In the first West Coast performance of A Secret Rose, written for an orchestra of 100 electric guitars, Rhys Chatham performed and conducted this groundbreaking work at the historic Craneway Pavilion in Richmond, CA on Sunday, November 17, 2013. Immediately after the official call for guitarists, Other Minds received over 150 applicants from all over the world, a great number of which came from Oakland and surrounding East Bay communities. Chatham’s work is best known for combining the raw and relentless aggression of punk with the hypnotic drone minimalism of the sixties and seventies downtown New York scene. A cast of notable musicians from bands such as Guided By Voices, Akron/Family, Tristeza, Hrsta, Sutekh Hexen, and Girls Against Boys will help perform the hour-long piece.
Chatham’s career has been anything but ordinary. From the sounds of the Elizabethan virginal (a mini-harpsichord beloved by Queen Elizabeth I), his first instrument, to the rigors of overtone-drenched minimalism during his tenure with the Theater of Eternal Music and The Dream Syndicate, to the raw and raucous punch of his punk-persuaded Guitar Trio, Chatham’s musical trajectory has proven expansive to say the least. While still a teenager under the tutelage of LaMonte Young and Morton Subotnick, Chatham became the first musical director of New York experimental art-space, The Kitchen. Starting with Guitar Trio in the 1970s and culminating with A Crimson Grail for 200 guitars in 2009, Chatham has been working for over 30 years to make use of armies of electric guitars in special tunings to merge the extended-time music of the sixties and seventies with serious hard rock. A Secret Rose is an hour-long multi-movement piece that, despite what one might assume of the ominous presence 100 electric guitars, in fact traverses a very expressive aural spectrum. “There are moments when you can play in a thunderous style,” Chatham said. “But there’s nothing like the sound of one hundred guitars playing quietly. It’s a specific sound.”
A Secret Rose: Program & Artists
In 1977, composer Rhys Chatham, first artistic director of famed New York multi-disciplinary art space The Kitchen, was working with a group of visiting graduate students from Mills College. Among them, Peter Gordon, was shocked to learn that at 25 years old and in the thick of a musical revolution, Chatham had never been to a rock concert. Chatham considered himself a hardcore minimalist composer, a protégé of first-wave New York minimalists such as La Monte Young, Philip Glass, or Steve Reich. This was radical in of itself considering his upbringing in was steeped in the mores of early Baroque and Renaissance music. Per Gordon’s insistence, Chatham attended a Ramones concert at the infamous New York nightclub CBGBs. Astounded to learn of a commonality between his own work and that of a punk band, the Ramones’ relentless three-chord assault shattered Chatham’s musical perception and subsequently set the young composer en route to forever altering the DNA of rock ‘n’ roll and classical music.
Beginning with his seminal work Guitar Trio, Chatham broadened his exploration of the overtone series with a new weapon, the electric guitar. Combining the extended-technique approach of his forebears with the wall-of-sound aggression of bands like The Ramones, Chatham and his cohorts unremittingly clanged out their one-chord fascination while the air above them filled with singing overtones. Despite the relative harmonic stasis of each individual player, their accumulated effect was a rich and shifting spectrum of notes ringing out in sympathy and playing tricks on the ears. After working in this capacity for a time Rhys could not help but wonder what the effect of a large ensemble of guitarists playing simultaneously would sound like. In 1983, Chatham began work on his guitar orchestra concept with An Angel Moves too Fast to See, which would eventually blossom into A Secret Rose and cement his legacy in the annals of modern music.
A Secret Rose was composed in 2006 and had been performed only twice before, once in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and again in Rome. The work is split into five movements and the players divided into three sections. The piece ranges from thunderous fortissimo passages to soft, eerie chiming. Chatham conducted three assistant directors who were assigned to the three different sections. The three sections are further subdivided into sections a. and b. Each of these three sections plays in a special alternate tuning, allowing for a total tonal exploration.
