In 1994 Horacio Pozzo, Pablo Mandel and Marcelo O’Reilly had a trio: the Guitar Point. In 1995 Claudio Lafalce, Martín de Aguirre and Christian de Santis were working as the Trio Inhumano. After La Ley de los Siete project (Christian, Guillermo Olivera, Martín, Horacio, Claudio, Marcelo and Luciano Pietrafesa), Christian joined Los Gauchos Alemanes and Claudio and Martín invited Horacio to join them.
In Bigtime, no aim was declared in July 1996 but it clearly began as a practice group, with a certain wish to play different kinds of music. The fun side was also evident and is reflected in the name of the group. Becoming fully professional was not considered an aim. Nevertheless, playing live, making records and get paid for it, was the way to support our work. Goals are discussed before each new step.
Choosing bandmates / Leaderships
“Can we meet twice a week?” is a good starting point. Although there is a formal place for the leader, this role changed in our trio without planning it. In our experience, the undertaking of different roles (leader, arranger, soloist, designer, sound technician, treasurer, etc.) is what makes the group function. Over time this flow of the roles has become unspoken and without argument. The leadership role adopts a balance between being strong and flexible at the same time.
Three hours, twice a week was our standard for almost six years. A critical moment arose in 1998: Claudio worked in the morning, Horacio in the afternoon and Martín during the night. So we had to meet in triple duo lineups in weekdays and one formal rehearsal in weekends. Each one of us would attend three rehearsals (2-duo, 1-trio). That was followed by a month of five rehearsals per week, prior to the recording of Troika.
In April 2002, Horacio moved to Madrid while Martín and Claudio remained in Buenos Aires. In January 2004 Martín also moved to Madrid. After six years of living in the same city, Bigtime began working at-a-distance. This includes choosing and arranging new pieces, rehearsing with the recordings, editing and mixing recorded material, finding gigs, press work, and then meeting for recording and playing live.
Usually, one of us has a suggestion for a piece, and if this is not supported with an idea of how to play it with three guitars, it will probably be discarded.
There is no lead player, a stunning virtuoso in charge of the difficult parts. We rotate the musical functions like strumming, playing bass parts, lead voices, counting in, etc. We do have specialties, but we also challenge ourselves to acquire new skills.
The way of introducing a new piece to the group is often different. Sometimes the new song comes from the composer written on paper and we distribute each voice. Sometimes it is presented note by note, or simply by playing it. “I have this for a new piece…” and we go through it playing each part until it “sounds” and then we face the next step. One of us may lead, but the voice of the group makes the final adjustments.
We tend to be inclusive with the new material and the hard part is to recognize that a piece that “I don’t particularly like” is necessary for the group.
Some original pieces are the result of a lot of time of working and studying the voices. Sometimes the piece comes in in the form of simple pouring music and we feel we are able to take the notes toward us. It may appear from working in an exercise, developing into a piece of music. Also the exploring of new techniques opens doors to discover things that could be applied in new material.
Some pieces were worked out slowly, voice by voice, such as Rita’s Rouge Rumba, Aleph Thau, Last Herdim or You. Others like Cartas desde Grecia, were the result of practicing an arpeggio in 9/8. Palabrasanta, as an exercise in composing by thrakking, later on studied and revised part by part. Moving Mountains, is the result of the study of string arrangement that Martín was undertaking at that time. The voicing treatment was worked from the very first note. On the other hand there is The Original Spark, which downloaded in a few minutes, after watching a TV documentary series about biology, spirit and life. The middle part of El Ingrediente Secreto del Pastel de Mary, was conceived for a solo “à la De Aguirre”, recognizing that no one else in the group could play in a rocker style, like the song needed in that part. In Three Balls in the Air, we all added our little grain of sand for modeling the final sound. Also in Viajeros, some suggestions were added for the benefit of the song. In Release Horacio and Claudio contributed with flexible parts on top of the basic idea and structure provided by Martín.
There is enough room in the trio for confidence, and when new music is introduced, we are open to suggestions, changes, and retouching the piece. We don’t push ourselves about writing. We have different timings for that and have had long periods of time without writing a note. There are others times where we can feel very productive, and profit the best we can.
In November 1996, Bigtime attended the fourth Guitar Craft Level One Course in Gándara, Argentina as members of the Kitchen Team. It was the first course as a formal trio and when we met with Robert and played Aleph Thau he suggested that we put away the crafty’s 16th notes and circulate the whole piece, to be performed in the dining room in two hours. So we accepted the challenge and played a circulated version with little response from the audience.
