Die Donnergötter by Rhys Chatham, Dossier Records, 1988


“For an art music audience, both ‘Guitar Trio’ and ‘Drastic Classicism’ were vigorous new strains of overtone-based minimalism, lyrical in content and structurally austere, which synthesized two different musics to arrive at a striking new form (…) what the musicians in my ensemble were hearing as a kind of viscous, gelatinous sphere of shimmering overtones, the rock community heard as an ear shattering wall-of-sound (…) Everyone heard the pieces in a different way.” Rhys Chatham
Rhys Chatham comes from the same school of composition of Glenn Branca, both have in common the successful attempt to marry the so-called ‘art music’ of the twentieth century Americanically known as Minimalism with the world of rock thrash guitar. To my ears it’s an heroic attempt to get a music that appeals to the desire of the mind to merge with the music that appeals to the body, perhaps getting the definition of ‘music for mind and pants’ typical of that amazing group: the Neu!
The first track on this disc is the title track ‘Die Donnergötter’ (Shall I try to translate it as “Gods of Thunder”?), composed between 1984-86 for an ensemble of six electric guitars, bass and drums, it represents the maximum expansion of the classical Rock’s ensemble, conducted by Chatham himself. Now, if you think that this music represents a dry, cerebral and dumb sound, a rock parody intellectually diluted .. you are wrong! Chatham is not a dull academic who delights in playing with plastic, but he is a passionate radical that has developed a personal sound vision which can both shake and to entertain but also to withstand a serious analysis and fusion with the intellectual ideas without lose its visceral mission: move the body.
The song begins with a single heavy repeated chord like in Sonic Youth’s songs, heavy guitars, drums and cymbals crashing all around to make you feel as if you had walked into a room after the passage of a monstrous riff from a heavy rock song. It stops, starts slowly and accelerates to become a reference Düsseldorfer motorik: this is rock to dance with a big grin printed on your face.
The reference above to Neu! is not only desirable but necessary. Try to listen to the first album of Neu! with that foam sound and multi-layered guitars and precise, flying and pressing rhythmic .., well, here the game goes beyond and also becomes more solid thanks to the sound and drones generated by six electric guitars online.
For somebody, this music may sound like “ethereal” or almost esoteric, but Chatham has managed to generate a coherent and enjoyable featuring special attention and importance to its melodic content. In a sense, ‘Die Donnergötter’ is the cousin (the thug cousin) of ‘Electric Counterpoint’ by Steve Reich, not very clean, even a bit crude compared to intellectuals minimalist, but much more alluring and likable.
The other tracks are ‘Waterloo, No.2’ (1986), made for winds and percussion, a quasi-military marching song where the guitar is definitely absent and which witnesses the first attempts to Chatham to get out of a guitar cliché, the massive and now historic Guitar Trio, which I do not dwell on having the next review, and Drastic Classicism, 1982, for four electric guitars and drums, one of the pieces (along with those of people like DNA and Teenage Jesus And The Jerks), which inspired the movement of “noise rock” in New York (also known as No Wave).
A very recomended record, original, always fresh and fun, if you decided to learn more about Mr. Chatham .. you can start listening (and buying) this cd.