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Strength in (Atomic) Numbers - A preview of Table of the Elements Festival No. 4 – Bohrium

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Dusted's Adam Strohm previews the Table of the Elements Festival, taking place this weekend in Atlanta.

Strength in (Atomic) Numbers - A preview of Table of the Elements Festival No. 4 – Bohrium

Bohrium, element 107 in the periodic table, is one of a largely speculative nature. Created by German scientists in 1981, Bohrium exists in a highly unstable state; very few atoms of the synthesized element have ever been created, and, therefore, concrete observations of the nature of Bohrium are extremely limited. One can hypothesize fortuitously as to the reasoning behind the choice, but Bohrium is also the element that graces the fourth installment of the Table of the Elements Festival. Perhaps label head Jeff Hunt was inspired by the mysterious nature of Bohrium, or maybe the choice was made on more phonetically aesthetic terms, but, whatever its genesis, the elemental name of this year’s festival is one that’s rather contradictory, as Labor Day weekend at the Eyedrum in Atlanta figures to be anything but Bohr-ing.

The previous pun will likely land this scribe in some sort of writerly purgatory, but, regardless of any cheap humor, the line-up of Bohrium, Table of the Elements’ fourth in an irregular series of concert events, is one that - even with the lamentable withdrawal of Arnold Dreyblatt’s Orchestra of Excited Strings from the bill - packs five nights full of intriguing music and visuals. ToTE stalwart Tony Conrad will not only perform, but also curate an evening of 1960s New York City cinema, including films by Ira Cohen, Jack Smith and Conrad himself. Guitar legend Rhys Chatham will perform twice, once with his guitar army, the second a world premiere of Essentialist, Chatham’s Sunn-inspired minimalist metal band.

The festival begins on August 31 with a tribute to John Fahey, a night which will also serve as a premature release party for Sea Changes and Coelacanths, a compendium of Fahey’s ToTE releases, set to be issued in October. Loren Connors, whose ToTE's Sails features a duet with Fahey, will headline. Sails is a two-disc set, the first consisting of a series of solo tracks, the second a duet with Fahey and a longer solo extrapolation. Things begin with a series of eight tracks entitled “Pretty as Ever,” sweetly mournful tunes with a stark and lonesome beauty. Tracks like “Portrait of a Fool II” and “Into the Night” delve into the more atmospheric sounds, a precursor of the murky instrumentals that make up the second disc.

Fahey himself will make a posthumous appearance, in a video with blues/folk legend Elizabeth Cotten. San Agustin, whose haunting improvisations echo some of Conners’ pathos, will also be there. Keenan Lawler gets things started with his work on the steel resonator guitar, translating folk language into alien tongue.

Day 2 of the festival, entitled Carnivals of Ecstacy, focuses on a fecund period of in New York City’s underground film history, with a selection of films hosted by Tony Conrad. Ira Cohen - filmmaker, poet, and cultural guru - is the source of the night’s highlights: an expanded edition of the renowned, Angus Maclise-scored Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda, and a premier of Brain Damage, a new piece culled from Cohen’s 1960’s 16mm outtakes. Accompanying Cohen’s films will be work by Conrad, Jack Smith (of Flaming Creatures fame, who had a two-disc set of readings, music, and audio ephemera released by ToTE in 1998) and the late Piero Heliiczer. Atlanta junk folk trio Hubcap City will open.

