Saturday, April 28, 2012

Noli Aurillo, The Portrait Of A Musician's Musician

Photos by Catrina Lee Gothong
Published in Manila Bulletin, Lifestyle: Arts & Culture, March 5, 2012

“A musician, if he’s a messenger, is like a child who hasn’t been handled too many times by man, hasn’t had too many fingerprints across his brain.” 
~ Jimi Hendrix (1942-1970)

THE GENTLE WEEPING of his acoustic guitar is like a spider’s web that gradually and steadily loops and coils around his audience until they become an acquiescent victim of its transcendent melody, as if every rhythmic line or phrase that his guitar evokes is an encounter in eternity.

 “If there are mad scientists in the world,” wrote the late Filipino rock goddess Anabel Bosch (vocalist of Analog and Elektrikoolaid) in her 2007 Multiply blog, “this man is definitely the mad guitarist. He had his dark cherry Takamine and played it as if it was a cross between an electric guitar, a violin and a cello (without the bows).  His fingers flew across the fret-board and this guy never uses a pick.  It’s insane to watch and it’ll definitely blow you away.”

Former Lifestyle editor of The Manila Times Rome Jorge said in his 2008 column, “He is the greatest Pinoy rock guitarist you might never had heard of. He is one of the señors of rock and deserves as much recognition from audiences as Wally Gonzalez of the Juan dela Cruz band and Jun Lupito.”

 A fan named Carrie wrote in her 2007 Friendster blog: “He could be classified as a jazz guitarist but, perhaps, a little too eccentric for the conventional audience. But, I swear, his performance of “Blackbird” on his guitar, which lay on his lap where he plucked out notes as a pianist, made my jaw drop and moved me to tears.”

But who is this man, and why has he touched many generations (both young and old) with the riveting sound of his music?

Musical Style, Technique and Modality

Noli Aurillo’s proclivity for guitar started as early as he could skulk his fingers across the fret-board. As a young boy from Tacloban, his parents discouraged him from becoming a musician because they thought there was no money in music. However, he was stubborn; instead, he persistently pursued his passion for music despite his parents’ disapproval. He would later recall how his big brother would painstakingly teach him how to play guitar chords and melodies. Since then, at the age of seven, he started playing acoustic guitar with moderate fluency. But he never had his own guitar until he worked in Malaysia as a musician at the age of 26.

His musical knowledge and ability are raw and eccentric, uncompromised by the conventional rules of music, as confined in the academe. His instinctive and intuitive ability to create emanates from the necessity to express the creative outburst of his soul. Like running water, it has to find its course on a long and winding channel, and by doing so, it creates seemingly unending rhythms and harmony along the way.

The fluidity of his music can be both poignant and impetuous, arising from within, that is, from the convulsion of his mind and feelings. His stylistic acoustic chill and improvisation characterize a diverse and unrestrained chord and string pitch manipulation. Most often, it has no climactic end, but a progression of another transitory phrase in between, generating a dramatic shift of ambient mood with varied tonal forms and textures.

For instance, in his 2009 adaptation of Michael Jackson’s hit songs titled “Michael Jackson Medley Solo Guitar by Noli Aurillo,” he embellishes the rhythms with contrapuntal texture of dense and supple values without losing the melodic structure of the original. Sleek and bubbly, he creates an expressionistic stratum of mood and rhythm unique to his own style and technique.

Conversely, to describe Noli Aurillo’s musical prowess based on recorded medium is an understatement, because the real essence of his music is both experiential and metaphysical. Only those who witnessed him perform live could describe how they are being touched and transformed by the phenomenological presence of his music.

“He played with such almost-painful-passion, as if he put his entire soul into bringing out his music, plucking strings with harmonics and syncopations.  His moments of genius came when he and his guitar seemed one, and his hand seemed to have a life of its own!” Thus, continued Carrie in her 2007 Friendster blog.

The power of Noli Aurillo’s music can be best relished and appreciated during his live performances. He simply shines on stage with ineffable brilliance in front of live audiences. His power is his passion to create, and his creation is his power to mesmerize and bring his audience to the magical encounter of his beautiful mind and soul.

Photos by Catrina Lee Gothong

All Roads Lead Home

Perchance, one of his magnificent opuses is an autobiographical composition titled “All Roads Lead Home.” It is an amalgam of classical and jazz instrumental music.

Here, Noli Aurillo conjures up a nostalgic journey of home and all the memories that surround it. The melancholic sound of acoustic guitar, in the beginning, slowly ascends like a full moon rising from the Eastern horizon and then, it gently perches on the surface of a serene lake. The smooth transition from somber tempo toward a jazzy beats in the middle creates a contrasting texture of mood and feeling, tepid and feisty, as though he was toying the gradual build up of his listeners’ emotion.

There is something in the song, deeper than its temporal representation, that whoever listens to its melody can dredge up his or her sentimental past. In fact, around the time when the song came out, a man who had just lost his wife named Mariel had found temporary refuge in the music.  “All Roads Lead Home,” he wrote on his YouTube post, “is a fine example of Noli Aurillo’s musical genius and deep humanity… The beautiful tune has given me something to be hopeful about.”

