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Rhys Chatham (born September 19, 1952, New York Citymarker[85031]) is an Americanmarker composer, guitarist, and trumpet player, primarily active in avant-garde and minimalist music. He is best known for his "guitar orchestra" compositions. He has lived in Francemarker since 1987.

Early years

Chatham began his musical career as a piano tuner for avant-garde pioneer La Monte Young as well as harpsichord tuner for Gustav Leonhard, Rosalyn Turek and Glenn Gould. He soon studied under electronic music pioneer Morton Subotnick and minimalist icon Tony Conrad; Chatham and Conrad played together in an early ensemble. In 1971, while still in his teens, Chatham became the first music director at the experimental art space The Kitchen in lower Manhattanmarker. His early works, such as Two Gongs (1971) owed a significant debt to Young and other minimalists.

His concert productions included experimenters Maryanne Amacher, Robert Ashley, Philip Glass, Meredith Monk, Pauline Oliveros, Steve Reich, and early alternative rockers such as Brian Eno, Robert Fripp, John Lurie, and Fred Frith. He has worked closely with visual artist/musician Robert Longo, particularly in the 1980s, and on an experimental opera called XS: The Opera Opus (1984-6) with the visual artist Joseph Nechvatal.

Compositions from the late 1970s and early 1980s

By 1977, Chatham's music was heavily influenced by punk rock, having seen an early Ramones concert. He was particularly intrigued by and influential upon the group of artists music critics would label No Wave in 1978. That year, he began performing Guitar Trio around downtown Manhattan with an ensemble that included Glenn Branca, as well as Nina Canal of Ut. During this period, he wrote several works for large guitar ensembles, including Drastic Classicism, a collaboration with dancer Karole Armitage. Drastic Classicism was first released in 1982 on the compilation New Music from Antarctica, put together by Kit Fitzgerald, John Sanborn and Peter Laurence Gordon. It was also included on the 1987 album that also included his 1982 composition Die Donnergötter (German for "The Thundergods").

Members of the New York City noise rock band Band of Susans began their careers in Chatham's ensembles; they later performed a cover of Chatham's "Guitar Trio" on their 1991 album, The Word And The Flesh. (This parallels the way that members of fellow NYC noise rockers Sonic Youth began their careers in Branca's ensembles; Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth did play with Chatham as well.)

Chatham began playing trumpet in 1983, and his more recent works explore improvisatory trumpet solos; these are performed by Chatham himself, employing much of the same amplification and effects that he acquired with the guitar, over synthesized dance rhythms by the composer Martin Wheeler. His 1990s recordings in this style saw release on Ninja Tune Records as the compilation Neon.

Recent activity

In 2002, he enjoyed a resurgence following the release of a limited-edition 3 CD retrospective box set on the record label Table of the Elements, An Angel Moves Too Fast To See: Selected Works 1971-1989, complete with 130-page booklet. The An Angel Moves Too Fast To See part of the title comes from Chatham's 1989 composition for 100 guitars. He has been since touring with his 100-guitar orchestra in Europe.

In 2005, he was commissioned by the city of Parismarker, in his adopted homeland, to write a composition for 400 electric guitars entitled A Crimson Grail, as part of the Nuit Blanche Festival. Approximately 10,000 people were present at the performance, and 100,000 more watched it on live television. A CD of excerpts from this concert was released in January 2007 by Table Of The Elements.

Rhys Chatham is currently touring the original 30 minute version of Guitar Trio in the USA and Europe, renamed G3 because the instrumentation has been increased to between six and ten electric guitars, electric bass and drums. In February 2007 he completed a twelve-city tour called the Guitar Trio (G3) Is My Life North America Tour, which was accompanied by the original film by Robert Longo that was projected behind the performance, entitled Pictures for Music (1979). The sets consisted of local musicians from each city of the performances, including members of Sonic Youth, Tortoise, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Hüsker Dü, Brokeback, Lichens, Town & Country, Die Kreuzen, Bird Show and others. A three-CD box set of these performances was released by Table of the Elements in March 2008.

Chatham has continued to tour the original version of Guitar Trio in Europe throughout 2007 and 2008, including performances at: Rhys Chatham made his first Americanmarker presentation of a composition for a one-hundred guitar orchestra in Williamsportmarker, Pennsylvaniamarker, on May 23, 2008, with an orchestra composed of local students and teachers, as well as many professional guitarists. This performance was the premiere of a new composition entitled Les 100 Guitares: G100.

The American premiere of A Crimson Grail was on August 8, 2009. Two-hundred electric guitarists performed the piece at the Damrosch Park Bandshell in New York Citymarker. The performance was part of a free concert series, Lincoln Center Out of Doors, that was being commissioned by the Lincoln Center. Originally, the piece was supposed to be performed for 2008's Lincoln Center Out of Doors, but rain canceled the concert for safety reasons. For the 2009 premiere, precautions were taken so that the concert could go on even if it rained.


  • Factor X (LP), Moers Music 1983
  • : containing:
    • For Brass (1982)
    • Guitar Ring (1982)
    • The Out Of Tune Guitar (1982)
    • Cadenza (1981)

  • Die Donnergötter (LP), Dossier Records (Europe)/Homestead Records (USA) 1987
  • : containing:
    • Die Donnergötter (1984-86)
    • Waterloo No. 2 (1986)
    • Guitar Trio (1977)
    • Drastic Classicism (1982)

  • Neon (12", CDEP), Ntone 1997
  • : All compositions in collaboration with Martin Wheeler.
  • : containing:
    • Charm (1996)
    • Ramatek (1994)
    • Hornithology (1996)
    • Neon (1993)

  • Septile (12", CD EP), Ntone 1997
  • : All compositions in collaboration with Jonathan Kane & DJ Elated System.

  • Hardedge, The Wire Editions 1999
  • : Made in collaboration with Pat Thomas, Gary Smith, Gary Jeff, Lou Ciccotelli.

  • A Rhys Chatham Compendium (CD), Table of the Elements 2002
  • : Limited-edition CD featuring selections and edits from the An Angel Moves Too Fast To See box-set.
  • : containing:
    • An Angel Moves Too Fast To See (1989) [edit]
    • Guitar Trio (1977) [edit]
    • Drastic Classicism (1982) [edit]
    • Two Gongs (1971) [edit]
    • Guitar Cetet (1977) [bonus track not contained in box set]
    • Waterloo, No. 2 (1986) [edit]
    • Die Donntergötter (1985) [complete version]

  • An Angel Moves Too Fast To See (Selected Works 1971-1989) (3xCD box set), Table of the Elements 2002
    • disc 1:
      • Two Gongs (1971)
    • disc 2:
      • Die Donnergötter (1985)
      • Waterloo, No. 2 (1986)
      • Drastic Classicism (1982)
      • Guitar Trio (1977)
      • Massacre on MacDougal Street (1982)
    • disc 3:
      • An Angel Moves Too Fast To See (1989)

  • Echo Solo (LP), Azoth Schallplatten Gesellschaft 2003

  • Die Donnergötter (LP, CD), Table of the Elements/Radium 2006
  • : containing:
    • Die Donnergötter (1985/86)
    • Waterloo, No. 2 (1986)
    • Drastic Classicism (1982)
    • Guitar Trio (1977)
    • Massacre on MacDougal Street (1982)

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