Rhys Chatham is a composer and multi-instrumentalist from Manhattan, currently living in Paris. He was the founder of the music program at The Kitchen in downtown Manhattan in 1971 and was its music director between 1971-73 and 1977-80. Rhys Chatham altered the DNA of rock and created a new type of urban music by fusing the overtone-drenched minimalism of John Cale and Tony Conrad with the relentless, elemental fury of the Ramones—the textural intricacies of the avant-garde colliding with the visceral punch of electric guitar-slinging punk rock.
With Rhys Chatham’s composition Guitar Trio (1977), he became the first composer to make use of multiple electric guitars in special tunings to merge the extended-time music of the sixties and seventies with serious hard rock. Chatham continued this pursuit over the next decade, culminating in 1989 with the composition and performance of his first symphony for an orchestra of one hundred electric guitars, An Angel Moves Too Fast to See. He subsequently composed three other works for large guitar orchestra, A Crimson Grail (indoor version) in 2005 (written for 400 guitars), A Secret Rose in 2008 (written for 100 guitars), and finally, A Crimson Grail (outdoor version) in 2009 (written for 200 electric guitars and 16 electric basses), which was released on Nonesuch Records in the fall of 2010.
Chatham continues to write for his orchestras of 100-200 electric guitars. Recent performances of A Secret Rose, his latest composition for 100 guitars, were mounted in the San Francisco Bay area in November 2013 and Birmingham June 2014. He is currently working on a new composition for 100 electric guitars, as yet untitled, scheduled for completion in 2017.
While well known for his works for electric guitar, Rhys Chatham is a multi-instrumentalist. Chatham spent most of the 90s working with trumpet, releasing music on labels as diverse as Ninja Tune, The Wire Editions and Virgin Records. After taking a nearly 10-year trumpet hiatus, Chatham has been developing a completely new approach to his brass work with collaborations, improvised and compositional pieces through performances and recordings that started in 2009. Chatham’s trumpet work deploys extended playing techniques inherited from the glory days the early New York minimalist and free jazz period, which resulted in the LP release of Outdoor Spell on Northern-Spy Records in 2011. After the release of this LP, Chatham decided to get back to the nitty-gritty of solo work. In addition to trumpet, he added an electric guitar tuned in just intonation, soon deciding to return to his instrument of virtuosity from his conservatory days: alto, bass and C flutes. After a number of years of development within the context of live performance, the final result was his composition Pythagorean Dream, released on the UK Foom Records label in June of 2016. Chatham is currently touring Pythagorean Dream as a live solo performance.
Chatham has also collaborated with other musicians. Recording and performing for the first time after 30 years, Rhys Chatham and Charlemagne Palestine have a reunited as a collaborative team, performing in selected locations in the UK and Europe. A 3-CD boxed set of their music was released in 2014 on the European based label, Sub Rosa.
Photo Credit: Udo Siegfriedt