Table of the Elements started in 1993 as a clearinghouse for rare recordings of American experimental music that were not getting out in any other way. This included brittle audiotaped documents of the birth of minimalism, no wave era New York composers whose music was not accepted at the academies, composers whose works blurred the boundaries between rock, improvised jazz, and classical form, sound artists with nowhere else to go. By way of celebrating its anniversary and to provide an introduction to some of their products, Table of the Elements has assembled A Field Guide to Table of the Elements as a sampler; it is not a greatest-hits package and contains a number of tracks not previously released. As this is the "Southeastern Edition," it also seems to have been pressed up as support material for a festival held in connection with the 2006 SXSW Festival in Austin, an occasion that marked the first appearance of Rhys Chatham in the United States in two decades.
The whole second disc is devoted to a single, 50-minute excerpt from Leif Inge's 9 Beet Stretch, a piece that is merely a recording of the Beethoven Ninth slowed down to the point where it takes 24 hours rather than the customary 70 minutes or so. While it is interesting, it requires incredible toleration, so chances are the listener will make far more use of the first disc, which contains works by Chatham, Tony Conrad, Arnold Dreyblatt, Zeena Parkins, Jonathan Kane, and San Agustin. These pieces are of such an individual nature, even within the catalogs of the artists represented, that the "sampler" aspect of the project is sort of out the window; the pieces may or may not move one to investigate these artists' releases further on their own terms. The Conrad and Chatham selections stand out; as Conrad's MOCA performance and the Chatham are available nowhere else, adherents of these composers will want this package.
The package is accompanied by quite a bit of hype congratulating Table of the Elements on its achievements, comparing them to more established concerns like CRI and Lovely Music. From a consumer's standpoint, the comparison might not strike a chord, as one may have a considerable number of issues in relating to the productions, including the lack of easy availability of recordings, the enforced withdrawal of Inside the Dream Syndicate -- one of the most desirable releases -- and mounting artist tours without properly publicizing them. Nevertheless, A Field Guide to Table of the Elements is the label's party, and those already well-disposed to Table of the Elements will want it for the unreleased material included; perhaps this time we will be invited to help blow out the candles.