Learning from ‘Two Gongs’: Rhys Chatham June 7, 1973

I learned some interesting things about gongs on May 30 at a Center Street loft concert: that gongs have many different pitches, most of which don’t make much sense in terms of the overtone series; that different tones stand out, depending on how the gong is struck; that when a gong makes a crescendo, a wonderful whoosh of high sound streams into the room; that loud gongs vibrate the floor in a special way and put an odd charge in the air; that listening to gongs, played alone for over an hour, is an extraordinary experience.

All this has little to do with Rhys Chatham, who simply found a couple of gongs and a couple of people to keep them ringing, set up a little amplification, and generally organized the evening of ‘Two Gongs.’ But it has a lot to do with broadening our definition of music. An electronic circuit designed by Gordon Mumma can make music. And a piece of metal, carefully crafted into a fine gong, can make music.

Now that Eastern thought is making its way into our lives and one hears more and more talk about controlling the ego, I wouldn’t be surprised if more musicians began to turn in this direction. Giving up controlling every sound. No longer insisting on human organization. Just setting something up and allowing nature to take its course.


Unfortunately things didn’t go that way.