In a large circle we usually “wait” for the note to pass it on.
In a small group, we have a place in the beat.
1. Larks’ (Robert Fripp)
This is the first piece we worked on, the 16th notes in 3/4 provide twelve notes per measure, so each player has four notes per measure, played in a four against three rhythmic pattern: player 1 begins in the first sixteen note, player 2 in the second and player 3 in the third. So there are three patterns to learn.
For personal practice, Claudio wrote a midi file with all the notes and then three more versions: version 1 for Horacio, with his notes muted, version 2 for Martín and version 3 for himself. We began at a slow tempo and gradually increasing the speed, eventually arriving at a “speed brick wall”. At this point we realized that we should work as if we were only one player, so we applied the techniques and exercises we individually use to gain speed.
One of these techniques is called “visiting the future”. It consists of setting the tempo beyond what we can actually play, and playing a limited group of bars in loop mode for a very short period of time. Then lower the speed to a more realistic place. At this point you realize you have “more time” to chose the note and play it. When increasing the tempo, we also find it useful to shorten the notes up to the staccato point, so you can listen the more the rhythm than the pitches. This helps to even the flow of the notes, and then we can make the notes a little bit longer to reach a slight overlap to give a more legato feel to the melody.
The picking was another issue. The first approach was to play alternate as if we were playing the whole 16th note pattern with two tacit notes between each note. This worked fine to learn the rhythmic patterns, but when increasing the tempo we noticed that we were making almost the same effort and with a similar tension as if we were playing the whole thing really fast. So we moved to the downstrokes only, and this involved going down with the speed to re-learn to play it in this way. It resulted in a more even sound and the tension went considerably down.
2. Prelude in C (J .S. Bach)
Our first impulse was to work in the same way we did with Larks’, but the eight notes in 4/4 played by three people, wouldn’t work. It was not impossible, but very hard to make it musical. So we came up with an “uneven” circulation, following the musical pattern of the piece: Horacio plays 1,4 and 7, Martín plays 2,5 and 8 and Claudio plays 3 and 6.
1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2
HMCH MCHM and so on
We began very slowly with the metronome, finding the place of our notes with only one bar (one chord), just to catch the sense of the pattern we must play. The moderate tempo allowed us to play with the thumb and look for a unified softer tone. The new challenge was remembering the notes of the piece, being fluent and setting the right speed with longer notes. Here the big difference was the importance of the right pitches, because a wrong note in such a well-known melody feels like a knife through the heart. In Larks’ the main issue was synchronization and speed.
3. The Juggler’s Etude (Ralph Towner)
This was the trickiest piece to arrange in a circulation. We never heard the original version from Ralph Towner and Horacio only knew the first bars in the old tuning. So the beginning went quickly due to the 16th notes in 6/4, but later on we found many strange chords and also empty places or sextuplets. The first thing was to circulate the silences in a given pattern, so it was not as “mechanical” as the previous pieces we circulated. Next, the chords, so at a given place, the player should hit a set of two or three notes, or add a note outside his rhythmic pattern. The third issue was a set of sextuplets in the middle of the piece, this was hard and still is, we have to change the “tempo” of the circulation during a beat or two in the middle of the bar, so we had to re-distribute the notes specifically for those bars.
Having a look at the beginning, Horacio plays the first E note with Martín on the D bass while being tacit on his first 16th note.
H _ CH MCHM CHMC
4. Doble Presto (J.S. Bach)
Again Gándara, April 2000. Christian De Santis was playing the Corrente and Horacio asked him for the score. The Doble Presto fits simultaneously on top of the Corrente as in every baroque Suite or Partita (the “doble” stands for the double tempo of the previous movement).
The madness began: Bigtime circulating eight bars of the presto while Christian and Guillermo Olivera circulated the Corrente at the same time. That was two days before the completion of the course but was enough to have a sense of what it could turn into.
In the beginning of the Doble Presto, Horacio plays two notes (the pick up and the first 16th note) and Martín is tacit in his first note:
H / H(M)CHMC HMCHMC / HMCHMC HMCHMC
In Gándara we managed to remember the firsts bars and to establish a slow tempo, maybe 80 bpm. Back in our rehearsal room we went further, adding more bars and also speeding up. Three years later we recorded the piece in Madrid at 132 bpm. The melody from each player doesn’t make any musical sense, which makes it more difficult to remember the 320 notes of the whole piece.
