Chatham’s new CD “Harmonie du Soir” on Northern Spy records was thoughtfully made available for sale at the ‘Secret Rose’ performance this past November. Of course I had to buy it but after that concert I found I needed time to digest the performance before I dare move on to listening to another of his deceptively simple sounding compositions. The CD consists of three compositions, Harmonie du Soir (2012), The Dream of Rhonabwy (2012) and a bonus track Drastic Classicism Revisited (1986/2012). All the pieces represent aspects of the artist’s output which will be familiar to fans of his work.
The first track Harmonie du Soir (after the poem of the same name by Charles Baudelaire) was premiered and subsequently recorded in France in 2012. In his liner notes Chatham points out that he uses tunings like those used previously in An Angel Moves Too Fast to See (1986) and Crimson Grail (2007). It reminds this listener of Die Dönnergetter (1986). It employs the same configuration of 6 electric guitars, electric bass and drum kit. It is not, however, a reworking of the 1986 piece but rather a new piece which developed from similar methods. Harmonie clocks in at 22’26”, similar in length. The comparison ends there. The difference between Dönnergetter and Harmonie is more like the difference between a Beethoven middle string quartet and a late string quartet. Same ensemble, similar gestures but an overall very different impact. Like all of Chatham’s guitar pieces this is best heard at a substantial volume level if you want to appreciate the harmonics which result from the tuning system he uses. This is post-punk after all and the wall of sound is frequently an essential part of the piece. It begins with a minimalist type repeating of a 2 note pattern punctuated after a few repeats by the drum kit and on to some droning harmonies aching for a melody in an insistent rhythm. This moves on to a faster section which takes on not the dance-like character like he does in Die Dönnergetter, rather it is a sort of deconstruction. It is consists of guitar tremolos and rolls on the drum kit and moves into a new somewhat pointillistic guitar figure accompanied by a throbbing bass line and a steady rhythm on the drum kit. This is followed by a return to the music which opened the piece. Clearly this is a composer whose work continues to develop and show variety.
The second piece is another with precedents in the composer’s previous compositional efforts. This is essentially a piece for a wind and brass orchestra with percussion. No strings, no guitars or bass. It marks a return for Chatham to writing for and playing trumpet. The piece was written for a 70 piece brass band called Harmonie de Pontarlier, named for the town of their origin. It is 20’26” in length and Rhys plays trumpet along with the band. One is reminded of pieces like his Waterloo No. 2 (1981) which appeared on his CD “Die Dönnergetter”. The composer takes his approach to writing for band but here expands into symphonic proportions. According to the liner notes this was written as a soundtrack to a film. After multiple listenings I came to hear this as though it were an homage to grand romantic symphonists like Bruckner or Mahler. This is a briefer symphony than those ancestors would have written but the spirit is there if dressed in more contemporary guise. The music relies on sustained tones and intervals which, like Chatham’s guitar pieces, produce cascades of harmonics, a mesmerizing experience.
The last piece is listed as being a “bonus track”. It is Drastic Classicism Revisited and is a sort of reworking of Chatham’s earlier work Drastic Classicism from 1981. It was originally written for a dance choreographed by Karole Armitage and was performed by the musician live on stage with the dancers. Post-punk for modern dance. At 9’36” it is the shortest track but well worth its inclusion on this beautifully produced disc. I can’t wait to hear more from the Northern Spy (http://northernspyrecords.com/artist/rhys-chatham/) catalog. All in all a great listening experience by this wonderful expatriate American composer. I highly recommend it.
- aworks #musicdiaryproject :: april 15, 2011 /recent (full)/ (rgable.typepad.com)