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This is of course Portishead’s Adrian Utley and an assembled orchestra of 18 guitars, 4 organs, bass clarinet and percussion performing Terry Riley’s history-changing minimal masterwork ‘In C’. The ensemble boasts the likes of John Parish and members of Thought Forms and Portishead among its ranks.
The 1964 piece, in case you're unfamiliar, consists of 53 phrases which are repeated by each of the musicians for a duration of their choosing, creating an ever-shifting landscape of densely layered melodies over a relentless C note pulse. It was originally performed on predominantly brass and woodwind instruments but is composed in such a way that it can be performed by almost any combination of instruments and size of ensemble, and has been performed in all sorts of permutations over the years from laptop orchestras to no-brow noise punk weirdos Tropical Trash but I’m not aware of any previous guitarchestra attempts prior to this.
The guitar ensemble seems to be in vogue at the moment though so it makes sense that someone would have a stab at it sooner or later, and who better than Utley? The results are as therapeutic and grandiose as one might hope, walls of shimmering guitars swelling and receding in hypnotic unity as they twinkle their way through those familiar phrases. It’s a beautiful recording full of warmth and restraint and an unstoppable forward momentum from that dinking pedal note which gives it a sort of clockwork feel. A celebratory but respectful reinvention of one of the most revered compositions of the past century, this will look classy in any record collection. If I wasn’t saving up to go halfway round the world to play in a guitar orchestra next month, I’d buy one myself.
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