In the first months we didn’t know how the melody went and each new bar was a surprise. After that we got a midi file that was used for personal practice with the computer, erasing your note.
It took us three years to play two minutes of music, but this piece can still be mastered in many ways. For instance, being very precise with the length of the notes, or adding more dynamics to the phrases. But keeping the attention for 130 seconds and play the right notes at the right time is an achievement in itself.
In the 3/4 time signature we play four notes in each bar, basically the same as in Larks’ but this time the eighty bars are completely different. We need to count the bars and know our place in the piece, so we can play sets of eight bars to adjust a specific section. At a certain point we realized that because we always played from the beginning to the end of the piece, we were reaching less known territory and increasing the chances to fail. So we began to practice the ending only, then add the previous eight bars until the end, and so on, in order to play the final bars as much as the opening ones.
One useful approach was presented to us by Tony Geballe: the idea was to repeat each bar four times, then move to the next, and so on. In this way we could break the piece in very small segments (groups of four notes) clearly identified.
The challenge to perform this Doble Presto live is to keep the focus and let go of the mistakes. When we were arriving to fast tempos we commented that it is like a train at high speed, and if you step down, you have to be in again.
General comments on fixed Circulations
• Playing acoustic at fast tempos, the speed of sound is noticeable, making it difficult to maintain the tempo. This is even more noticeable while performing as a horseshoe and the only way we have found to overcome this, was to develop a strong group beat. Pushing the tempo individually brings disastrous results, so sometimes is better to accept the tempo drain than trying to fix it.
• While playing electric, there’s no concern about the speed of sound, nevertheless, the distance to the monitors and the ambience reverb of the venue may have a noticeable effect.
• Recording the circulations is not easy, as the headphone mix and the quality sound is always far from optimal. Since the recording of Troika we have a metronome in the headphones mix. When choosing the take we go for the “musical sounding” one, even if it has some wrong or missing note, as it was in the Juggler’s Etude recorded version.
• Performing these pieces demands a kind of environment rarely reached in the places we are used to playing: coffee machines, people chatting and waiters walking and serving drinks. We had to find alternative ways to engage a better quality audience attention. For the Doble Presto we present a short explanation of what’s going to happen, playing our weird parts individually.
When Robert suggested working in this way we had no idea of the implications and consequences that this involved for the group and for us individually. The need for the group to work as a unity became very clear, so at some points of our work we “used” the circulation pieces on purpose to unify the group.
The elusive “play without playing” appeared as something very tangible. Specially in the Doble Presto, where it’s almost impossible to add any kind of interpretation, we were able to reach some overwhelming moments when the Music was solidly placed in the center of the group and we could experience being played by the music itself.
From the piano to the guitar trio
Many pieces were worked out from piano scores, and each arrangement depends on the music.
• Fuga & Misterio (Astor Piazzolla)
The original Piazzolla piece has four voices for the fugue. We dropped the last one and went straight to the Misterio section. Horacio plays the chords there (left hand of the piano) and Martín and Claudio play the harmonised melody of the right hand splitting the chords. In the New Standard Tuning it is hard to play close voiced triads, so we re-form the chord into fifths or sixths for each guitar, which are superimposed to recreate the piano voicing.
• Prelude in C# (J.S. Bach)
A duet, the two hands of the piano. The final arpeggios were split into three phrases just to keep the G# bass ringing. And the seven sharps were a challenge.
• Fugue in Cm (J.S. Bach)
Straightforward: three voices, three guitars, identifying carefully each melody.
• The Piano (Michael Nyman)
Martín brought this piece and the arrangement is simple: Horacio plays the left hand and Martín and Claudio circulate the melody-arpeggio of the right hand. One week of rehearsal in Los Molinos 2003 and to the recording studio.
• Blue Rondó (Dave Brubeck)
Is this a crafty arrangement? A journalist wrote that it is, but we only played the notes of the piano score. This is a crafty piece maybe…
• Children’s Song #3 (Chick Corea)
Another uneven circulation for the piano left hand in 6/8. Martín plays 1, 3 and 5 and Claudio plays 2, 4 and 5.
