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Minimalism With 216 Guitars

This weekend, I got an effusive text message from my friend, Bill Harvey. He was on stage with literally hundreds of other guitarists, all performing a piece by composer Rhys Chatham. It calls for 200 guitarists, 16 bassists and percussion, all divided into four sections. All the guitars are specially strung and tuned. (At six strings per guitar, plus the basses, that's more than 1,200 strings.)

Here's something else that makes me smile: Every guitarist had his or her own amp. So that's 216 amps with the volumes meticulously set and equalized.

The piece is called "A Crimson Grail for 200 Electric Guitars." Rhys Chatham was a hero to many back in the '70s, putting large guitar orchestras together and playing with guitarist Glenn Branca. As the first musical director of The Kitchen, an important NYC venue for new works by multimedia artists and musicians such as Laurie Anderson, Philip Glass, Glenn Branca, James Chance and Brian Eno, Chatham has a direct connection to other key figures in experimental, minimalist and classical music. He was La Monte Young's piano tuner and Glenn Gould's harpsichord tuner, and he studied under electronic music pioneer Morton Subotnick.

The performance my friend Bill Harvey was a part of was outdoors at Lincoln Center's bandshell at Damrosch Park in New York City. The guitarists were divided into four groups of 50 and given charts to play. Bill told me that the sound shifted and swirled and hovered overhead. It was incredibly moving and brought many to tears. I so wish I'd been there, but there are great pictures at the Brooklyn Vegan site.

Here's my friend Bill Harvey: He's got the Gibson SG there in the front.


I'm so envious.