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sonicl 10.17.2006 03:06 AM

Rhys Chatham press release (Aug 2006)
August 11, 2006

For Immediate Release from Table of the Elements
Friday, August 11, 2006


WHAT DO YOU DO when you've already done it all?

Rhys Chatham is one of the most versatile and significant figures in all of modern music, and if you don't know the name, you've heard the reverberations of his influence. And it would seem that he's done it all.

A classically-trained prodigy, Chatham was protegee to the world-renowned pianist Glenn Gould, and a student under composers Morton Subotnick and La Monte Young. In 1971, at the age of 19, he founded the profoundly influential music program at The Kitchen in New York City, which launched the careers of a generation of avant luminaries, including Laurie Anderson and Brian Eno.

In 1975 Chatham had an epiphany at a concert by the Ramones. His mission: to alter the DNA of rock by splicing the overtone-drenched minimalism of John Cale and Tony Conrad with the elemental fury of punk. The amalgamation was inspired, and it energized the downtown New York scene throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s, making Chatham a founding father of the notorious No Wave movement. Chatham's influence spread even further as former students and ensemble members, including Glenn Branca and Sonic Youth, injected his raucous, ecstatic sound into the rock mainstream. In 1982, he even took to the road with Fab Five Freddy, marking hip-hop's first excursion into the heartland.

Throughout the 1980s, Chatham's ensemble continued to grow in size and scope until it became an enormous amplified orchestra. His 1989 masterpiece, _An Angel Moves Too Fast to See_, scored for 100 electric guitars, bass and drums, is one of the most extraordinary works in the minimalist canon and cemented Chatham’s reputation as a monolithic figure astride both rock and classical musics.

Since 1989, Chatham has received the patronage of Europe's most prominent institutions and municipalities, and his symphonies have been staged dozens of times around the globe. Most recently, the city of Paris commissioned from Chatham an epic piece for 400 guitars, which was presented at the largest church in France. Witnessed by tens of thousands of jubilant fans -- and glimpsed by hundreds of thousands more on television -- the event created a national sensation.

So, what do you do when you've already done it all? You get back to basics. You jam econo; you Get in the Van. You get down to . . . Essentials.

In September 2006, that's what Rhys Chatham will do. He's leaving his home in Paris and he's going to Georgia, USA, deep in the heart of the Dirty South. He's renting a van and hitting the road.

Rhys Chatham has started a heavy metal band.

Informed by decades of exploration in raw, electric minimalism and inspired by the slow-motion grinding of bands like Sleep, Sunn O))) and Earth, Chatham breaks down the conventions of the genre, reveals the fundamentals, then turns them inside-out. The name says it all: Rhys Chatham's Essentialist. Chatham's band-mates are a talented young group of New York musicians, including members of San Agustin and Jonathan Kane's February, and together they conjure a hallucinatory, mind-crushing form of metal unlike anything you've ever heard.

Rhys Chatham's Essentialist is a hypnotic, exhilarating and sometimes harrowing journey to the core of a brave new sound, one that is all about the essentials; one that IS essential.

Just like Rhys Chatham.


Sat September 2 - Atlanta GA - Eyedrum/Table of the Elements Festival**
Sun September 3 - Atlanta GA - Eyedrum/Table of the Elements Festival
Tues September 5 - Knoxville TN - The Bijou Theatre
Wed September 6 - Asheville NC - The Orange Peel
Thurs September 7 - Chapel Hill NC - Local 506
Fri September 8 - Philadelphia PA
Sat September 9 - Boston MA
Sun September 10 - New Haven CT - BAR
Mon September 11 - Brooklyn NY - Issue Project Room**
Tues September 12 - Purchase NY - South (Purchase University)
Wed September 13 - TBA
Thur September 14 - New York NY - Tonic
Fri September 15 - Buffalo NY - Soundlab
Sat September 16 - Cleveland OH - The Beachland Ballroom
Sun September 17 - Detroit MI - Bohemian National Home
Wed September 20 - Chicago, IL - The Empty Bottle/The AiMM Festival

**Appearing as Rhys Chatham's Guitar Army
* * * * *

There's a reason Rhys Chatham's name isn't as well known as some (say, Glenn Branca): while his influence has been extensive, his discography and live stateside performances haven't. However, Table of the Elements is setting out to change all of that in a big way in 2006.