The melodramatic structure of the composition mimics one of Aristotelian’s principles in Poetics. There is a gradual ascent of tension in the beginning, conflict in the middle, and resolution in the end. Imagine listening to Beethoven’s Sonata No.14 or Bach’s Partita No.6 or Enio Morricone’s musical score “Once Upon a Time in America.” The musical quality of “All Roads Lead Home” is parallel to the texture and substance of these seemingly immortal symphonies, albeit Noli Aurillo’s oeuvre is told from the perspective of his own time and circumstance.

The emotive flow of the song can be strongly felt through the multifaceted layer of tonal values that it induces in the human emotion. This is also evident in other tracks of his 2006 album “Noli Aurilio’s Meanderings: The Prelude.” The songs “Rebirth,” “Your Friend” and “Ripple” have similar melodic theme and tonal values with “All Roads Lead Home” sans jazz rhythms.

Music is not just playing notes in melody; it is about translating emotions through notes, rhythms and harmony. The reason why music appeals to the human emotion rather than cognitive, because it is located within the limbic system of the human brain where the neural activities of art and emotions are.

Dulz Cuna, a professor of Humanities in UP Visayas Tacloban, aptly describes Aurillo’s music as “going into another dimension where abstraction, development, evolution and transcendence occur in a time capsule. I soak my soul in my own meanderings into Noli’s world and open up to a panorama of feelings and impulses that only Noli could ambient like magic.” (Introductory note to Aurillo’s 2006 album “MEANDERINGS: The Prelude”).

Music, therefore, is all about passion and emotion, elevating the human soul toward the metaphysical and mystical encounter of the Truth. The phenomenological experience of music can unite one’s being with other beings or the universe, for that matter, in peace and harmony. Passion and human emotion are salient elements that shape and give birth to the soul of any form of aesthetics.

Highlights of Noli Aurillo’s Career as Acoustic Guitarist and Musician

In a 1988 American movie titled “Saigon Commandos” directed by Clark Henderson, Noli Aurillo arranged the musical scoring with Samuel Asuncion. More than a decade later, he won the 2002 Awit Awards as best arranger with his rendition of “Dalawang Decada Ng Asin (Overture)” under Vicor Records.

During the 2nd International Silent Film Festival in 2008 held at the Shangri-la mall in Mandaluyong City, Noli Aurillo played live music with Talan, Wendel Garcia and Kakoy Legazpi to a German film “The Oyster Princess.”

In 2006, Noli Aurillo launched his first album titled “Noli Aurilio’s Meanderings: The Prelude.” It was held during this writer’s one-man show at The Podium in Mandaluyong City on September 19, 2006. In the same year, he arranged one of the songs in Mishka Adams’  “God Bless the Child” and in Myra David Ruaro’s “Skarlet: The Powder Room Stories,” both are jazz albums by two of the best female Filipino artists in the country.

The following year, the remaining pieces of his album were sold out at KC Concepcion’s 2007 Artist Fair Filipinas in Eastwood City from which Noli Aurillo was also one of the performers. Among those who bought the album were Sen. Kiko Pangilinan, Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano and KC Concepcion.

In early 2008, Noli Aurillo was included in an album “MGA Gitarista,” a collection of instrumental tracks by leading Filipino rock guitarists in the country, featuring Jun Lopito, RJ Jacinto, Francis Reyes of The Dawn, Mike Elgar of Rivermaya, Mong Alcaraz of Sandwich and Chicosci, Hale’s Roll Martinez, Rocksteddy’s Juven Pelingon, Slapshocks’ Lean Ansing , Pupil’s Yan Yuzon, Jeff de Castro of Kitchie Nadal, Ian Umali of POT, Jack Rufo of Neocolors and Barbie Almalbis. The album is a compendium of musical styles and genres from blues-rock to heavy metal, from jazz improvisation to classic “Pinoy rock.”

Currently, Noli Aurillo has three regular gigs at Skarlet Jazz Kitchen in Timog, Quzon City, Tago Jazz Bar in Quezon City, and Bar@1951 in Adriatico, Manila.

To sum, as a naturally gifted guitarist and musician, Noli Aurillo is both an impressionist and expressionist artist. The eccentricity of his musical genius subverts all genres. He is “All-in-One,” in a manner of speaking, a musician’s musician. He can play from rock to blues, from jazz to classical, from folk to pop music. He is simply an unparalleled legendary Filipino guitarist, a man whose propensity for music surpasses his own prodigious brilliance, as if no one could beat Noli Aurillo except Noli Aurillo himself.

As a person, he is a paradox of contradiction, living both a bohemian and a pragmatic lifestyle. He seizes the moment with such passion and, at the same time, reflects upon it as a lived and created moment. He can be shallow in one instance and profound in another; he can be gentle or jarring, extremely emotional or highly cerebral.  

At the end of Noli Aurillo’s music, as it always does, ‘all roads lead home’ to all of those who listen to the magical sound of his melody, literally and figuratively!

© Danny Castillones Sillada