Taken as a photograph of the moment, a recording is useful to promote the group and set standards for performance. The feelings about the recording process are different for the three of us. This process is complex, sometimes chaotic, a pain in the ass and also joyful, belonging to the intimacy of the group.
As a general rule, we make a circle in the recording room and set the mic stands in a way that doesn’t interfere with the eye contact. We take breaks every hour and only listen to the takes to check the general sound or if we think we’ve done a really good take.
Our financial status does not allow us to book the studio time we really need, so what we do is rehearse, go into the studio, find the best sound we can and do as many takes as the booked time permits. Then we take everything to Martín’s home studio and check the takes (usually consisting in seven tracks per take, three lines, three microphones, and an ambience mic).
The recording work in itself has always a similar structure. We make three or four takes for each piece. An exception of this is the Bach’s Doble Presto; a long 46-minute session with many takes one after another.
The concern about editing in the studio, as if it was cheating, is left aside because we rarely reach a perfect take. So, a reasonable amount of editing is what makes the Bigtime recordings possible and also set the standards for live performance. What we don’t do is punching, so we edit the multitrack aiming to build the song with the most musical passages of the two or three best takes, then do little fixes and mix down. We don’t make overdubs except when there are other instruments out from the basic recorded tracks, for instance where Guillermo Olivera plays electric guitar or slide guitar (Honey Pie), or when we add a solo.
As the group evolves, the way we select the repertoire and the aims for the recordings changes:
Bigtime (1997): the aim for our first CD was “let’s record everything we have, so we can move to the next step”. The result was a mixed repertoire of pieces that belonged to the Trio Inhumano, Guitar Point, La Ley de los Siete, some originals, and a selection of covers we were working at that moment. The process was a bit rushed and we didn’t care too much of the acoustic sound of our guitars.
Troika (1999): we wished to make a good sounding acoustic record. This was our first pure Bigtime recording. We booked the best studio and engineer we could afford. The material was selected arranged and written by the trio.
At this point we were moving from a practice group to a semiprofessional group. This determined the way we chose the material:
• a practice group selects the pieces they can’t play or they need to learn, so their aim is mainly being able to play what they wish to play so they can overcome the challenge and raise their standard as players.
• a professional group chooses pieces they can play and aim to get great performances and recordings of the material so they raise their standard as writers or interpreters.
• a semiprofessional group has a wide space in between. You choose the pieces that work in performance in order to have a better show, challenging pieces to improve as players, and pieces you wish to play. Another aspect of being semipro is not knowing your limitations: this makes possible to undertake tasks that are beyond your level. For instance, if we knew that the Doble Presto circulation would take us three years, we would probably dropped it.
The Ballroom & The Lounge (2003): since 2001 we were trying to find the right time and repertoire for our third CD. Then Horacio moved to Madrid. The aim as it was first stated was: “a record of dancing pieces”. As soon as we knew we were attending together the first course in Los Molinos everything changed to: “we need a record”, but we didn’t have enough material, so we used our time at the course to arrange new pieces and put the group in shape. After the course we played a gig to present this new material and video tape the show. We fine tuned in two days and then off to the recording studio.
This way of working results in records that are slightly beyond our level of playing, so it challenges us in the studio and it’s a challenge to perform afterwards.
Regarding to the technical gear, we changed from album to album. From the primitive “plug-in and play” to ADAT in the first CD, we changed to three microphones (SM81, C3000 and CAD) at a certain distance of the guitars + three lines straight to Protools in Troika. For Ballroom we used a seven-track set, 3 lines+3 mics (AKG 414), with a central Neumann.
In July 2003 we began the recording of Porteño, our album dedicated to tango. We did some takes in Madrid at Axis studio and another session at the San Cugat Performance Project course, and there are three more pieces to add in July 2004. This time we switched to CAD microphones.
Culture and music styles
We have different musical backgrounds and this is an important point in our chemistry, because of the contributions each one can offer. Horacio had more contact with classical music, Piazzolla and a bit of jazz. Martín mainly with all rock styles. For Claudio, the inheritance of playing traditional tango and argentinian folklore would become an important input to the trio. We also have strong common points: The Beatles and a wide range of rock and pop groups.
We know tango is the most representative music of our country. And also that we can honourably play other foreign styles, but never getting the same groove of a guy who grew up with that music as part of his cultural inheritance. In this sense, we understood that our “touch”, our way of playing our native music should sound authentic everywhere.