For starters, in March 2006 the label brought Rhys to the US to perform his massed-guitar material for the first time in 20 years. Leading his Guitar Army, Rhys toured throughout the South, including shows in Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Louisiana and Texas (plus appearances at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh and the Wexner Center in Columbus, Ohio), before finishing up big, headlining the wildly success Table of the Elements showcase at Austin's annual South by Southwest festival. Rhys topped an unbelievable bill that included Tony Conrad, Arnold Dreyblatt & His Orchestra of Excited Strings, Zeena Parkins, Jonathan Kane's February, San Agustin, Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore and others -- and he brought down the house.

Then, just a few weeks ago, Table of the Elements (via its new Radium imprint label) released the bulk of Rhys's guitar-based material. DIE DONNERGOTTER (TOE-CD-801) contains Chatham's major pieces from the late 70s and early 80s, including the No Wave tumult of "Guitar Trio", and the ecstatic title track. Best of all, it's available as a lavishly packaged, limited-edition double LP (TOE-LP-801).

Also available is Chatham's masterpiece, AN ANGEL MOVES TOO FAST TO SEE (TOE-CD-802), scored for 100 electric guitars, electric bass and drums. It's one of the most extraordinary works in the minimalist canon, and demonstrates the majesty inherent in Chatham’s amplified imagination. Now widely available for the first time, this lavish CD presents this sonic revolution in all its glory, and cements Chatham’s reputation as a monolithic figure astride both rock and classical musics. It, too, is available on limited-edition vinyl (TOE-LP-802), so get yours while you can!

In July 2006, the luxuriously packaged 2xCD FIELD GUIDE TO TABLE OF THE ELEMENTS sampler comes out (TOE-CD-90). It features a previously unreleased track by Rhys, simply titled "100 Guitars." It's self-explanatory and thoroughly wonderful. The lavish release comes in a vertical book-style format, and contains a booklet with photographs and notes by maverick journalist Steve Dollar, a poster/discography, and rare and/or previously unreleased tracks by Tony Conrad, Zeena Parkins, Arnold Dreyblatt, San Agustin, Jonathan Kane and Leif Inge.

Next, in September 2006, the label is bring Rhys back to the states. He'll headline TABLE OF THE ELEMENTS FESTIVAL NO. 4 in Atlanta -- twice. On September 2, he'll perform some of his most vital 70s- and 80s-era material, with a band that will include Jonathan Kane (Swans, La Monte Young) and Ernie Brooks (Modern Lovers). Then on September 4, Rhys will close the festival with the world premiere of his new band, Rhys Chatham's Essentialist. Yes, it's Rhys's just-intonation, minimalist heavy-metal band.

Immediately after the festival, Rhys and Essentialist will tour for two weeks, including tentative shows in New York, New England, the South and the Midwest. The tour will culminate with an appearance at The Wire's annual festival at the Empty Bottle in Chicago on September 20, where it's rumored that Rhys will share a bill with the elusive Jandek. Then it's straight to the recording studio -- look for Essentialist's debut CD in early 2007.

Things don't stop there. In October 2006, Table of the Elements will release its third Chatham title of the year, 1971's TWO GONGS (TOE-CD-73). Pitchfork says that it "sounds not so much like an idealized Music of the Spheres as it is a 'Music of Two Enormous Fucking Ball Bearings the Size of Jupiter Grinding Together like Electric Teenagers'. Heavenly, yes, but with enough sharp metal shavings and distorted sparks as to spray in your eyes over its sixty minutes." Wow.

Finally, in December 2006, Table of the Elements will release A CRIMSON GRAIL, Rhys Chatham's 2005 orchestra for 400 guitars. It was commissioned by the city of Paris and presented at the largest church in France, the basillica of Sacre Coeur. Witnessed by tens of thousands of jubilant fans -- and glimpsed by hundreds of thousands more on television -- the event created a national sensation; the CD features lots of unpublished photographs and liner notes by maverick journalist Steve Dollar.

