venerdì 10 ottobre 2014

Rhys Chatham: the sound of Gods

You want to play. You worship the electric guitar. But you want to play contemporary music. You believe in epic. Heavy for you is synonymous with enthusiasm. Rhys Chatham is your man!Rhys Chatham was born in New York on 19 September 1952. New York. How much the music of the last two centuries gives to this city? How many artists has housed, fed, launched and then forgot this unique city, this experiment in architecture and living as a crossroads of cultures and races, financial center and targetof any terrorist because symbol of an incredible cross of ways of being, of living , of believe and existing? Chatham seems to be one of its perfect products, a summary, a distillation of what we felt and we still feels vibrate and play in that city. Son of a novelist with the hobby of the harpsichord and a playwright, he gets in contact with the world of classical music since childhood, taking the flute as an instrument and addressing himself early to the world of contemporary music through the lessons that followed at the Manhattan School of Music and at New York University, where his teacher was Morton Subotnick, who allowed him the first contacts with the world, then unexplored and mysterious, of the electronic music.
".. I grew up listening and playing music of Elizabethan composers such as Giles Fanaby and John Bull. Later I became a flutist, and just through my new instrument I move my first steps toward contemporary music, learning the whole literature on contemporary flute, playing the "Sequenzas" by Berio, the "Sonatine for Flute" by Boulez, "Density 21.5 "Varese, etc.It was interpreting these compositions that, still a teenager, I decided I wanted to become a composer, so I started taking lessons from Donald Stratton and Tom Manoff at the Manhattan School of Music and, later, with Morton Subotnik, who at the time was teaching at New York university. " retrospective interview on OndaRock by Mattia Paneroni (
During the same period, sharing courses with other future luminaries of contemporary music as Charlemagne Palestine, he came in contact with Tony Conrad and in particolar La Monte Young, which immediately started excellent relations, becoming his pupil and collaborator as his harpsichord’s tuner and a musician in his project called “Theater of Eternal Music”.

“At New York University I met Charlemagne Palestine, Maryanne Amacher and, later, the French composer Eliane Radigue. These were people, more than others, to stir in me an interest in current musical minimalism. Charlemagne was already composing music characterized by a long duration. With him in 1970, I went to a concert of La Monte Young, neither of us had ever heard him and we were surprised that there was someone before us achieving long-term music! So I decided to study with La Monte and to propose myself to him as his harpsichord’s tuner in "just intonation" (which implies a homogeneous pitch of the strings, allowing them to simultaneously produce the same note) in exchange for lessons ( I became so expert that I made it a profession, tuning instruments by Gustav Leonhardt, Albert Fuller, Rosylyn Turek and once even Glenn Gould!). " retrospective interview on OndaRock by Mattia Paneroni (
After having worked as a musician in the band of Tony Conrad and as a flutist in the exploratory band Musica Elettronica Viva, experiences that involved him in an intense season of concerts throughout the first half of the 70s, he was struck down by the arrival of the new movement of rock of those years: punk.

“Until 1976 I had never been to a rock concert and Peter thought to take me to see the Ramones. As I said earlier, what I heard changed my life forever. Peter, Jill and Arthur were already composing material influenced by rock and I started soon. Initially, all the artists in SoHo were going to CBGB's to hear new bands and it seemed that half the audience was made up exclusively by them, very soon, however, I began to notice how the other half of the audience was composed of members of those bands that would be exhibited in that place! It was great and we seemed to be part of a tribe. It was my people and we had more or less the same age, all of them.” retrospective interview on OndaRock by Mattia Paneroni (

