January 2007

Rhys Chatham — Guitar Trio
Presented by Rough Idea + Front Porch Productions
January 31, 2007Tranzac ClubToronto
Rock Overtones at Tranzac Club
by David Fujino with photos by Roger Humbert

It was a loud rock-out event.

Rock-out — because of guitarist Rhys Chatham plus eight electric guitarists relentlessly strumming a rhythmic four bar beat.

Rock-out — because of these now pulsating guitar and string drones that surely sent the players and most of the audience into the zone.

Ultimate rock-out — because of the audience's accumulated wonder — as from out of all this massing, amplified strumming and bowing of strings and time-accenting drums with hi-hat cymbals chomping away, there arose extreme and loud high voices that vibrated and whipped about furiously in our ears.

These overtones — these loud, layered and vibrating voices — are the note byproducts of the original pitch or note that gets struck on the instruments. These overtones are what Rhys Chatham and this particular gathering of musicians played together on this evening. All together, they really 'occupied' the room and mind.

I enjoyed the experience.

It was communal music instead of traditional concert music — and although you wouldn't necessarily buy the CD recording of this evening's performance — this is because it was art music, event music, performance art, one-of-a-kind, a collaboration art, all combined — a different musical animal for sure, although in many ways, just a good old group jam on overtones.

Rhys Chatham

(l to r) Matt Rogalsky, David Daniell,
Rose Bolton, Julie Penner, Owen Pallett

Technically, there's of course a lot of knowledge and tradition and strong concept behind what initially looks and sounds like a simplistic guitar-led group vamp.

Rhys Chatham has studied LaMonte Young's music, played the trumpet in the 1990's, and then returned to playing the guitar. In the 1970's, he had begun programming music shows at the Knitting Factory in New York. His artistic associates include people like visual artist Robert Longo, Brian Eno, Robert Fripp and Fred Frith, and composers Morton Feldman and Morton Subotnick. While his music is often described as Minimalist, you can hear that Rhys has also absorbed, to good effect, the expressions of groups like the Ramones.

This evening was an unpretentious example of the integration of rock into art music, and it began appropriately with two visual/sound projections on a white screen, courtesy of Toronto musician/artist Eugene Martynec.

In Martynec's first projection, a static camera has recorded people, cycles, and cars in China (Beijing, perhaps?) as they pass by a stone gateway. A recorded piano cascades and moves stepwise in chords. Arranged in a grid (checkerboard fashion) — and propelled by a voiceover male voice speaking Chinese — one street picture soon grows into forty; or finally ends up as one small image suspended in a white Minimalist space. Individualism is possible, even in a populous, multi-gridded changing society, the projection seemed to say and show.

In the second, and amusing, 16-point grid projection, a pair of moving lipstick-red lips are speaking vowels? consonants? diphthongs? mere gibberish? in what language? on what occasion? As the multi-tiered lips lose detail, then overlap and evolve at one moment into a textured, folkish quilt, and then at another moment stand still as a stark colour field painting, static electronic sounds, howling voices, and a drone, become more pronounced.

Martynec's two pieces were a fitting prelude to the guitar and string sounds that followed.

Thanks to Rhys Chatham and to the gathered musicians, the audience got immersed in circles of vibrating overtones, good loud overtones.

Trance, and out.

The musicians

Rhys Chatham (Paris)
David Daniell (NYC/Atlanta), Colin Fisher (Toronto), Geordie Haley (Toronto), Brian Kroeker (Toronto)
Bill Parsons (Toronto), Matt Rogalsky (Kingston), Paul Swoger-Ruston (Toronto), Bill Brovold (Detroit)
Kevin Lynn (Toronto)
Glenn Milchem (Toronto)
all from Toronto
Anne Bourne (cello), Nick Storring (cello), Rose Bolton (violin), Owen Pallett (violin)
Julie Penner (violin), Mika Posen (viola)

We welcome your comments and feedback
David Fujino
• • • • • •
Roger Humbert
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