It's a big year for Rhys -- thanks for listening!

Moshe 10.17.2006 03:19 AM

Thanks sonicl. That orchestra for 400 guitars sounds promising.

sonicl 10.17.2006 04:08 AM

More Rhys Chatham stuff:

Middle-age riot - Avant-garde veteran Rhys Chatham turns up the volume
by Bill Brovold, 9/13/2006

If you have ever heard a concert by Rhys Chatham, you know it can be terribly, brutally loud. Not the kind of loud that an amplifier alone can make, but the kind a scientist of noise can make. A guy who knows what combination of tones and volume will produce the most overtone intervals and make your brain say, "I feel funny," or, "I hear things that aren't really there." It's not something to subject yourself to on a regular basis, but it's definitely an experience to have at some point in your life: 150 decibels, about the level of a jet engine at takeoff. That's a live experience.

Rhys Chatham has paid the price for creating that level of sound — he has a pronounced case of tinnitus. To most people, a constant ringing in the ears would be annoying, and probably debilitating. But not Chatham. As he says in his upbeat way, "It's kind of beautiful, like having these wonderful minimalist tones ringing all the time, without having to wear an iPod. The guitars accentuate those tones, and play off them."

Those would be the axes in the Essentialist. It's the latest incarnation of the avant-garde aesthetic he's been perfecting since the early '70s, when he set the tone for New York City's "downtown" scene with his music program at the Kitchen, the city's famous performance, video, and music space. Chatham brought in notables such as Philip Glass, Robert Fripp and Brian Eno, Laurie Anderson, and Steve Reich, and was a significant influence on the work of Sonic Youth, as well as the post-rock scene that would flourish in the late '80s and early '90s.

In recent years Chatham has been living in Paris, performing his 100-guitar orchestral pieces throughout Europe and releasing recordings of improvisational trumpet, electronics and percussion. He hadn't removed himself completely from the U.S. scene, but compared to his followers, understudies, and copycats, Chatham has been far enough removed that it seemed he was gone, except as a historical figure.

That changed with a brief U.S. tour earlier this year, when Chatham shared the bill with old friends like legendary minimalist violin player and filmmaker Tony Conrad and Jonathan Kane's February (Kane co-founded Swans in 1981). Chatham's band included Kane on drums, current collaborator David Daniell on guitar, guitarist Chris Brokaw (formerly of Come and GG Allin's band), Tortoise's Doug McCombs and Chatham's longtime bandmate Ernie Brooks (co-founder of the Modern Lovers back in 1969). It was a showcase of both contemporary and legendary avant-rock players, with the three bandleaders each having collaborated at one time or another with Young, the biggest name in minimalism, as far back as 1961.

Chatham says he hadn't been planning on working with Conrad again after those shows. But when Conrad performed in Paris recently to a sold-out house, Chatham sat in as a way of getting into the concert. Based on the success of the Paris gig, the two now have plans to revive their collaboration, a partnership that's lasted more than three decades.

Chatham has assembled a new band for his current tour. But the Essentialist also features a new approach. This time around it's the heaviest metal, distorted, slow, and — of course — loud.

To draw on heavy metal is a logical step in Chatham's progression of sonic boundary-breaking. He describes how guitarist David Daniell (also of the improvisational trio San Agustin) played him "Dope Smoker" by drone-metal heavyweights Sleep. They both liked the stripped-down aspect of the metal guitar sounds, the way the track relied on the bludgeoning repetition of a riff instead of extraneous material like hair, the human voice or guitar solos.

With all of that removed, only the essentials of the music were left, and Chatham and Daniell then applied that concept to their new project, rounding out their ranks with guitarist Adam Wills (Bear in Heaven), bassist Byron Westbrook (Winter Pageant), and Bear in Heaven drummer Joe Stickney. But while The Essentialist is based in the concepts and sound quality of the drone metal scene currently led by bands like Sleep and Sunn 0))), Chatham and his band also try to remove much of the inherent darkness in that music, and instead focus on the liberating quality of sound stripped bare. It's about celebrating the joy of metal, not the pain of it.