In that period, between 1975 and 1977, Chatham began to express himself also as a composer, with the aim to capitalize with originality the incredible background that he had accumulated. Crucial, in this view, was the contact with the new musical scene which he met in CBGB's, true temple of punk. Realizing that the music of the Ramones could have unexpected and incredible points of contact with the conceptual ruminations of the minimalist avangarde pushed Chatham composing Guitar Trio, a seminal work for the whole corpus of his production, constantly revived throughout his career. The later works, such as Drastic Classicism, Die Donnergotter and Guitar Ring, were all designed for ensemble representing an extension of the traditional power rock trio (bass, drums and guitar), with a variable number of guitarists used in performances. All compositions revolved around the search by Chatham for a synthesis between the traditional harmonic consonance of minimalists like La Monte Young and the revolutionary approach to the punk’s guitar, based on finding a personal style, categorically rejecting the virtuosismo technician.
“The beauty of the punk movement in New York was a shared sentiment against any musical virtuosity. It almost seemed that no musician was interested in learning to play his instrument. we were indeed interested in learning how to play it in an individual way. Think about Teenage Jesus And The Jerks by Lydia Lunch: the played elementary rhythmics accompaniment with a single chord generated by out of tunes guitars. Everything was so stupid as great at the same time.This new philosophy led to a deep and unconscious contamination of rock, allowing the use of fees that were exclusive preserved for classical music. This allowed even to people like me to play minimalism in rock contexts.” retrospective interview on OndaRock by Mattia Paneroni (
In the ensemble involved in recording and performing these pieces, at the same side of Chatham, took turns many young people who later became famous as Glenn Branca and future Sonic Youth Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo, who were part of the guitar ensemble by Branca himself. The same Glenn Branca has often been sent closet to Chatham, having been part of the same experimental scene in New York, leading by as much as the minimalism as no-wave, and having subsequently developed compositions based on the consonance of electric guitars tuned in an unconventional manner.

“It often happens that people compare my work to Glenn, because he has always used instruments similar to mine. When he composed his first opera for six electric guitars (I think was called "Instrumental For 6 Electric Guitars"), I thought he was imitatine me: the instrumentation used was certainly similar to that used by me and, as if this were not enough, until then I had always listen to him playing with band that hadc at least one singer. But when I listened to his more recent work, I noticed how they were different from anything he had done before and changed my mind. After all, nobody can claim the copyright on the instrumentation ...... Since the beginning of his career, Glenn was interested in working with "just intonation" and to use more traditional tuning systems than me: this resulted a very significant difference of sound between our work. Moreover, in the score of "Guitar Trio" there is no fingerings for left hand guitarists: every melodic nuance is necessarily generated by the harmonics. Glenn, from the moment he began to compose instrumental pieces for guitar (it was 1979), has always preferred working on the notes produced by the slide of his fingers on the keyboard of the guitar and this allowed him to create rhythms overwhelming.I have never been particularly attracted by the systems of tuning, because I get busy with them in abundance during the studies. From time to time I find myself having to provide special tunings, but I consider it only a means to reach an end, and, above all, it doesn’t characterize the sound of my piece as it can happen with the Glenn’s music.
Moreover, the work of Glenn and mine have often been treated simply because they expect guitar instrumental parts related to minimalism in an almost accidental way. Except as described, I think our similarities end there.I am a great friend of Sonic Youth and occasionally we play together, although none of them has never been an effective member of my bands. I think their contribution to rock was unique, especially for having gone into some ideas that came from the Downtown art scene of the seventies, and havin encoded them in a purely "pop" language, their proposal, in short, represented something new and I have always loved.I believe that my work and that of Glenn have in a sense helped to create a cultural environment that produced bands like Sonic Youth and Swans, apart from that, I think they have made a significant contribution to music, but separate from my work or Glenn’s.”
retrospective interview on OndaRock by Mattia Paneroni

"I could not understand. Something did not return. The musicians seemed to do nothing but strum. Yet, over our heads, it was waving something wonderful. Lee Ranaldo "Lee Ranaldo, in June 1979, witnessing a Guitar Trio’s performance, one of the more mythological pieces of music in history of rock and which the same Chatham will always be fond of to the point of publishing on the label Table of the Elements an incredible anthology with a box of three CDs! At that time, Chatham was already a key figure in the New York minimalist and musical director of The Kitchen (local downtown gallery founded in 1971 by Woody and Steina Vasulka, located in the heart of Greenwich Village in Manhattan), the basic idea is simple and original: connect the four chords used by punk and Ramones with the repetitiveness of the minimalist music of Reich and Glass and the energy of rock music exploiting the instrument fetish par excellence: the electric guitar.

