Reviews

Kronos Quartet

Photo: Jay Blakesberg

Sometimes it's not the name in lights that's the main attraction.

Kronos Quartet

City: New York, NY
Venue: Carnegie Hal
Date: 2008-12-05

Sometimes it's not the name in lights that's the main attraction. When the esteemed Kronos Quartet took the stage at the equally esteemed Carnegie Hall in New York, we all expected a series of alternately annoyed WTF-fits and accepting passive trances brought on by the abstract semi-classical collages the group is best known for. We got both, but because of the drums, not the viols. "But wait," you're surely gasping, "Aren't they a string quartet?" Right you are. But about halfway in, Glenn Kotche, Wilco drummer and the night's featured guest, strolled on stage looking like a disembodied chip of Brooklyn hipness floating in a sea of pomp, and he quickly emerged as the star of the night. He'd written a piece specifically for the quartet, which is notoriously commission-happy, and as it unfolded, he transformed before our eyes from a rock and roll rhythm section into an utter space cadet of... well, Kronos caliber. Some of it was just wind-chime textural babbling in the percussion or swoops and screeches amounting to the same in the strings, but the high points were the parts where the abstraction in one was matched in the other by something more concrete. For example, after hearing the string parts doubled on mallets, I started scanning the stage to see which Krono had switched instruments. I did a double take after my third pass -- they were all still on strings. Kotche, in his most impressive virtuoso moment of the night, was playing melodic lines with one limb and percussive parts on the drum kit with the other three. It made my head hurt. Although Kotche was compelling as a performer, his composition seemed a bit scatterbrained, perhaps a bit too eager to show all his cards in one go, as though he needed to get all his weirdo ya-ya's out before heading back out on the road with Wilco. (To be fair, he's not the only one grappling with that problem -- paging Nels Cline.) At times, it seemed to be more about spectacle than sound; we were probably a good twelve minutes in before he so much as hit his snare drum. His art-house technique of choice seemed to change every few bars (the cracking of twigs into a microphone being the most obnoxious phase) and I shuddered at the thought of what he might have planned for the giant gleaming golden gong planted stage left. Every once in a while, however, his trick bag settled into a harmonious coexistence with whatever the quartet was getting into at the time. Most strikingly, he surrendered his second hand to the mallets just as the string parts went legato, letting each note ring out just a little longer, and the reverberant contrails from the instruments quickly wove themselves together into a compelling emergent combination, like Jell-O meeting pineapple or the cast of Gossip Girl meeting an oncoming train. Kotche left the stage when his Imaginarium finally went dry about twenty minutes in (which raises the question of what he's going to do on his next go-round), at which point the quartet started digging into George Crumb's "Black Angels", an avant-garde-as-all-hell piece from 1971 for electric string quartet which has become the closest thing they have to a signature piece outside of the theme from Requiem For A Dream. Despite having listened to their 1990 recorded version dozens of times in the days leading up to the show, I couldn't get my head either into or around it. It's a deliberately messy construction, at times heavily atonal, and even punctuated by outbursts of shouting, which are nevertheless among the more sensible compositional elements. Now, not everything has to be pretty, and there are times when bizarre can be brilliant, but with apologies to both Crumb and Kronos, "Black Angels" wasn't among them -- his fault more than theirs, I think. And anyway, we were all still waiting for the gong. When it finally showed up, it was all I could do to keep from high-fiving someone. With that elephant finally disposed of, the spotlight could shift to the raised platforms behind the band, the dark cloths draped atop torn aside to reveal crystal wine glasses tuned to specific pitches with varying amounts of liquid. It was another stunt, sure -- the platforms were even lit from below, the glasses shining like humming amplifier power tubes -- but the surprising part was that Kronos still sounded like a cohesive, well-rehearsed unit, even with 75% of the ensemble playing dinnerware. The room went dead silent when the wine glass movement drew to a close, and it almost seemed like the creaking of the performers dismounting from the platforms might be written into the score. After all, if twigs are fair game, why not plywood floorboards? I, unfortunately, had to write all this down, which is harder than you could possibly imagine during absolute silence in of one of the world's most finely tuned acoustic spaces. I eventually stopped myself mid-chicken scratch, mortified that I had violated some sacred code with the unforgivable din of ballpoint on glossy fancy-pants Carnegie program stock. And, I must admit, feeling like a bit of a space cadet myself. John Cage would be proud.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image