week eight: 100 guitars, 1000 miles

sanfranciscoAlmost no one has heard 100 guitars play together, all at once.  And I’m pretty sure no one has taken a bus to Seattle, a cab to SeaTac, a plane to SFO, BART to a San Francisco hotel then BART to Richmond, then a cab to The Craneway Pavilion in order to see 100 guitars play all at once.  And then do nearly all that in reverse. More or less on a spontaneous whim.

On my own, I’m largely immune to whim, especially when it comes to travel. Some of that is expense. Some of that is the ratio of hassle to reward. Some of that is the fear that my enthusiasm for any given adventure will peter out before the adventure is complete. That’s where the help of a more adventurous, more spontaneous friend comes in handy. I’m lucky enough to have such a friend, and a generous one to boot.

A couple months ago, my friend introduced me to Rhys Chatham, the first artistic director of the famous New York art collective, The Kitchen. What I listened to was A Crimson Grail (for 400 electric guitars).  About a week ago, my friend found out Chatham was performing another of his works for electric guitar, A Secret Rose, for only the third time ever. With my friend providing all the planning, frequent flyer miles and enthusiasm I might have lacked on my own, I signed on for the adventure.

My lesson with this? It’s good to challenge the notion that some kind of guarantee of worth is needed before venturing out. Because, of course, guarantees don’t exist. Sometimes the hassles will outweigh the rewards. But you have to play to win, right? The fear of having a bad time, or even not a good enough time, shouldn’t be enough reason to avoid the risks of whim.  Because sometimes what sounded like a hassle will become its own reward. And sometimes the reward is taking the risk itself.

speedracerThis time there was the reward of napping in a spot of sun on the flight down, the Golden Gate bridge below us. Then there was a pretty amazing Japanese Toy display in the SFO airport. Then came the small rewards of a quiet Sunday city, laughing on the train platform then being lulled by the rhythms of the train, then eating yummy sandwiches. There was water and skyline and light.


And then there was The Secret Rose. Even if it wasn’t perfect or mind-blowing or magic,  the pure, joyful exuberance rolling out on the sonic waves of 100 electric guitars was worth it. As Rhys Chatham turned away from his conducting duties and toward the audience, the sight of his giddy expression was worth it. The rare sensation of having my blood buzzed and bones shaken by music was worth it.  And finally, sharing the entire experience with a friend was not only worth it, but the point of the whole crazy thing.

Here’s a brief clip of the performance: http://youtu.be/-kywFtzTMlo

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