A dark, brooding, obsessive sound yet epic and heavy, heavy as the New York of those years, crushed in an unprecedented economic crisis, devoted to deeper nihilism and hedonism that was ripening the rot fruit of No Wave , season of music and artists that Chatham will participate with the same groups with absurd names like Gynecologists, Tone Death, Meltdown. No traces remain about them, even though it seems, Brian Eno would have wanted them on the "No New York" compilation, generating a mythological controversy still not exhausted. But that sound, that attitude, that idea, it will play almost endlessly, drawing a perfect and ideal soundscape for Gotham City in those years and that will move the aforementioned Glenn Branca and Sonic Youth. Despite Chatham is (and will always remain ) the man of Guitar Trio and the man of the great orchestras for electric guitar, his music journey winds through nearly forty years of his career, always marked by a restlessness, a yearning, a restlessness that compels him to find always something new and to continuous changes of front. In the 80s of the yuppies and Ronald Reagan’s selfishness Chatham public shortly, he is a name little known but basically chatted, but to listen to that huge mass of sound by the name of "An Angel Moves Too Fast To See, composed in 1989 for one hundred electric guitars, we had to wait for another twelve years ...
With the arrival of '90, Chatham left New York and moved to Paris, where he still resides. Already in the U.S. he had been fascinated by the Chicago and Detroit techno, but it’s in Europe that there was the electronic’s change, also fruit of a new love for what happens in clubs and rooms of the new generation’s laptop. Meanwhile, Chatham has paid in person the price of his own fanaticism for sound: after playing for fifteen years with terrifying volumes he got hearing problems, in the form of tinnitus, which obliges him to abandon temporarily his beloved guitar. In 1990 he was in Strasbourg for a performance for one hundred guitars, suddenly he heard a loud sound, light, directly in his ear. "At first I thought it was an audio signal, a spy, so I asked the engineer to turn off all sounds. But there was no signal ... " he said in an interview for the italian magazine BlowUp" It's like having a constant drone in your head ... In fact I find my tinnitus rather charming - this should not be surprising, given that I am a minimalist. Imagine: I have this 15kHz frequency that evolves continuously directly into my ears ... it’s fantastic. I do not even need an iPod to listen to great music. So now that I stopped worrying, I decided to take up with the 100 Guitar Orchestra ... " Surprisingly, however, in 2002 the Table of the Elements published a triple box containing materials ranging from 1971 to 1989: Chatham lives a second youth out of time .... to A Crimson Grail ... and the new tour with Guitar Trio. The thing that I personally find most intriguing about a character like Chatham it’s his amazing ability to bring to people who never wanted to be of interest or who that ever have lack of interest to the higher value of the avant-garde music : that of being a mere music’s sensation, breaking some sort of collective imagination that sees the sad and dusty academic who composes slowly to the table, and instead giving the fantastic, almost intoxicating feeling that it may arise spontaneously by anyone, by any means, regardless of technical knowledge of who makes it, and above all can be perceived, recognized as his own and even loved by many more people than expected, certainly for the event itself, but more countless people who own swept away by something that musically, on paper, would never have imagined they might please. A music like "A Crimson Grail" is the vanguard that is played by a myriad of people who do not even know what avant-garde or contemporary music is but can play it very well, and please a lot of people who don’t know who are Cage and Schoenberg, but are able to like this music, which can transfer and communicate to a wider public a right, beautiful and healthy message. Chatham's music conveys a sense of brightness, almost real joy, years away from certain sad and gloomy forms, from the anxiety and heaviness that sometimes cross the contemporary music. There is such a desire for epic, a good energy, almost psychedelic that grabs us and drags elsewhere, but without that feeling of "travel junkie" that sometimes accompanies the psychedelic, but just pure joy: "... I’m more interested about the bright side of things, and even the metal can not do anything ... what I say to people: I'm not into doom, I'm not into Gloom", I am interested in the sheer joy of heavy metal!"

Nessun commento: