Rhys Chatham – Pythagorean Dream – Foom

Music meant to be experienced fully alert and awake.

Rhys Chatham – Pythagorean Dream [TrackList follows] – Foom FM007CD, 51:46 [6/3/16] ****:

(Rhys Chatham – trumpet, electric guitar, bass flute, alto flute, C flute, producer, engineer, mastering)

Composer Rhys Chatham has made a name for himself by conceiving large-ensemble music with armies of guitarists (100 and 200 or more at a time); helping form a vibrant NYC 1970s scene which inspired rock groups such as Swans, Sonic Youth and the Band of Susans; while exploring lengthy music efforts which blended modern minimalist classical music with the drive of punk and post-punk. So, it may come as a surprise that Chatham’s newest endeavor, the 51-minute Pythagorean Dream is a one-man-band solo project. But listen to the two elongated compositions (plus a shorter bonus track) and everyone will understand Chatham has not abandoned his electric guitar orchestrations.

Chatham may have gone back to basics, but by using a multi-second delay effect, he has layered feedback loops of variable intervals to craft resonant, overlapping tiers, which transcend the limitations of a single musician recording in a studio. A point to appreciate: there is no overdubbing on this record and it was recorded directly to stereo. The album title refers to Chatham’s application of Pythagorean tuning, which uses a harmonic ratio, also known as the pure perfect fifth, with a result that the musical quotients appear natural and have a purity of proportionality, or as Chatham describes in his liner notes, “a system of tuning employing just intonation.”  Most may not discern or even grasp such abstruse musical tuning. What is notable is the multileveled music Chatham produces. [Cardas uses something similar in their audio cables…Ed.]

The 19-minute “Part One” has a brief trumpet intro, followed by a longer section with electric guitar, where Chatham harnesses a finger-picking procedure reminiscent of one of his avowed teenage heroes, folk guitarist John Fahey. There are no overt folk or blues influences which are akin to Fahey, but Fahey devotees will detect some of the East Asian/Indian raga which stimulated Fahey, as well as the electric guitar approach Fahey favored in his later years. “Part One” then moves into a heavier drone segment where Chatham applies an eBow and the sense of a guitar multitude firmly takes hold. “Part One” speeds up in the final stretch when Chatham switches to a tremolo, flat-picking method, which his older fans should recognize from his guitar-army ventures.

The 18:25 “Part Two” might also seem a bit different for Chatham enthusiasts, as he returns to his first instrument, the flute, which he mastered in his conservatory days, but put down when he discovered the verve of the electric guitar. Thus, the opening portion has a lighter tonality than “Part One,” with the flute’s timbre affording an attractive contrast to the guitar and trumpet heard on “Part One.” Chatham’s looping extends his flute notes as he changes between bass, alto and C flutes, in the process fashioning an ambient atmosphere not too distant from Brian Eno’s late-1970s and early-1980s LPs. About 11 minutes into “Part Two” Chatham introduces strummed guitar layers, and the composition echoes the guitar-led minimalism of “Part One.” Steadily, guitar loops thicken until Chatham establishes a ringing, nearly symphonic or orchestral gradient. “Part Two” concludes the same way as “Part One,” with a gradual diminishing of the looping and a low, slow fade out.

Chatham ends the CD with the 14-minute bonus live piece, “Whitechapel Brass Variations,” from a performance at Whitechapel Gallery in London, England. This is actually the complete trumpet conception which shows up at the start of “Part One,” and is fine example of how Chatham offers his looped music within a live setting, although the hummingbird-type noises he implements have a certain flatulence impression which some may not find enticing. While there are those who possibly will want to keep the volume low while hearing Pythagorean Dream, it is best experienced at top volume: crank the speakers or headphones as loud as manageable to feel the weight and force of what Chatham has generated. This isn’t material to dream to, it’s meant to be taken fully awake.

TrackList: Part One; Part Two; Whitechapel Brass Variations [bonus track].

—Doug Simpson

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