RHYS CHATHAM – Pythagorean Dream


I love when composers conceive works grounded on systems that invariably cause audiences and reviewers to either ignorantly debate or plain minimize the “unfathomable” implications of what is perceived as preternatural (read: incomprehensible) in a mathematically advanced structure. Such is the case of the Pythagorean tuning, from which this album takes its origin. Given the abundance of literature available to deepen the issue, we won’t dwell on it. Let’s just say that everyone’s ears catch (or miss) and decode (or out-and-out refuse) the behavior of upper partials according to a chain of internal predispositions, in turn related to a sensibility that cannot be “taught”. An intuitive understanding of the difference between instruments responding to the physics of diverse temperaments is comparable to spontaneously coping with a greater number of individual characteristics of fellow humans. Translation: accept what is commonly described as “dissonance” – slight or radical, it doesn’t matter – as a natural occurrence, and you’ll find yourselves way ahead in the process of integration inside the so-called cosmic vibe – a quite laughable term, if you ask me – without recurring to mysterious imagery, fancifully portrayed prime movers and enlightened claptrap.

In this record Rhys Chatham has narrowed the scope of his quest to a point where the worn-out expression “less is more” regains importance. Both halves of the vinyl – the sources being guitar, flutes and trumpet multiplied ad infinitum thanks to tape delay-based tactics – state once more the man’s ability in producing magnetism devoid of ostentatious patinas and, for that, chock full of veritably healing virtues. This music speaks of serene persistence, highlighting an inner reality where the principles of resonance are naturally obeyed. It’s not just “drones”, although that’s obviously a cardinal element knowing where Chatham comes from; there are also quick flurries and nightingale-like phrases halfway through the second part, just before the guitar re-enters the mix. From there on, the “Pythagorean factor” is decisively reaffirmed: the reverberating harmonics commanding attention without an iron fist, a potent string chorale depicting a communion of intents, the single voices still retaining their essential right to exist. And this they do, thus amplifying a strengthening massiveness.

(Note: the digital version comprises a bonus track, “Whitechapel Brass Variations” for trumpet and, again, tape delay).

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