Friday, February 2, 2007

Not a wall of sound. More like a fogbank....

This week's through-the-eardrum wonder is all about the primary colors of rock and roll, but with a reduced palette. Well, okay. Not reduced in number, anyway. It'e Rhys Chatham's gloriously drum-free recording "A Crimson Grail" on Table of the Elements. One large, sprawly ensemble of several hundred guitarists and what appears to be a lone cymbal recorded live in the Sacre-Coeur in Paris.

It's interesting to hear the clapping and cheering between sections, since you get a nice sense for the size of the performance space. The architecture of the sections isn't particularly surprising - slowly building masses of strummed clouds [diaphanous in the first section, darker in the middle, and building to a huge chiming and ecstatic single-chord coda at the end] that rise and fill the space, and I'm sure that any recording would almost certainly miss the precise mix of individual voices or groups peeking through the giant cloud of massed tonalities in the space [something that I think never records]. But it's a wonderful thing to hear, having something of the same effect of my other favorite giant-mass-of-guitar-like-things piece, "Symphony #3 (Gloria) by Chatham's one time bandmate Glenn Branca. But where the Branca uses his work as a vehicle to investigate the overtone series - a kind of Mahler to Arnold Dreyblatt's Webern - Chatham's performance continually reminds us of the humble electric guitar itself. It's a lovely recording. Wish I'd been there.