Rhys Chatham, Paris, FR
Front Porch Productions
Regina Greene, Black Mountain, NC
David Daniell, Black Mountain, NC
Seth Olinski, Los Angeles, CA
Tobin Summerfield, Norfolk, VA
DRUMS: Jordan Glenn, Oakland, CA
BASS: Lisa Mezzacappa, San Francisco, CA
Grant Acker, Oakland, CA; Ted Allen, Oakland, CA; Alejandro Archuleta, Oakland, CA; Ed Arndt, Worcester, MA; John Banister, San Francisco, CA; John Binkov, Richmond, CA; Kurt Brown, Alameda, CA; Andrew Burnes, Atlanta, GA; Christopher Case, Atlanta, GA; Mitch Cheney, Harrison, NY; Rob Christiansen, New York, NY; Simon Connor, Greater Manchester, GB; Mark Cooper, Richmond, CA; Evan Cordes, Portland, OR; Edward Dias, Brooklyn, NY; Daniel Echevarria, Oakland, CA; Nils Erickson, San Francisco, CA; Neel Foon, Hercules, CA; Leigh Forbes, Liverpool, GB; Kevin Gan Yuen, Berkeley, CA; Arnoldo Garcia, Oakland, CA; Doug Gillard, Sunnyside, NY; Michael Goldman, Atlanta, GA; Brian Good, Walnut Creek, CA; Daniel Good, Oakland, CA; Naomi Greene, Newhall, CA; Wavley Groves III, Staunton, VA; Samuel Gutterman, Oakland, CA; Matt Hayes, New York, NY; Kirk Hellie, Valley Village, CA; Cody Hennesy, Oakland, CA; Adam Holofcener, Los Angeles, CA; Yutaka Houlette, Oakland, CA; Kim Howie, New York, NY; Trevor Hunter, Chico, CA; Jamile Jackson, Oakland, CA; Ryan Jobes, Oakland, CA; Val Jordan, Albany, CA; Forest Juziuk, Oakland, CA; Carolyn Keddy, Oakland, CA; Owen Kelley, Oakland, CA; Christian Kiefer, Newcastle, CA; Nick Kuepfer, Montreal, Quebec; Paul Ladeira, Oakland, CA; Henry Larsen, Orinda, CA; Ethan Lee, Berkeley, CA; David Leonard, Mahopac, NY; Charles Lloyd, Oakland, CA; Phil Loarie, Richmond, CA; Jim Marlowe, Louisville, KY; Christo McCracken, Castel Del Piano, IT; James McGlinnen, Livonia, MI; John Melillo, Tucson, AZ; Brent Miles, Glendale, AZ; Michael Miller, Valley Village, CA; Erik Miller, Alameda, CA; Michael Millett, Oakland, CA; Robert Milton, El Cerrito, CA; Mark Morse, Amsterdam, NL; Melne Murphy, Alameda, CA; Jon Myers, Oakland, CA; Al N, Louisville, KY; Adam Nanaa, Oakland, CA; Adria Otte, Oakland, CA; Ryan Page, Oakland, CA; Stephen Parris, Richmond, CA; Adam Payne, Los Angeles, CA; Jacob Peck, Oakland, CA; Ricardo Pignol, Buenos Aires, AR; Bill Polits, Richmond, CA; Mark Prather, Richmond, CA; Derek Prine, Oakland, CA; Conor Prischmann, Oakland, CA; Arthur Purvis, Brooklyn, NY; Andrew Rahman, Oakland, CA; Mike Randall, Leeds, GB; Edward Ricart, Yellow Springs, OH; Ken Rosser, Pasadena, CA; Victor Salazar, Brooklyn, NY; David Satkowski, Jersey City, NJ; Roland Sayn, Oakland, CA; John Scott, London, GB; Scrote, Los Angeles, CA; Marc Sloan, Woodstock, NY; Sean Smith, San Francisco, CA; Rachel Smith, Berkeley, CA; Moe! Staiano, Oakland, CA; Josh Steinbauer, Brooklyn, NY; Camaron Stephens Oakland, CA; Konstantinos Stratigos, New York, NY; Matthew Taylor, Dallas, TX; Brian Tester, Oakland, CA; Andrew Thomas, Brooklyn, NY; Ronald Thompson, Oakland, CA; Steve Touchton, Los Angeles, CA; Aaron Wacks, Oakland, CA; Becky White, Berkeley CA; Jonathan Willett, Oakland, CA; Sam Withrow, Oakland, CA; Damon Wood, El Cerrito, CA
Concert Media: Video
Guitar Trio at The LAB
Recorded on June 7, 2013 at The LAB in San Francisco, this was a preview event for the upcoming presentation of Rhys Chatham’s A Secret Rose. During this event Rhys Chatham introduces two of his earlier compositions for multiple electric guitars, electric bass, and drums. Guitar Trio is a driving, pulsating, yet never quite overwhelming barrage of guitars and overtones, that never seems to get dull. Then after introducing the band, Chatham, jokingly remarks that the next piece is based on a precise tuning system going back to Pythagoras before the band rips into his The Out of Tune Guitar No. 3. Rhys Chatham, John Schott, Ava Mendoza, Bill Orcutt, George Chen, and John Krausbauer, with Lisa Mezzacappa (bass) and Jordan Glenn (drums).
Tuning and Composition
Rhys Chatham and Charles Amirkhanian discuss how Chatham’s early experience as a harpsichord tuner influenced his compositions.
The Genesis of Punk Minimalism
Other Minds Executive and Artistic Director Charles Amirkhanian speaks with Rhys Chatham on Rock, Punk, and Minimalism.
On John Cage
Rhys Chatham and Charles Amirkhanian discuss American composer, music theorist, writer, philosopher, and artist, John Cage.
On Lamont Young
Rhys Chatham and Charles Amirkhanian talk about Chatham’s experiences with LaMonte Young, American avant-garde minimalist composer.
Concert Media: Audio
Rhys Chatham: A Secret Rose
This is a live recording of Rhys Chatham’s piece for 100 guitars, A Secret Rose, conducted by the composer. Performance was on November 17, 2013, at the Craneway Pavilion in Richmond, CA. The performance was recorded in its entirety, and mastered into movements for presentation here.