Rhys Chatham – A CRIMSON GRAIL

Table Of The Elements

The first two days of October 2005 saw a massive gathering of people, guitars and amplifiers in and around the sanctuary of the Basilique du Sacré Coeur in Montmartre to watch a phalanx of 400 guitarists playing Rhys Chatham’s A Crimson Grail (Moves Too Fast To See) for 12 hours throughout the rainy night as part of the “citywide marathon of sound, image and movement” called Nuit Blanche (the first time something similar was tried in Italy a national blackout occurred). This 56-minute release captures three segments of the performance in what is more a celebration of an event than a formal document: the live recording is often blemished by voices, coughs, shouts and chatter from the huge audience, and apart from the composer, the only recognizable names among the musicians are bassist Ernie Brooks III and drummer Jonathan Kane. But when the music prevails, something special happens amidst these roaring cadenzas, in the guise of phantom harmonics and ghost voices. As Kane’s liners explain, the sonic architecture of Chatham’s writing takes advantage of the church dome’s interior to have the different sections “morphing in an organic way”. The three movements and the short encore captured on disc are pretty straightforward harmonically (at times too much so for my own taste), and the second part’s incessant tolling tests the patience somewhat before growing into an impressively thunderous finale. But the most mesmerizing passages, where a single gesture repeated by hundreds of hands elicits chimes of limpid beauty from that enormous mass of vibrating strings, are in themselves enough to make the disc worth hearing: they’re so intensely charged that one can’t help joining in with the enthusiastic applause-cum-yelps from the audience at the end of each section.

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