"rhys chatham altered the dna of rock music. the new york-born composer began as a classically-trained flute prodigy, but by 1975, chatham had drastically changed course---having studied under terry riley and la monte young (whom he later went on to work with)---and was fusing the overtone-drenched minimalism of john cale and tony conrad with the relentless, elemental fury of the ramones. it was an inspired amalgamation — the textural intricacies of the avant-garde colliding with the visceral punch of electric guitar-slinging punk rock — and with it chatham created a new type of urban music. raucous and ecstatic, this sound energized the downtown new york scene throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s, prefigured the no wave movement and cast a huge influence over the subsequent work of chatham’s many protégés, including glenn branca and future members of sonic youth. chatham was also the founder of the music program at the kitchen in downtown manhattan in 1971, serving as its music director between 1971–73 and 1977–80, which gave him a significant impact on the moulding of the legendary downtown new york scene.
with his breakthrough piece, the seminal noise-rock piece, guitar trio (for 3 electric guitars, electric bass and drums---released in 1977) chatham became the first composer to make use of multiple electric guitars in special tunings to merge the extended-time music of the ’60s and ’70s with rock music. in 2008, to commemorate it’s 30th anniversary guitar trio was revisited in a series of concerts throughout the us & canada that saw chatham collaborate with many of the leading figures from the contemporary rock scene, seeing release on the table of elements label as the compilation, guitar trio is my life!
chatham continued pursuing the possibilities of this fusion throughout the 1980’s with pieces such as the tumultuous brass-based massacre on macdougal st (1982), and the soaring, euphoric masterpiece, die donnergötter (1986), but by the end of the decade was chafing against the logistical and financial constraints imposed upon him in the states; in his mind was a vast, unprecedented sound. relocating permanently from new york to paris, chatham began composing his masterpiece, a symphony for one hundred electric guitars, electric bass and drums. the result, an angel moves too fast to see (1989), one of the most extraordinary works in the minimalist canon, demonstrated the majesty inherent in chatham’s amplified imagination and cemented his reputation as a monolithic figure astride both rock and classical musics. the piece was toured throughout the usa, europe and in australia during the 1990’s.
in 2005 chatham was commissioned by the city of paris to write a new piece for 400 guitars. a crimson grail premiered at the basilica of sacré-coeur in the same year, having been created specifically to work with the specific architecture of the basilica, making use of its natural 15-second reverberation time. the musicians surrounded the audience, creating an antiphonal effect with the sound moving around the space from area to area. approximately 10,000 people were in attendance, with 100,000 more watching live on french television, with the recording being released as a crimson grail (for 400 guitars) on table of elements.
in 2009, when the lincoln center invited chatham to mount a crimson grail in new york at the lincoln center out of doors festival, the composition had to be completely reworked for the acoustics of an exterior, non-reverberant setting. recorded in lincoln center’s damrosch park, with 200 electric guitars, 16 electric basses, five conductors, and one percussionist, the outdoor version was released as a crimson grail and released on nonesuch in september 2015. the new york times called it “a meditative, slowly unfolding work, filled with huge, droning sound clouds that, like a pointillist landscape, reveal great detail on close inspection. it might justly be considered music to pray to.’’
chatham followed this up with two recordings for the brooklyn-based northern spy imprint. 2011 saw the release of outdoor spell, which saw chatham refocus on the trumpet---an instrument he began playing in the 1980’s and which was the focal point for some of his most loved releases from that period. chatham's trumpet work deploys extended playing techniques inherited from the glory days of the early new york minimalist and loft jazz period. 2013 saw the release of harmonie du soir, with the title track being chatham’s first major piece written for the configuration of six electric guitars, electric bass and drums since die donnergötter (1986). the dream of rhonabwy, a piece written for a 70-person brass ensemble and percussion, also featured. the cd version also included a 2012 re-recording of his “drastic classicism” piece from the 1970’s.
2014 saw the release of youuu + meee = weee, the triple-album cd of his collaborative work with charlemagne palestine on the sub rosa label, featuring chatham on electric guitar and trumpet, and palestine on organ and piano."
"rhys chatham returns with his first new album in 3 years, the apocryphal and enchanting pythagorean dream. primarily focused on the electric guitar (but also featuring flute and a bit of trumpet) the recording is named after the pythagorean guitar tuning it employs. the new album is a truly singular endeavour; composed, performed, produced, engineered and mastered solely by chatham."