One thing we’re not short of in this city is guitarists. At least, we’re assuming that’s what they’re all carrying around in those guitar-shaped cases. We’ve no real way of knowing. They’re like Schrodinger’s guitars.

One way to find out is to tell them all, at once, to open them. And, this autumn, the sound of 100 guitar cases opening is – hopefully – the prelude to something very special indeed.

Samizdat’s Andrew Ellis, in collaboration with the Biennial, is bringing New York’s Rhys Chatham to Liverpool Cathedral for the UK premier of his extraordinary massed sonic experience – A Crimson Grail.

Rhys Chatham’s maverick-punk compositions never give you quite what you’re expecting. Whether working with Steve Reich or Sonic Youth, the ‘no-wave’ legend constantly takes those lowly 12 notes we’ve all been blessed with and melts them into something surprising, engrossing and unchartered.

A Crimson Grail is a piece for massed guitars – the number is sort of irrelevant, but there’ll be 100 of them, and 8 basses, for the Liverpool performance in the main Anglican cathedral.

“We are delighted to be collaborating with a young Liverpool producer to bring this essential performance to the city as part of the opening of Liverpool Biennial 2012. The challenge of finding 100 electric guitarists for the piece is one we are sure Liverpool will rise too and we look forward to filling Liverpool Cathedral with Rhys Chatham’s epic sound.” says Biennial’s Director, Sally Tallant.

Chatham’s walked amongst us before. Last year, Samizdat presented his Guitar Trio and Die Donnergötter at the Bluecoat, to mesmeric and spine-tingling effect: and that with just ten guitars.

This one, well, this one is going to be utterly transfixing.

Chatham’s career started as the piano tuner to the radical avant-garde composer La Monte Young, before becoming the first Music Director of The Kitchen, the home to the New York art scene in the 1970’s.

His time here saw him rub up against some of the most exciting composers of the decade – from Philip Glass to Robert Fripp of King Crimson – and laid down the blueprints of his musical DNA. Layering jagged, angular, atonal interjections against the outer reaches of jazz, and revelling in the drones and overtones produced by amplified instruments at high volume – spurred on by his love of the Ramones. The power of punk-rock harnessed by the beautiful geometry of minimalism, woven together with powerful percussion.

Chatham’s restless spirit has touched on Krautrock and acidhouse, free-jazz and art rock, but A Crimson Grail, due to its huge scale has only previously been performed twice, once at the 2009 Lincoln Center Out of Doors Festival, and at the 2007 première during Nuit Blanche at Sacré-Cœur in Paris. It’s a meditative, iridescent piece – with passages of subtle beauty, sudden swells, massed overlays and metallic reverberations.

For this, the third ever performance and UK premiere, one hundred volunteer guitarists and eight bassists will join Rhys Chatham and his team in a performance of A Crimson Grail. The event will be free of charge.

The ensemble will be conducted by Rhys Chatham, with the assistance of four section leaders: Liverpool locals Jon Davies, Richard Harding, Ben Fair along with long-time Chatham collaborator and Crimson Grail concertmaster David Daniell.

“Liverpool Cathedral is widely acclaimed to be one of the world’s greatest 20th century buildings, awe-inspiring to the visitor and deeply ingrained in the life of the city. It’s so fitting, then, and such a privilege to be a partner in this year’s Liverpool Biennial and to host such a monumental cultural event in its opening weekend,” Liverpool Cathedral’s Eryl Parry says.

And here’s where you come in. Samizdat and the Biennial are seeking musicians from Liverpool and beyond to take part in this performance.

“We encourage players of all styles and particularly wish to extend an equal hand to both sexes. Guitarists must be proficient players, read music, and be able to commit to three evenings of rehearsal, the 11th, 12th and 13th of September, as well as a full day for the performance on September 14th,” says Andrew.

Those interested in being considered for one of the 100 guitar or 8 bass positions for A Crimson Grail should go to the Liverpool Biennial website where full information and an application form is available.

Applications must be received no later than Friday 27th July. Decisions will be announced by Friday 3rd of August. All guitarists will need to use their own guitars and amps, but will play strings generously provided courtesy of D’Addario. A full list of information for potential guitarists can be found on the Biennial website linked above

Us? We’re going to leave our guitars at home. This is going to be one very special evening, and we want to experience it to the full. Case closed.

A Crimson Grail
Anglican Cathedral, September 14th, 7:30pm

Main image: Paula Court