Like Glenn Branca, Rhys Chatham‘s fame will always be for his use of multiple electric guitars, often in non-standard tunings and often at just-about-ear-splitting volume. The slight shame is that the guitar stuff is only one part of Chatham’s long and restless musical exploration: there’s also all his work as a trumpeter, as well as works for everything from two gongs to just-tuned piano to wind ensemble to full orchestra. And while the massed guitar resources may be similar to Branca, I’ve always felt that Chatham’s clang/clash/drone carried something almost ‘lyrical’, compared to Branca’s body blows.
A major force in the 70s-80s ‘downtown’ NYC scene, Chatham has spent the last 20 years as an ex-pat in Paris, where he’s continued ramping up the ambition of his musical visions. One of those visions became reality in 2005, when the City of Paris commissioned Chatham to compose a piece for their all-night La Nuit Blanche Festival. The result, A Crimson Grail, gathered 400 guitarists (w/ bass and percussion) in a marathon, three-movement sonic assault focused on Paris’ largest church, Sacré-Coeur. 10,000 people watched live, and 100,000 more on national TV. A fuzzy audio snapshot of the performance has been released on CD, but this Grail was so much a spectacle of a specific moment that any future performance would likely be nearly impossible, and in any case would be a very different beast indeed.
Well, that ‘beast’ has arrived, and this time on our side of the Atlantic. Chatham has reworked A Crimson Grail, this time for a slightly more ‘modest’ 200 guitars (and 16 bass guitars), and is in town to present it (along with section leaders David Daniell, Seth Olinsky, John King, and Ned Sublette) this Saturday, August 8th, as part of Lincoln Center Out of Doors. The performance is from 7:30 to 10 pm, at Damrosch Park (Southwest corner of the Lincoln Center Plaza, 62nd Street near Amsterdam Avenue).