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Professor Pens Guitar-Centric Score for New York City Ballet

kiktaThomas Kikta, Assistant Professor of Music Technology and Area Coordinator of Sound Recording Technology and Classical Guitar, has been chosen by New York City Ballet choreographer, Peter Walker, to compose a 15-minute ballet for the New York City Ballet. In addition to composing the music, Kikta will be performing the premiere and will be responsible for sound design, as well.

This project, currently untitled, marks the third collaboration between Kikta and Walker, the first of which being with the New York Choreographic Institute in 2011. Then, in 2015, Walker commissioned Kikta to write a work for the School of American Ballet's Winter Ball. Walker was then asked to create a new ballet for NYC Ballet, and he chose Kikta to compose the music.

In an interview about a previous Kikta/Walker collaboration, Walker was asked why he wanted the guitar to be a focal instrument in the music of these new ballets. His answer was that the standard orchestral sound evoked standard classroom ballet steps in his mind. The guitar and its range of sonic possibilities help him take the choreography out of the box.

Kikta's compositions complement this thought process very well, often stretching the limits of the standard guitar range, therefore requiring alternate tunings as well as the use of signal processing for additional sounds.

Speaking to this aesthetic, and the challenges that are created by it, Kikta says, "Instead of a standard tuning of EADGBE, I'll change the bottom strings to C and G, or I may use a completely different tuning like DADGAD to achieve what I'm hearing. It not only gives you the range you need, but it changes the sonority of the guitar, making it sound different than a standard instrument. When Peter chose a few of my excerpts that used different tunings, with acoustic as well as electric guitar, I knew this was going to be a challenge. In the span of 15 minutes, we will change from acoustic to electric, back to acoustic with different signal processing, using six different tunings. Obviously, that doesn't leave enough time to change instruments, let alone tuning and retuning."

Looking to his technology background, Kikta contacted Line 6, a guitar modeling manufacturer, for assistance with the project. They introduced him to the Variax and Helix, a system that allows for guitar changing (acoustic or electric), tuning, and processing at the push of a preprogrammed button. This system was specifically designed for the rock/pop arena-type act, and this will be the first time that it will be used in a classical setting. Line 6 is documenting Kikta's progress and will be creating a video demonstrating how their system brings this ballet to life. 

Speaking on a more personal note, Kikta adds, "My daughter, Emily, has been a member of New York City Ballet's corps de ballet for six seasons, and she has been chosen as one of the dancers for this ballet. It will be very special for me to be performing on the same stage with my daughter at one of the world's greatest cultural centers-a really nice father/daughter moment."

The ballet is scored for guitar, piano, trumpet, and percussion and will premiere at Lincoln Center on September 20, 2016 as part of the New York City Ballet's fall fashion show. It will run for a total of eight performances, five of which will be in September and October, with three additional performances in May 2017.

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