Table of the Elements' three-CD box set An Angel Moves Too Fast to See: Selected Works 1971-1989 fills in a significant gap in what is known about the development of the "downtown" New York music scene and one of its most vital participants, composer Rhys Chatham. Chatham moved from an academically based milieu of arch-minimalism in the early '70s toward massed electric guitar ensembles playing thorny, large-scale noise compositions (with a beat) in New York art galleries and nightclubs by the end of the decade. This collection covers some of the high points in Chatham's compositional oeuvre up until and including his first work utilizing an orchestra of 100 electric guitars, An Angel Moves Too Fast to See (1989).
Chatham is definitely not a composer who is in a hurry -- the box set adds up to 162 minutes of music, yet contains only seven musical works. The whole of the first disc is devoted to a 1989 performance of Chatham's 1971 piece Two Gongs and the whole third disc to the five movements that make up the title work. Included among the shorter pieces is a 1982 recording of the landmark Guitar Trio (1977) that is said to have spurred composer Glenn Branca on to his given choice of musical endeavor shortly afterward. The most bracing of these works is Drastic Classicism (1982), which in its time represented the big ugly in New York no wave tone cluster guitar maximalism. Waterloo No. 2 (1986) and Massacre on McDougal Street (1989) show off the talents of Chatham's brass band. If a listener is interested in the underground music of this period and how its legacy continues to inform current styles, than he/she could hardly avoid this set.