With a film by Robert Longo: Pictures for Music (1979)
31 January 2007
Electric guitars:
Rhys Chatham
Bill Brovold
Brian Kroeker
Bill Parsons
Viola: Mika Posen
Electric bass: Kevin Lynn
Tour recording engineer: Eric Block
Tour manager: Regina Greene of Front Porch Productions
Produced by Rough Idea and Front Porch Productions
The drive from Montreal to Toronto took about six hours, we arrived at 6 pm at a place called Transzac, which had a number of rooms for performances. We were playing in the largest, which held 200 people.
The event was a co-production by Ron Gaskin of Rough Idea and Regina Greene's Front Porch Productions. Ron has a radio program that he produces every week, and Rough Idea has been producing experimental music of all kinds in Toronto for many years. For this evening's event, Ron and Regina settled on the room at Transzac as a suitable venue.
When I arrived, most of the musicians were already there, so David and I got our guitars and amps out and took our places. We had five guitarists to the left of the drummer and bass player, and the rest of the guitarists were to the right, with the strings completing the U shape of the ensemble.
This was the first time we had used strings in the context of G3. Ron had the idea to include other instruments besides guitars in the piece in order to make the Toronto performance unique. After some discussion together, we decided on strings as the most logical addition.
At the rehearsal, the cellist Anne Bourne and I had a brief discussion about the kind of things we would try on strings such as tremolos, harmonics and the like, which she passed on to the other string players. This having been accomplished, we got a volume level on the guitars and strings and we started the rehearsal/sound check.
Even during the sound check, it quickly became apparent that Glenn Milchem was an unusually strong drummer, hitting the drums hard and precisely. He nailed the G3 rhythm straight away, to such an extent that if the guitarists had stopped playing it would have taken the audience some time to realize it, because Glenn was playing the drums as though he were flat-picking an electric guitar. All to say that it quickly became apparent that the rhythm section consisting of Glenn and Kevin Lynn on electric bass was going to be FANTASTIC!
Two of the guitarists were already friends of mine. Bill Brovold played in my ensemble during the eighties and I've known Matt Rolgasky for more than ten years. The other guitarists picked up the music quickly with no problems, so the focus then became successfully integrating the string section with the band. A long time ago, in the late seventies I think it was, we did a version of G3 for two electric guitars and drums accompanied by a chamber orchestra with brass and strings and such, but this performance in Toronto marked the first time we truly did a version of "Guitar Trio with strings”!
With Anne and the other players greatly aiding me and making suggestions, we came up with a series of things the strings could play that would work with G3. For example, Anne came up with an interesting glissando effect. Nick Storring had an idea for a harmonic technique that we could use. Rose Bolton was particularly fond of a certain vibrato technique, so we used that, too. Together, we came up a way of staggering the bowing direction changes in a way that would make interesting rhythmic patterns.
After a bit of experimentation, rejecting some ideas and keeping others, we arrived at a sound that worked for the strings with the various sections of G3.
The performance opened up with a video by Eugene Martynec. It consisted of a live electronic video manipulation using a program built on Max MSP called Jitter. The images were evocative of pop art of the 60s and were a pleasure to look at.
In Martynec's first projection, a static camera recorded people, bicycles and cars in China, perhaps in Beijing, as they pass by a stone gateway. A recorded piano cascaded and moved stepwise in chords. Arranged in a grid (checkerboard fashion) -- and propelled by a voice over male voice speaking Chinese -- one street picture soon grew into forty; or finally ended up as one small image suspended in a white minimalist space. The projection seemed to say and show that individualism is possible, even in a populous, multi-gridded changing society such as China.
In the second and highly amusing 16-point grid projection, a pair of moving lipstick-red lips were articulating... vowels? Consonants? Diphthongs? Mere gibberish? In what language? And on what occasion? The multi-tiered lips lost detail, then overlapped and evolved at one moment into a textured, folkish quilt; and then at another moment stood still as a stark color field painting, as static electronic sounds, howling voices and a drone became more pronounced.
Martynec's two pieces were a fitting prelude to the guitar and string sounds that followed.
With the audience thus warmed up, we were ready to play. We began in the usual way, with the drummer Glenn Mitchem only playing the high hat for the first twenty minutes of the performance. As I brought the individual guitarists in one-by-one, all I can say is that with the way Glenn played the high hat, it was as though we were playing along with the full kit! He played the full kit by implication! Glenn even took a Max Roach-like solo in the 6-string section, it was great.
We took a pause to tune after the high hat movement of G3, where I announced the names of the players. Now, I have a hard time remembering people's names, so it is always a bit stressful for me when we get to this part. I got through it without any obvious mishap, but then I noticed that the guitarists to my left were looking at me kind of funny. Then they began to point to the right... I had forgotten to announce the names of the string players, oh my god!!! I had forgotten to mention them because I was not in the habit of playing with string players. How embarrassing! I actually blushed... So we quickly corrected the problem and introduced our lovely string players to the audience, and then went on to the second part of the program, where Glenn plays the full kit and we show the Robert Longo movie.
The second set went like a dream, so much so that the audience asked for an encore! Then Ron yelled out that we had to be out of the room in five minutes, so I had all the guitarists put their strings seriously out of tune, and we played a MASSIVE chord for two minutes, it was glorious.
Wild applause from the audience, great conversation with the folks from Toronto afterwards, then on to the nearby bed and breakfast place that Rough Idea had provided for us.
Standing from left to right: Paul Swoger-Ruston, Matt Rogalsky, Colin Fisher (white tee-shirt), Bill Parsons, Bill Brovold, David Daniell, Owen Pallett, Julie Penner, video artist Eugene Martynec (who opened the program), Brian Kroeker, Nick Storring, Rebecca Campbell. Kneeling from left to right: Anne Bourne, Mika Posen, Kevin Lynn, Rose Bolton, Glenn Milchem, Geordie Haley. Sitting: Ron Gaskin, Rhys, Regina Greene © Rhys Chatham
Photos legends:
Rhys having a special moment with Bill Brovold, Paul Swoger-Ruston and Bill Parsons © slowshutter.org
Anne Bourne's cello. Julie Penner on violin is in the background © slowshutter.org
Rhys rockin' out with the musicians of Rough Idea, yeah! Rose Bolton is wailin' on violin to the right, next to her going left are David Daniell and Matt Rogalsky © slowshutter.org
G3 performance at Rough Idea