With a film by Robert Longo: Pictures for Music (1979)
1 February 2007
Electric guitars:
Rhys Chatham
Electric bass: Andrew Thomas
Drums: Jim Abramson
House engineer: Charles J. Quagliana
Tour recording engineer: Eric Block
Tour manager: Regina Greene of Front Porch Productions
Produced by Soundlab and Front Porch Productions
Soundlab is an artist-run space associated with Big Orbit Gallery. When Regina of Front Porch Productions was first discussing the G3 project with Craig Reynolds, who is the director of Soundlab, composer/violinist Tony Conrad, who also plays electric guitar, was one of the first names that came up due to my long association with him. Unfortunately for us, Tony was scheduled to be on tour in Europe the day we were playing in Buffalo, but happily, he unexpectedly had got back earlier.
We rolled in from Toronto at about 5pm and went to the bar just down the street from Soundlab in Buffalo to use their Wifi. None of us in the car had Internet access that past day and we were all itching to get on line. Regina called Tony Conrad as we were approaching Buffalo, and he came down to meet us a bit later at the bar.
Almost as soon as Tony sat down with us, Regina and David were piping in with, "Hey Tony, why don't you play Guitar Trio with us?" The poor man, he was still on jet lag! It took a certain amount of arm-twisting, but at last Tony agreed. So he went back home to get his guitar and amp, which were vintage models from the 60s.
We walked over to Soundlab and all the musicians were there, so we began setting up the stage. David and I both changed the strings on our guitars, we definitely needed to. Tony's strings had the appearance of also being vintage from the 60s, so we changed his as well, despite his reluctance to part with them! Thus equipped, the sound check went smoothly. Charles Quagliana the house engineer had already worked with my Essentialist band, so he had a general idea of what the music was going to be, i.e., loud! Charles really understands about loud music... Leah Rico, an associate of Soundlab who was working the bar that evening, offered us a delicious Spanish wine; she told us that people who like whiskey tend to like this wine, as it complemented well the peatiness of single malt whiskey. I like a glass of whiskey of an evenin', so it followed that I would like this wine... and I did!
The festivities started with a DJ set by Michael Baumann, a Soundlab associate director. Michael played music that one could dance to, but that was also interesting if one wanted to listen in addition to dancing.
Michael's set was followed by a duo of guitar and drums called Novelist, consisting of guitarist Chase Middaugh and drummer Ryan McMullen. Novelist combines an unusual mix of drone metal and power chords, evolving into sparse complex structures involving an intricate interaction between the drummer and the guitarist. They formed in early 2005 as a new approach to heavy/ambient guitar, atmospheric droning electronics through both composition and improvisation working outside of a more "traditional" band setting.
When it came our turn to play, we managed to fit all the guys on the stage, seven guitarists, bass and drums, which was a pretty amazing trick in that everyone was fairly tall. The musicians were already familiar with the parts. Indeed, when Craig and Regina were discussing who should play the piece, they thought of asking exclusively people who knew my work. After the obvious choice of Tony Conrad, they thought of Bill Sack, who is the technical director of Hallwalls. I talked with Bill over dinner before the concert, he turns out to be working on a PhD in music and has an extensive background in electronic music and programming. And Chase Middaugh of Novelist was already familiar with G3, so he seemed a natural choice for playing the piece as well as opening the show for us with his band Novelist, due to its unique combination of minimalism as well as heavy metal roots.
The other guys had intriguing backgrounds also. Jim Abramson is an IT engineer, Scott Valkwitch a mechanical engineer. It's always interesting to find out what people do for money besides music, in any case we had an invigorating dinner table conversation before the concert. I told them amusing stories of how I was a marketing professor at the University of Paris V. Man, my students were marketing sharks, they scared me! They could sell anything. Then the conversation shifted to music, as it always does, of course.
After the Novelist set at Soundalb, it was G3's turn to play. The set itself was glorious and sounded great in the room. Everything was perfect during the first set, except that at one point I evidently pulled my guitar jack out of my tuner, so I was absent from the mix for a few seconds until Tristan Trump saw what was going on and reconnected me. What a great bunch of guys they are. Then we moved to the second section with the full kit played superlatively by Jim Abramson.
I must say at this point that the quality of the drummers on this tour has been quite high. G3 requires a strong drummer, and so far that's exactly what it has had every time so far on the G3 tour. The performance in Buffalo was no exception. Jim Abramson's playing managed to carry the entire band while only playing high hat during the first twenty minutes of the set. This set, as well as the one that followed with the entire drum kit playing, sounded more aggressive in terms of the guitar sound than any of the other performances, which was perhaps due to Tristan Trump's semi-muted HM style of of right hand picking technique. Bill Sack, Scott Valkwitch, Chase and Tony were COMPLETELY into the overtones as well as the right-hand rhythm: all of the guitars were filled with raw power.
As I mentioned earlier, David and I put on new strings for the performance. Tony had new strings put on as well. Perhaps it was due to this that we heard an unusual 11th and 13th overtone throughout the first and second part of G3 (a tritone relationship to the E combined with an oddly tuned minor 6th sound). Another distinctive element was also without doubt the rhythmic interaction between all the guitarists. Due to our close physical proximity to each other, we were really able to listen to each other in addition to working with the rhythm section, with each of the guitarists playing the characteristic G3 rhythm, but in counterpoint to each other, with one guitarist riffing off the other. The tremolo sections, where we all play really fast, were absolutely magic during both parts. One actually heard choirs of voices singing... Except there were no voices present, of course. What we were hearing was the interaction of the overtones of the guitars meshing together in a way that simulated choir after choir of singing voices. Angels moving too fast to see, but we could hear their voices! Fortunately this performance has been recorded for prosperity and will soon be relased by the Table of the Elements Records for all to hear!
Andrew Thomas' bass playing deserves special mention. His approach was to take the basic G3 guitar rhythm and slow it down by a factor of two or even four! The effect was to reinforce the overtones of the guitars as well as underlining G3's characteristic rhythm in a subtle way. It was truly exceptional playing, which accomplished in a masterful manner exactly what bass playing is supposed to do: to reinforce the rhythm of the drums with a melodic component, while at the same time supporting the guitars by providing a big bottom, all the while taking what was essentially a solo during the entire piece without being too obvious about it! I consider Andrew's playing definitive for G3.
For some reason that no one seemed to be able to explain to me at the time, the Robert Longo slides looked exceptionally well in the sense that they were highly defined and quite sharp. Later on, I asked David Daniell what he thought about it, and he reminded me that Soundlab is associated with the Big Orbit Gallery. Since they are sensitive to things visual, it made sense that they have good video projection equipment. So that, combined with a white wall behind the screen and stage, made for a crisp, sharp image.
We ended the evening with everyone hanging out and talking at Soundlab. Then Tony took us over to what is known as “The Conrad Prison.” It is part of a film set for something Tony shot neary 30 years ago. Eric and I dwelt within it for a time. The Conrad Prison was a hellish place to be.
After Tony let us out of prison, we wandered through the beautiful snow-covered streets of Buffalo over to Leah's place, where we were to spend the night.
Standing from left to right: Bill Sack, Tony Conrad, Andrew Thomas, David Daniell. Kneeling: Jim Abramson (black t-shirt). Sitting from left to right: Scott Valkwitch (white collar), Rhys, Chase Middaugh, Tristan Trump © Rhys Chatham
Photos legends:
Novelist © Carl Pace
Action shot © Carl Pace
Composer and Engineer Busted by Man for Keepin' It Real! © Rhys Chatham
G3 performance at Soundlab