Though technical skill is often one of the qualities by which art is assessed, the value that virtuosity imbues in a work is rarely linear. Nels Cline says he is not interested in “virtuosity for its own sake,” but he is inspired by music that is instinctual and innovative in a subtle way—like punk rock. “I think sometimes virtuosity in music is extremely cold, in spite of how much effort it might have taken to create and manifest a virtuosic piece,” Cline says. “That said, when it’s lucid, when you’re being spoken to, when you’re on a ride, it can be the most exhilarating thing in the world. I still strive for that.”
Composer and guitarist Nels Cline explains the distinction between when virtuosity is an “aesthetic obstacle” to music and when it “changes the way you think about sound.” Filmed at Tired Hands Brewing Company on March 14, 2018.
Nels Cline is a composer and guitarist whose 40-year recording and performing career spans jazz, rock, punk, and experimental. Supported by a Center grant, Cline’s June 2, 2018, concert featured a 17-piece ensemble performing new interpretations of material composed or performed by Philadelphia-based musical pioneers. Best known as the lead guitarist in the band Wilco, Cline has received many accolades, including four Grammy Award nominations.