There’s a reason the classical world should give a fugue about Toronto’s Uninvited Guests.
The production tandem of Billy Iannaci and Andrew Testa have been mashing up – with the blessing of his estate, no less – music performed by the late and legendary Canadian classical pianist and SOCAN member Glenn Gould with their own electronic, hip-hop and pop creations, and those of others.
It’s an attempt to draw young people into appreciating music that’s several centuries old, and recorded 50 or more years ago, albeit with a modern twist.
“When we started, we didn’t know the difference between a Bach and a Mozart.” – Billy Iannaci of Uninvited Guests
“No one, at least to our knowledge, has ever tried to modernize classical music [like this],” says Testa, who’s been working with Iannaci as the Uninvited Guests for three years, using samples and video from Glenn Gould On Television: The Complete CBC Broadcasts.
“Some have done it, but not the way we’re doing it,” says Testa. “Gould put that in our heads first, saying that people weren’t able to do these things in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and that he wished he could deliver a kit so people can do their own mixing, mastering and editing.
“He spoke of the role of DJs and said he had a love of electronic music back in ’64 when The Beatles were Top Five on Billboard. Through him, we saw how amazing [it is that] a lot of the bass notes of classical music have a lot of the modern elements we find in today’s music.”
To be clear, it’s not really Gould’s music that the Uninvited Guests is putting a revivalist spin on, but the public domain music of various 17th and 18th century composers – some of whom the pianist, who died in 1982, helped popularize again: Johann Sebastian Bach, Joseph Haydn, Ludwig Van Beethoven, Johannes Brahms, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and many more. Of course, they’re working with Gould’s arrangements of that music, but with the permission of his estate.
Introduced to the idea of re-mixing some of Gould’s recordings by Toronto pianist Ron Davis, Iannaci says much of the duo’s early experimentation resulted in happy accidents.
“Realistically, when we started, we didn’t know the difference between a Bach and a Mozart,” Iannaci admits. “But as we continued on, in order to get the best results, we discovered which classical composers to sample.
“For instance, for more dance-like music, we’ve been able to draw from Bach. For darker hip-hop music, we use composers like Mozart and Grieg. So it started out as trial and error, but through years of trying to pick out samples from this, we’ve gained a huge understanding of what each composer brings.”
It was the involvement of classical double bass player Alex Kotyk that clued Iannaci and Testa into the intricacies of classical music. “He started breaking the samples down musically for us,” Testa notes. “He would say, ‘Okay, basically, here’s what the bass line is,’ and he’d play it for us on a keyboard. Once we deconstructed these pieces, the possibilities were endless.”
Uninvited Guests have been displaying their wares via YouTube, with mesmerizing, self-produced videos. “It’s about just showing how crazy it is that we can take this piece of music that is 200 years old and make it relevant today by doing a couple of things here and there,” says Iannaci.
The duo is now going for baroque, launching its free Uninvited vs. Glenn Gould Volume 1 on November 17, 2015, on www.uninvitedguests.ca, and its first commercial single, “Fight ‘Em Off” featuring Toronto rapper Chief, on January 5, 2016.
The Uninvited Guests are hoping to collaborate with symphony orchestras in the near future, as well as perform live with Iannaci on synths, Testa on drums and a small orchestra “at our disposal.”
They say their work with Glenn Gould will hopefully be positive for the classical music community. “Maybe this is the vessel to get younger people into classical music,” says Iannaci. “We think this is the perfect way to get people into the concert halls again.”