Rhys Chatham returns with his first new album in 3 years, the apocryphal and enchanting Pythagorean Dream. Primarily focused on the electric guitar (but also featuring flute and a bit of trumpet) the recording is named after the Pythagorean guitar tuning it employs. The new album is a truly singular endeavour; composed, performed, produced, engineered and mastered solely by Chatham.
Following his Guitar Trio Is My Life! and A Crimson Grail records—the latter: the extensive revisiting of his groundbreaking “Guitar Trio” (1977) which featured the entire guitar section of Sonic Youth, and members of Swans, Tortoise, Godspeed You Black Emperor!, Modern Lovers, A Silver Mt. Zion & Hüsker Dü; the former: his work for for 400 guitars which premiered in Paris in 2005 and was reworked for the Lincoln Center Out Of Doors Festival in New York City in 2009—Chatham felt a need to get back to basics, returning to that most intimate and direct way of experiencing music: the solo.
Going back to the model of composer as performer that was pioneered in the 1960s by artists such as Tony Conrad and Terry Riley, Chatham began to develop solos that he would play himself, choosing to incorporate the multi-second delay effect pioneered by Terry Riley with two Revox Tape Machines. Feeling that it tied in with his overall minimalist aesthetic (having studied under, and then worked with La Monte Young in the early 1970s) and that the effect (which gives the impression that choirs and choirs of instruments are playing) was fitting as a succession to his 100-guitar idea, Chatham created and layered feedback loops of varying durations using Riley’s method in order to create rich, overlapping layers, which in practice transcend the limitations of their start and end points, blooming into free-flowing melodies in their own right.
Part One of Pythagorean Dream is comprised of a brief trumpet intro, followed by a guitar piece which implements a finger picking technique (Chatham has long been a fan of this style; John Fahey was one of his teenage musical heroes), before moving to an eBow section, and concluding with the fast tremolo flat-picking technique used in the context of his 100 guitar pieces.
Part Two is principally about Chatham’s return to the flute, the instrument which sparked his love of contemporary music; which he mastered in his adolescence prior to experiencing the early Ramones show at CBGB’s and which caused him to changed course and focus on the electric guitar. While composing this solo work, Chatham figured that the flute’s timbre would make a suitably interesting contrast to the guitar and trumpet, which led him to pick up the instrument again. Pythagorean Dream features Chatham on C, alto & bass flutes. The recording is brought to a close with a final guitar piece.