27 January 2007
Twenty-four hundred strings
Up until about News of the World or so, Queen albums boasted "No Synths," a tribute to the ability of instruments we know to produce sounds we don't. With this thought in mind, and at Lynn's suggestion, I sought out the first movement of Rhys Chatham's A Crimson Grail (for 400 Electric Guitars), and it's quite stunning without being particularly guitar-like: reviewer Stephen V. Funk compares it to, among other things, an adagio by Anton Bruckner. Slow but never standing still, Grail at least this first movement is exactly what you, or I anyway, would want from a minimalist composition: it synchronizes itself with your very synapses, its motions become your motions. (This is a well-documented ability of the electric guitar, shown to considerable advantage in, for instance, the much-recorded "Shakin' All Over": "quivers down my backbone," indeed.) Composers have been working with massed strings for ages, but seldom these particular strings: the orchestral textures (for indeed they are) are simply gorgeous, sometimes horn-like, occasionally pipe-organ complex, once or twice bordering on actual vocalise. If you've listened to minimalists before and thought the stuff just went on and on and on, Grail might just disabuse you of that notion: the first movement runs about twenty minutes, but seems like eight or nine. I'm going to have to track down the rest of this piece.