That's except for the loudness, of course. It's both a precaution and a compliment that you'll receive free earplugs at Chatham's Detroit show. Are you ready to make your brain feel funny?

sonicl 10.17.2006 04:09 AM

And more:

Chatham's Essentialist Empty Bottle - 9/20/06

SO RHYS CHATHAM, who just turned 54, has a metal band now. If he’s suffering a midlife crisis and Essentialist is his red sports car, it’s actually a bit of a step down for him. Considering the size of the ensembles he’s assembled during his long career—his composition A Crimson Grail, a recording of which is forthcoming in December on Table of the Elements, calls for 400 electric guitars—starting a five-piece band is more like taking a vow of poverty. This is a man who recently told the Detroit Metro Times he actually enjoys his chronic tinnitus: “It’s kind of beautiful, like having these wonderful minimalist tones ringing all the time, without having to wear an iPod.” (Of course, he’s also said he took up the trumpet because the necessary breath control cured his impotence, so perhaps a grain of salt or two is in order.)

Chatham certainly didn’t form Essentialist to prove he could still cut it in that macho sound world where insane volume levels are the preferred method of cockfighting—his credibility on that front is already permanently assured. He has a background as a classical pianist, studied with La Monte Young, and in the 70s curated experimental-music programs at the Kitchen in New York, but all along he’s been the most rock ’n’ roll guy in the downtown avant pantheon—more so than John Cale, never mind Glenn Branca. Even if you don’t know that he fell hard for the Ramones, you can hear it in his aggressive take on minimalism’s worship of the overtone: the cranked-up guitars have a searing metallic brutality, like someone shaking a huge sheet of steel, and the rhythms are mostly simple and backbeat driven. Die Donnergötter, a recent collection of small-band pieces from the 70s and 80s (all of which also appear on the 2002 box set An Angel Moves Too Fast to See), sounds like the good parts of every Sonic Youth record run together. Chatham’s the perfect poster boy for the fusion of avantgarde precision and rock ’n’ roll aggression that came out of the New York underground scene of the 80s—or he would’ve been, if he hadn’t expatriated to Paris at the end of the decade and become one of those artists more heard about than heard.

For much of the 90s Chatham continued to pop up here and there, recruiting a hundred or so local guitarists to shiver the heavens by planging ritualistically through one of his mesmerizingly simple scores, and lately the Table of the Elements label has embarked on a series of reissues and new releases, the aforementioned collections among them. The aptly named Essentialist, which debuted earlier this month in Atlanta, is a leaner, meaner beast, and according to one reviewer inspired violinist Tony Conrad to dance around the room like a mad hippie. Chatham says the idea is to break metal down to its essence and explore what makes it truly heavy, and he claims to be inspired by such bands as Earth, Sleep, and Sunn 0))).

This may well make Essentialist redundant out of the box—after all, this has all been done, right? Everybody knows what makes metal heavy: the bottom end, the distortion, the brutal volume. How can you strip it down further than Sunn 0))) already has, especially with five people in your band?

In Essentialist Chatham is joined by drummer Joe Stickney of Bear in Heaven, bassist Byron Westbrook of Winter Pageant, and two fellow guitarists: Adam Wills, also of Bear in Heaven, and David Daniell, who’s played in San Agustin and in February, an ongoing concern of former Swans drummer Jonathan Kane, himself an occasional Chatham collaborator. None of those bands—Bear in Heaven, Winter Pageant, San Agustin, February—is metal. Only Kane’s project is even particularly aggressive. Still, when Essentialist was setting up at the Empty Bottle and I realized just how far the soundwoman had turned up the drum mikes, I felt actual fear. Because I’m a self-destructive moron, my ears were going commando—I was having the same feeling you get at a street demonstration when the crowd’s packed too tight for you to run if the tear gas starts flying.

