electronic music studios, this Friday evening’s performance promises to be more funky than academic.
Currently in Peterborough for his second MacDowell Fellowship, Santos is exploring new ways of assembling his diverse repertoire for live performances. This Friday he plans to sing original compositions and play guitar accompanied by electronic effects. “But it’s really guitar and voice focused,” he said.
“I was trained as a soloist,” Santos said, explaining he comes from a musical family. “And I’ve been in bands for a while now, and I want to develop my own solo literature.… The key is assimilating these influences more easily and developing the ability to have that expression come out of me more easily.”
In addition to his work as a composer and teacher, Santos discovered the joys of open mic programming at regional clubs near his home in Ypsilanti, Mich., eventually taking a lead in organizing the events like a conductor leading an orchestra. A man of tremendous personal drive and energy, he also performs with three bands: October Babies, 16 More Miles and Erik and the Happy Seeds.
“I’m drawing on all of these things as a multi-instrumentalist and sort of pooling the resources,” Santos said, explaining that he enjoys orchestrating for multiple instruments, voice and electronics to create a cohesive whole. He likened the process to the way his father used to make “lumpia,” or Filipino egg rolls, in that despite the fact it was a complicated multi-step procedure, it was smoother when one cook handled the entire process.
“My father was a composer and a performer, and he was a natural,” Santos said. “I’m now at a place where performing is fulfilling. As a recitalist you always concentrate on this thing, and then you present that thing, and it always made me nervous. I’m interested now in a more open, spontaneous expression.”
During his first MacDowell Fellowship in 1995 Santos focused on compositions for small ensemble and orchestral performance. After exploring multidisciplinary theater in the late ’90s, he was commissioned to travel to Japan to compose for and perform with Dairakudakan, the internationally acclaimed Butoh troupe. The experience with the avant-garde dance and theater group proved to be pivotal, altering his understanding of performance and introducing him to Toko Shiiki, the woman who would eventually become his wife and musical collaborator.
Of his experience with Dairakudakan, Santos said there’s a subtle and yet very intense interplay with the audience that he’s interested in exploring. “With Butoh there’s also a magnetism that develops out of the focused environment.”
Returning to Peterborough after so many years, Santos finds the colony the same, but his approach a little different. Last time, he said, he had some hard and fast goals. This time, he’s taking more advantage of the opportunity to collaborate with his fellow artists as well as with himself.
“I’m letting the silence do its magic,” he said. “Listening more and experimenting in a way I’d never be able to at home because it’s a shared acoustical environment. Here I can sing to the woods and make these neat discoveries.”
He has been the recipient of numerous prizes and fellowships from The American Academy of Arts and Letters, Broadcast Music Incorporated, the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, the Rackham Graduate School of The University of Michigan, and was named the 1999 “Shepherd Distinguished Composer of the Year” by the Music Teacher’s National Association of America.
Santos’s music is not easily categorized, but it is easily enjoyed, and he’ll bring a selection of songs to the Monadnock Center for History and Culture’s Bass Hall on Friday at 7:30 p.m.
MacDowell Downtown, a series of free presentations by MacDowell Colony artists, is presented the first Friday of each month from March to November. Doors open at 7 p.m.; refreshments are served. For more information, visit www.macdowellcolony.