Chatham’s three-disc collection, released by Table of the Elements in 2002, is already out of print, so it’s a boon to those who missed it that ToTE is issuing the material contained therein in single-disc releases, with An Angel Moves too Fast to See and Die Donnergötter surfacing in June, and Two Gongs coming in October. Chatham’s Guitar Army tops the bill on Day 3, showcasing the work of the “other” massed guitar master. Glenn Branca is sometimes classified by the unlearned as a nihilist, but it’d be hard, after hearing An Angel Moves too Fast to See, to say the same of Chatham. Though this work contains some dense sonorities and microtonal bravado, the piece exudes a bright disposition, embracing melodic progression in an almost lilting way, working more explicitly with traditional rock forms without sacrificing much, if any, of the momentous crescendo. Jonathan Kane, who not only drums frequently for Chatham but also co-founded Swans, also works with multiple guitars (his touring band features six, and a bass), but I Looked at the Sun, Kane’s most recent release, is even more unrepentantly friendly than Chatham’s. “BQE” exudes a wistful manner, and the title track is 13 minutes of bluesy rambling. (Dusted’s Bill Meyer recently reviewed the album here.) Unfortunately Kane had to withdraw from the festival and was replaced by One Umbrella. Locals Deerhunter, recent signees to the Kranky label, play first.

Day 4 is likely the festival’s most anticipated, with another appearance by Chatham, as well as a solo set from Conrad. Chatham, though An Angel Moves too Fast to See may not show it, is capable of writing and playing with an edge, and the world premiere performance by Essentialist will likely prove it. The project, inspired by Sunn and their bowel-shaking ilk, begins a U.S. tour in Atlanta, and it’ll be very interesting to hear Chatham’s take on the droning, metal-inspired minimalism that’s so en vogue these days. Die Donnergötter, an album Chatham originally released on Homestead in the U.S., features some of his most aggressive and acerbic work, namely “Dramatic Classicism,” a 1982 composition of raging minimalist thrall. The epic title track, written between 1984 and 1986, builds slowly to a churning mass not unlike Sonic Youth’s contemporary material, but, as always, Chatham’s writing retains a positive energy, and where others might be tempted to let the piece be swallowed under its own weight, Chatham’s melodic touches add a hint of levity to the track. “Waterloo No. 2” is a piece unlike most others in Chatham’s recorded oeuvre, simple and mesmerizing brass repetition over strident percussion. While Chatham’s releases have been some of the label’s most noteworthy in recent years, Conrad is Table of the Elements’ showcase artist, and albums like Four Violins, Outside the Dream Syndicate (with Faust) and his Early Minimalism collection were hallmarks in the development of the ToTE catalog. Conrad’s performances still amaze, and his affable and approachable manner cements him as a perpetual fan favorite. Charlemagne Palestine, another underappreciated minimalist, has never been on the ToTE roster, but will be featured on Day 4 in a collection of film and video. Continuing the night’s minimalist theme, a daylong solo concert of Lief Inge’s 9 Beet Stretch will take place, a live version of Inge’s lauded elongation of Beethoven’s ninth symphony into a 24-hour series of drones, which is scheduled to be released on DVD by Table of the Elements in 2007.

Ruins and Acid Mothers Temple aren’t Elements, so to speak, but the inclusion of the Japanese New Music Festival tour on Day 5 of Bohrium isn’t likely to elicit many complaints. Yoshida Tatsuya (Ruins) and Tsyama Atsushi and Kawabata Makoto (both of Acid Mothers Temple) will perform in an array of solo/side projects, eight in all. Acid Mothers Temple SWR (who recently recorded an alternate soundtrack for Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda) and Yoshida’s Ruins Alone project are the highlights, but a cursory browsing of the various other acts proves that the night is likely to be an interesting one, including avant a cappella, found object improv, and progressive rock gone haywire.

As with any event of this sort, it’s possible to imagine musicians whose inclusion would’ve made things even better, from Arnold Dreyblatt (originally scheduled to perform) to Zeena Parkins to Richard Youngs. But the assembly of artists over the festival’s five days is an impressive one, a testament to the esteem of the label and the work Jeff Hunt has done as a curator, collector and designer in the 13 years of the label’s existence. The label’s history of documenting compelling, often overlooked or underappreciated music is a rich one, and over Labor Day weekend, Bohrium should be a deserving addition to Table of the Elements’ admirable crusade.

By Adam Strohm

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