With a film by Robert Longo: Pictures for Music (1979)
27 January 2007
Electric guitars:
Rhys Chatham
David Daniell (San Agustin, Essentialist)
Kim Gordon (Sonic Youth)
Colin Langanus (USAisamonster)
Robert Longo (X- Patsys)
Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth)
Lee Ranaldo (Sonic Youth)
Byron Westbrook (Corridors, Essentialist)
Adam Wills (Bear in Heaven, February, Essentialist)
Electric bass: Ernest Brooks III (Ex-Modern Lovers)
Drums: Jonathan Kane (February)
Tour recording engineer: Eric Block (Semaphore Recording Studio)
Tour manager: Regina Greene of Front Porch Production
I flew in from Paris on Friday 26 January and arrived at LaGuardia at 8.20 pm. Suzanne Fiol of Issue Project met me, and kindly took me to Moki Cherry's loft in Queens, where I was to stay. I was to take part in a month long festival co-curated by Regina Greene and the Issue Project Room consisting of concerts by artists of record labels dealing with a wide variety of experimental music: XI, Pogues, Tompkins Square, Ecstatic Peace, Locust, Family Vineyard, and the label that puts out all of my music, the Table of the Elements Records.
The sound check was at 4 pm at The Issue Project Room on Carroll Street in Brooklyn. When I arrived, my old friend visual artist Robert Longo was already there; he had borrowed his son's guitar amp for the evening and came equipped with a Fender Telecaster. Then we went upstairs and I discovered that my colleagues and comrades-in-arms of the early 80s Kim Gordon, Thurston Moore, and Lee Ranaldo had already arrived, soon to be joined by Alan Licht, Colin Langanus of USAisamonster, and my Essentialist band mates Adam Wills and Byron Westbrook. David Daniell, my collaborator on the Guitar Trio (G3) project, came in with long-time G3 bassist Ernie Brooks and drummer Jonathan Kane, with whom I have worked closely and continuously since 1988.
Everybody already knew how to play G3, but some hadn't played it in 20 years, so we rehearsed a bit before the sound check in order to refresh everyone's memory, and then we were set.
The performance started out with a group called Neptune, who did a kind of HM meets noise kind of set, followed by Alan Licht's set of minimalist pieces with vocalist Robert Lowe. And then it was our turn to play.
The Issue Project Room is in an old silo and is perfectly circular, so we put the drums and bass in the center and lined up the guitarists on either side of them in order to surround the audience with blasts of overtone-filled harmonics.
The version of Guitar Trio that is out on CD is an 8-minute performance that was recorded in 1982. But the original version was much longer than that. It often went on for a half hour or more, and was played with just a high hat rather than with a full drum kit. This was the version that we were doing at The Issue Project Room. In fact, it was in essence, a recreation concert of an early performance of G3 at Max's Kansas City in the late seventies.
During this period I had been producing concerts at The Kitchen Center. Robert Longo was working there at the same time as the visual art curator. We became friends, and at one point I asked him to make a set of slides to go along with G3. He came up with 6 slides with extremely slow fades lasting around three minutes each. The effect was more like a minimalist movie than a slide show. We decided to show these original slides for the G3 tour, and since it looked like a movie anyway, made a DVD out of the slides.
The performance space in Brooklyn is on the second floor. When it came our turn to play, we went upstairs. The room was packed with people and everyone was standing, so I asked the audience to sit on the floor since I needed a site line to cue the musicians individually. We did the first set with Jonathan playing only the high hat, with wafts of overtones shimmering throughout the room at high volume.
There are three basic sounds to G3. There is a section where we play on only the low E string of the electric guitar, that's all we do. All the melodic material is contained in the overtones of the one note, because, of course, when we play an E on electric guitar, we hear many other notes in addition to the E. These sounds are called overtones. By flat-picking on the guitar in a special way, we can elicit different overtones.
After we play on the E string for about 6 minutes, we move to the next section, which is called the “3-string section,” which, as the name implies, is played on top 3 strings: a low E, a B on the A string, and an E octave on the D string. This is a basic power chord. We play it for three minutes or so, using the same techniques for making melodies with the overtones. Finally, we have the “6-string section,” which is an Em7 sound played on all open strings, except for the A string, which plays a B on the second fret. But everything else is open, so the final chord is E, B, D, G, B, E. This section is truly glorious. One appears to hear choirs of voices if the music is correctly played.
During the 6-string section, Jonathan Kane took a high hat solo that was fantastic, it sounded like something out of Max Roach. We continued to play on 6-strings and then ended on a final chord, which we let ring. The piece finished to thunderous applause. The audience was going crazy with people throwing flowers at us. Some of the ladies even started tossing their undergarments up into the air, it was wild!
I introduced all the players during the pause and then asked the audience if they would like to hear another number. They said yes, so we played the same piece, exactly the same piece, all 20 minutes of it, all over again. Except this time, we had Jonathan playing the full drum kit and the addition of Robert Longo's movie. So in fact, it wasn't the same piece. It sounded different, much more intense.
First I cued in David Daniell and we played a little duet. Then Thurston started playing, who was on the other side of the room and we made a trio. Then Alan Licht entered and we became a quartet. Then Kim came in, then Colin Langanus of USAisamonster, then Lee, and finally my band mates from Essentialist, Byron Westbrook and Adam Wills entered on the low E string. We played for a time with all the guitarists fully entered and Jonathan only playing minimally. Then I cued in Ernie on bass, and he started playing with Jonathan, who finally brought in the full kit with a regular fully-flammed backbeat. It was a dramatic entrance and the audience was enthralled.
An interesting effect that we didn't anticipate occurred during all this due to Robert's movie being shown. Because all the lights in the house were out except for the light generated by the movie, it was quite dark in the room. On the other hand, there were many photographers present, most of whom were using flashes. If the photographers were using flashes, it was because I gave them permission to do so; I love having flashes going off while I'm playing, it adds to the excitement of things. Anyway, the musicians were being lit up by all these flashes going off. It was truly stroboscopic and added to the electricity of the event. It was a bit like seeing The Flicker, Tony Conrad's seminal early sixties film.
At last, Jonathan took a final drum solo and we went into the final tremolo section of the 6-string movement and ended on a resounding, ringing chord, thus ending the piece.
I was thrilled with this recreation performance of G3, and on top of everything it was played by so many of my dear friends and colleagues from the epoch, all of whom I give my infinite thanks in making this G3 reunion concert fete such a blast!
From left to right: Robert Longo, David Daniell, Colin Langanus, Kim Gordon, Byron Westbrook, Rhys, Adam Wills, Thurston Moore (glasses), Jonathan Kane (kneeling), Alan Licht (jacket), Ernie Brooks, Lee Ranaldo’s arm © Michelle Lance
Photos legends:
The Issue Projet Room © Matthew Clarke
Adam Wills, Kim Gordon, Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo © Rhys Chatham
Colin Langanus, Byron Westbrook and Robert Longo © Rhys Chatham
G3 performance at The Issue Project Room