No one’s actually followed through with a performance that justified that kind of fear since Keiji Haino’s Fushitsusha literally made me hallucinate at the same venue ten years ago. And for better or worse, it wasn’t justified in this case. The band opened with a series of tantalizing, ringing open chords, building exquisitely, and then the two young guys penetrated them with crunchy, high-speed metal riffing. (Chatham’s no guitar hero himself—his playing was a little stiff and tentative—but Daniell in particular could do this stuff for a living if he wanted to.) It wasn’t so much like Earth or Sleep or Electric Wizard or Khanate or the rest of the death-by-tar-pit gang—it was more like, well, Metallica. Maybe I heard a little Venom in there, even. This was fine by me: it made Essentialist sound less like a backhanded tribute, an attempt by “artists” to deconstruct and appropriate, and more like a weird-ass version of metal these five guys picked up because it happens to be the kind they really fucking like.

Every time I hear a band that can find the perfect base-of-the-spine riff and ride it to infinity, I always wonder why no one’s thought to do it before—even if that very afternoon I was listening to a record that used the same trick. It really does sound fresh every time if it’s done right. (Here’s how Chatham described his method ten years ago: “My goal is to get in touch with my audience’s spirit-body by creating a series of extremely repetitious, mind-deadening sounds.”) Add to this unassailable riffing Chatham’s signature swells of droning, oddly tuned guitar—the sonic equivalent of that tranced-out thousand-yard stare he gets—and it’s possible to convince yourself that this really is a new thing under the sun. It’s not metal reduced to its essence; it’s more like metal plus something else, something you didn’t think could quite fit.

After a stretch of high-energy minimalist thrash, the band backed off from headbanging territory. Chatham’s chords rang out amid a double E-Bow drone and Stickney’s methodical drum detonations (he reminded me more than a bit of Kane on those terrifying early Swans records, which ought to get more credit for anticipating the doom boom). I swayed, I tranced. There was a bit of dancing. I thought, yeah, these guys would do just fine touring with High on Fire or Isis or one of those other artsy metal bands with crossover appeal—just so long as they don’t hook up with guys trying to pass themselves off as truly evil and dark. Because even when Chatham’s music is at its most martial and intimidating, something about the way he leads an ensemble makes it sound ridiculously joyous. No matter how punishing the volume or how strictly mapped the tones, the music is always crowned with a sort of playful shimmering. The overtones seem to giggle, as I think I might have myself when the silver-threaded gnat notes started floating out of the noise and dancing in my skull—I looked at the three guitarists to see whose hands were moving, and of course no one’s were.

“That’s the end of our scheduled set,” Chatham announced after locating the lone vocal mike. “But would you like to hear one more number?” he added, affecting a self-consciously silly voice—he knew damn well the encore was right there on the set list and he hadn’t even bothered to leave the stage. That last number was a Marshallized (and slightly shortened) version of his radiant and ever-evolving 1977 composition Guitar Trio, which pulsated, cycled, and swelled—in its own way it was as essential as Essentialist ever got.

Afterward the audience was nicely battered and dazed. It wasn’t a big drinking crowd, so anybody having trouble walking in a straight line was probably dealing with some newly inflicted inner-ear issues. I’m looking forward to Essentialist’s debut album, which is being recorded here in Chicago at Semaphore Recording and ought to come out sometime next year—especially because it’s likely to mean that Chatham will be touring in his native country that much more often. Here’s hoping this small and portable band makes him feel lean and young again, and reminds him (and us) that his music is made to be experienced not just in concert halls or amphitheaters but in small and smoky black-painted bars.

marleypumpkin 10.17.2006 10:49 AM

I was actually going to see the Bijou Theater show, but alas, no such luck. Damn!

tesla69 10.18.2006 10:08 AM

I got to see both the Issue Project Room Guitar Trio (with actually 6+ people) and the Tonic Essentialist sets...I probably liked the Trio stuff more, but the Essentialist was pretty cool, kind of free churn metal with Chatham's guitar angst layered on top, it worked for me.

I was surprised to see that 16 sec youtube clip that showed Thurston playing with Chatham's group in Texas...

it goes without saying I'm looking to trade live recordings...but I say it anyway...

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