The first arrangement Claudio began for Bigtime was Taquito Militar, a kind of tango-milonga, composed by pianist-orchestral director Mariano Mores. He tried to introduce it to the trio in Gándara, in 1996, but he found some weird faces looking at him and finally the piece was ignored. Martín asked for it some weeks later, and the song was presented. The funny, tricky and showy mood of the piece was a good challenge for bringing to our local audience something familiar to their ears and a rest from the tough repertoire of our first years, mostly full of steady 16th notes. Taquito Militar has a special place in our set lists (second or third), and gives us the first loud applause from the audience. It was probably the first tango ever played within GC groups all around the world. But we don’t know…
For Taquito and Quejas de Bandoneón there was another challenge: both tangos were written for a full orchestra. And the hard point was reducing the parts for three guitars, without losing the groove. In both cases, Claudio spent many hours listening to the records. He used no original scores for this. Everything was taken from recordings, sometimes with bad sound. Many times he used different versions of the tangos, played by different orchestras. He used the regular tools: guitar and midi. So, the sequence of making the arrangement was: listening to all the available records, choosing one and facing the first section. Then, playing in the guitar that section. Then search for the best fingering and voicing. The next step was playing in three midi tracks (named H, M & C, guess for who) with a keyboard the three voices for the section. Then facing the next sections, and so on until the end of the piece. Then in the midi file, take a look about the general sound of the complete song. Later on, using some scoring software, print the parts.
For The Ballroom & The Lounge, Claudio was looking for a heavy groove dancing tango and finally found Osvaldo Pugliese’s La Yumba. The task was the same, and he presented it some weeks before the summer trip to Spain in 2003. In this case, the original arrangement based in chords circulation, changed to an easier and most effective playing that guaranteed to keep the groove till the end.
Porteño’s arrangements (July 2003) were worked out differently: Claudio collected a series of recordings, carried it to Madrid and then we all three worked in the listening mode looking for the best parts for playing. So we arranged A Fuego Lento, Flor de Lino and Los Mareados, in this way. After a week of listening and rehearsing, we went to the studio and taped them.
Playing latin music requires a special feel, a kind of body sense of the rhythm, necessary to get the groove. Like in any ethnic music, the vocabulary should be learnt by living with that music.
From originals like Rita’s Rouge Rumba or Gato Doble, to covers like Tico Tico no Fuba and Juana Azurduy, there is a large field for going on, and we consider the inclusion of latin and argentinian folk pieces.
In addition to playing guitar, we learnt about taking roles and trusting the person who is in charge. Basically, we all three managed the whole structure, from booking a gig to money matters after the show, including the gear transportation, soundcheck, timetables, tickets prices or CDs sales. Sometimes we have to rearrange the chairs or the stage position, put a lamp on a table or hide the cables that run to the console.
Soundcheck and set lists
In the beginning we had a small repertoire, and we added some GC standards to the set list. We hadn’t much choice, so we played all we had. When our repertoire began to grow it we had to drop some standards.
The first live piece is usually in danger. Despite a good soundcheck, we never have the possibility of playing the first piece and feeling that everything is OK. So we know that the first piece is probably half-wasted. At the same time, it is one of the most important pieces in the set list: the beginning must be strong. This difficult place in the set list has been filled by different pieces, in different times. The second place in our set lists is generally a “medium sound” piece, if we decided the first one was “hard sound”. After this comes the first speech, presentation, and then we play a well-known cover to establish a closer contact with the audience, usually a tango.
Speeches are planned in the set list, but not fixed. There is a moment for the presentation of the group; there is another for offering CDs to the audience at the end the show; there is another for special pieces. In our 65-80 minutes performances, maybe four to six minutes are speech. An exception is El Payaso (The Clown), where sometimes we invite a couple of members of the audience to join us onstage. This can take some minutes. As we are not a well-known group, we find that a little bit of talking with the audience helps to relax from the sound of the guitars. It is also good to give the listener some images, so they can relate to the instrumental pieces and the attention is better engaged.
The hottest songs of the repertoire are usually at the final section of the set list. Since the Doble Presto is part of our set, we put it in the last encore, closing the performance.
Horacio Pozzo, Martín de Aguirre, Claudio Lafalce.
Revised January 2017
Additional Notes by Horacio Pozzo:
Bigtime is a guitar trio born in Buenos Aires, July 1996.
In 2003 Robert asked them to write about their work. So here it is!