The latest album from guitarist, composer and musical academic Christopher Libertino is titled Cartography, and it could easily be compared to a cinematic experience.
There is a sense of adventure throughout the nine tracks that gives the music a certain freedom.
“When I want to know what I’m doing, I play the keyboard. And if I don’t want to know what I’m doing, I play the guitar,” Christopher says. “There’s something about the way the guitar is laid out. [But] when you start getting into the effects stuff… I like to go off the trail and not know what I’ll run into.”
Formal vs self-education
Christopher, who currently lives in New York, has a music degree from Harvard and also studied at Berklee School of Music. Equally as impressive are the more than 50 scores he’s written for films. However, he is keen to highlight his less formal education.
“In terms of my [guitar] work, plus all of the things like effects, recording and producing, it was all self-taught,” he says.
“The education of buying records, studying liner notes then finding which person did what and watching them [in order] to pick stuff up, is as important as the book stuff. When people ask me questions, I’ll tell them what I think is useful, but what really matters is what’s coming out of the speakers, not how you got there.”
Application & autonomy
Christopher’s expansive musical knowledge enables him to take on diverse projects, such as composing for film, alongside his solo work. “Scoring is an applied art form,” he says. “You might write jazz or period music, but you’re there as the composer and to highlight somebody else’s vision, and that’s the important thing. In a film, it’s not about your music.
“If you don’t get that, there will be a lot of friction. You’re a piece of the puzzle and there might be people who have something to say about your work. You’re going to change it a lot! The contrast is, when I do my own records, I can do whatever I want, however I want. It’s a big dichotomy.”
Unlike Christopher’s first album, Traveller, from 2013, which featured vocals throughout, Cartography is a standalone instrumental set – a different prospect for the guitarist.
“I think instrumental music is a little bit harder,” he says. “With film music, it’s part of something else and a lot of the time you’re trying not to get noticed. With vocal music, you have lyrics for people to focus on and any guitar solo will be a small part.
“The instrumental record was about stepping away and doing something that doesn’t rely on the film or the vocals taking up space. It’s more about what I could do to keep people engaged across those minutes. It’s a huge challenge and, it being all up to me, was harder, for sure.”
Listening to the effects-driven and intricate sound of Cartography, you could be forgiven for thinking that Christopher rarely handles an acoustic guitar… “I totally get where you’re coming from!” he says with a laugh. “But one of my nicest guitars is a Martin [OM-42] acoustic, which was so expensive that I had an out-of-body experience when I bought it.
“It was one of those instruments that after I played in the store it kept gnawing away at me. It’s a magical guitar, where the songs pop out of it. So, after first playing it, I got a film [score job] and thought, ‘Oh good, now I can go get it’.
“Doing film music gives you somewhere to hide, and lyrics give you somewhere to hide. The ultimate end, though, where you have nowhere to hide, is the acoustic guitar.”
The literary influence behind the music
Christopher elaborates on the inspiration behind his diverse new album. “There was this book I read called Maps Of The Imagination by Peter Turchi, where the author looks at literature and writing but through the optic of maps.
“I had this thought about the composer as cartographer, which is great, because I love music from all over the world. I like African music and music from the Middle East. So the last time I listened to it I thought it was eclectic, but I think it hangs together pretty well!”
- Cartography is out now via Paradox Lost.