From The Desk Of Rick Moody: Rhys Chatham’s “A Crimson Grail”

RickMoodyThe name Rick Moody will be familiar to anyone who keeps current with American writing. He’s the recipient of several awards and fellowships, including the Pushcart Prize, a Guggenheim fellowship and the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for the Art of the Memoir, and his lauded 1994 novel The Ice Storm was filmed by director Ang Lee. Moody is hanging around the MAGNET shop this week mostly because of his side job as one-quarter of the Wingdale Community Singers, a remarkable collection of writers, musicians and artists of varying stripes. Once pegged as an “urban folk” group that wrote old-timey songs about modern topics such as cross-dressers and funky Brooklyn culture, the Wingdales just released their second album, Spirit Duplicator, on the Scarlet Shame label. In addition to his writing and recording projects, Moody is guest editing this week. Read our Q&A with him.

rhyscathmanMoody: In the Rhys Chatham versus Glenn Branca turf war, which is not far from the Philip Glass versus Steve Reich turf war, Chatham is the affable and less obtuse one, or so it seems from the outside. I agree that it’s disappointing that the two of them seem resigned to making ever larger ensembles, a battle that Rhys seems to have won for the moment by getting 400 electric guitarists to play this piece. The idiom is frankly minimalist, which means that it sounds quite a bit like Reich in spots, or perhaps like La Monte Young’s brass pieces. The tonality of it is disappointing if you are a fan of, e.g., Chatham’s Guitar Trio Is My Life!, which squalls more interestingly. But if you leave aside these quibbles, this is the most beautiful, most seductive, most unforgettable piece of modern composition made in years. Played in a church in Paris, because no other setting would do it justice, and the resonance of the space makes the recording even better. The only disappointment, really, is the crowd noise, which breaks the spell some, but how else to record the thing? Is there a venue that could hold this many players otherwise? Chatham continues, despite his inconstant output, to be one of the very greatest of modern composers. Video after the jump.