Rhys Chatham / Glenn Branca
These two renowned minimalist composers, though thematically dissimilar, have always stood at the vanguard of what rock guitar could accomplish in a classical setting. Chatham is much less academic than Branca, preferring power and pulse to Branca's somewhat dour embrace of cacophony and drone, although both have influenced the likes of Sonic Youth, Band of Susans and even Radiohead.
Drawn to rock's inherent power and celebrated repetition, Chatham is keenly aware of group dynamics as he leads a collection of professional and amateur players through A Crimson Grail, a mammoth piece for 400 electric guitars. Performed in front of and inside the hilltop sanctuary of Sacré-Coeur, the largest church in Paris, Chatham's piece is more subtle and organic than all of his previous compositions. Beautifully intricate and harmonically dense, A Crimson Grail is nearly ambient in tone while pursuing a beauty that never seems beyond its scope.
The Branca disc is more historical in nature, presenting his piece as performed in 1981 (with Sonic Youth's Lee Renaldo and Thurston Moore), as well as an interview conducted with the legendary John Cage in which the patriarch of minimalism notoriously appraised Branca's work as "fascist." The liner notes even include Branca's terse letter to Musicworks magazine explaining his disillusionment with the whole affair. Fascinatingly visceral, both Chatham and Branca search for an emotional intensity often missing in neo-classicism. Taken together, these two releases make known the little explored fertile ground where classical music meets rock head on and neither comes away compromised.
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