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Thread: Weekly quartet. Just a music lover perspective.

  1. #2146
    Senior Member ELbowe's Avatar
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    My initial search online produced five recordings; I think. I played two back to back and wondered if they were in fact the same piece? I knew watching from the shrubbery on this forum would be interesting and the Schoenberg a few weeks ago was a wonderful challenge…this weeks assignment makes that piece look like it was composed by the Waltz King!
    Onward and Upward!!
    Kronos Quartet
    Meta4
    LA Phil
    Cikada String Quartet
    The Guastalla Quartet

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    Senior Member Allegro Con Brio's Avatar
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    I knew that this would be a “challenge” selection for me, as is a good deal of contemporary music, but also because I have not responded well to almost all electronic music I have heard. “Challenge” to me is not at all negative, it allows me to open my ears to different styles of composition and really focus in on different, adventurous aesthetics that expand my mind. Saariaho is one of those composers who I often turn to whenever I feel like a “challenge” listen, along with such as Boulez, Gubaidulina, and Ligeti. I really have to be in a certain mood to respond to it, but when I am I feel like I can really “plug in” and receive a unique experience entering into a world of previously undiscovered colors and sonorities.

    And I must say that I probably liked this piece better than any other electronic piece I have heard. Unlike some other contemporary music that I feel is very “jumpy” and disconnected, Saariaho has a gift for unifying every gesture into a cohesive whole. It sounds like a continuous dreamscape with smoothly integrated contrasts, and there was plenty of interest to sustain the whole piece. And the electronic sounds, at least in the video that calvinpv linked, actually sounded quite mellow and relaxing. I hear it as the natural heir of Debussy's symbolism/impressionism, with a little bit of second Viennese school as well. I think this would make an excellent soft introduction to this kind of music for anyone interested in it. Thanks for an excellent choice, Calvin!
    Last edited by Allegro Con Brio; Feb-23-2021 at 02:32.
    "If we understood the world, we would realize that there is a logic of harmony underlying its manifold apparent dissonances." - Jean Sibelius

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    Calvinpv, thank you so much for this selection and all of the info (it was long, but it was all very informative and helpful). I am listening a lot, reading and gathering whatever info I can about Saariaho. There is a nearly two hour lecture by her on youtube and I have been working my way through that.
    Before I say much about my take on this piece, does anyone have any knowledge about how the electronics are being integrated during the performance? My best guess is that the quartet's sounds are being processed in real time. This might account for differences in the recordings--since the performers, acoustics, etc. is different, the electronics could be a very different result. Also, I notice that one quartet has a pair of speakers facing the audience, but no visible stage monitors for themselves. If they were responding to a recorded track, it seems like that would be very important. But, I also don't see a laptop on stage or cables leading to an offstage laptop.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Carmina Banana View Post
    Calvinpv, thank you so much for this selection and all of the info (it was long, but it was all very informative and helpful). I am listening a lot, reading and gathering whatever info I can about Saariaho. There is a nearly two hour lecture by her on youtube and I have been working my way through that.
    Before I say much about my take on this piece, does anyone have any knowledge about how the electronics are being integrated during the performance? My best guess is that the quartet's sounds are being processed in real time. This might account for differences in the recordings--since the performers, acoustics, etc. is different, the electronics could be a very different result. Also, I notice that one quartet has a pair of speakers facing the audience, but no visible stage monitors for themselves. If they were responding to a recorded track, it seems like that would be very important. But, I also don't see a laptop on stage or cables leading to an offstage laptop.
    Not being a professional musician myself, I have no experience as to what's normal practice for speaker/microphone/mixing station placement. But I am noticing a microphone in front of the cellist (and only the cellist) in the last video, and I think that's a microphone behind the cellist in the second to last video (which I think is the one you're not seeing cables go offstage; I agree, seems weird). Since this work is based on the sound spectrum of the cello, it would make sense if the live electronics only captured information from the cello. So those microphones tell me it's live electronics. And I'm pretty sure both of the commercial recordings are as well.

  7. #2150
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    Quote Originally Posted by Allegro Con Brio View Post
    I knew that this would be a “challenge” selection for me, as is a good deal of contemporary music, but also because I have not responded well to almost all electronic music I have heard. “Challenge” to me is not at all negative, it allows me to open my ears to different styles of composition and really focus in on different, adventurous aesthetics that expand my mind. Saariaho is one of those composers who I often turn to whenever I feel like a “challenge” listen, along with such as Boulez, Gubaidulina, and Ligeti. I really have to be in a certain mood to respond to it, but when I am I feel like I can really “plug in” and receive a unique experience entering into a world of previously undiscovered colors and sonorities.

    And I must say that I probably liked this piece better than any other electronic piece I have heard. Unlike some other contemporary music that I feel is very “jumpy” and disconnected, Saariaho has a gift for unifying every gesture into a cohesive whole. It sounds like a continuous dreamscape with smoothly integrated contrasts, and there was plenty of interest to sustain the whole piece. And the electronic sounds, at least in the video that calvinpv linked, actually sounded quite mellow and relaxing. I hear it as the natural heir of Debussy's symbolism/impressionism, with a little bit of second Viennese school as well. I think this would make an excellent soft introduction to this kind of music for anyone interested in it. Thanks for an excellent choice, Calvin!
    I think Saariaho in general makes for an excellent introduction to electronic music. Her electronics are so silky smooth and the transitions so seamless that you really are convinced it comes from the instruments. Admittedly, her electronics are probably a bit simpler than the electronics of other composers which may explain why it's so smooth, but hey, sometimes simpler is better.

    You now ought to check out Lichtbogen, which also uses electronics, but is inspired by the Northern Lights. Very evocative work:


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  9. #2151
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    In the meantime, I listened to this piece twice with Meta4, and one time each to the Kronos and Cicada recordings. One thing that strikes me above all is the fact that you cannot not listen to this music. At least my mind hardly wandered during the performances. This surely has to do with the unfamiliarity of the music to me and the absence of repetition of recognizable tonal motifs. But there is more to that: This is an almost addictive piece. I just love the stuttering downward sound waves at around minute four, done most convincingly by Kronos with their quite rough and direct Cello-heavy approach. And the solo violin towards the end is incredibly beautiful. In fact, I did not believe this elegiac beauty to be possible in atonal and even spectral music. In this passage, nothing beats the Meta4 performance, the first violin is heavenly.

    I enjoyed all three recordings. The Cicada appears to have most fun with the piece, I also like their slightly more forward approach with the spoken parts; one can even discern some individual words. Meta4 take considerably longer than the other two. They take a really long break after app. 12 minutes. Actually, the first time I listened, I thought the piece had ended and was surprised how the composer could make 20 minutes pass so quickly. Kronos are very direct, almost brash. The Cello plays four or five short beating low notes somewhere between minutes four to six, which gives the music an interesting structure at this point. This almost disappears in the Meta4 recording, and is taken much more softly by Cicada.

    A facinating and rewarding listen! However, I must say that it does not bring a garden to my mind, rather a jagged icy arctic icescape, especially in the second half.

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    Quote Originally Posted by StevehamNY View Post
    Calvinpw, very much enjoying the Saariaho! One thing that strikes me, having followed jazz music all the way past its signposted boundaries and into the "free improv" wilderness... you sorta end up in the same zip code you might have found if you had started the same journey from modern classical. I hear sonic echoes of Evan Parker's Electro-Acoustic Ensemble in this piece, a group that included the violinist Philipp Wachsmann.

    (Not a coincidence that Wachsmann grew up in the classical tradition, studying with the likes of Boulez. You see the same crossover in many free improv players, especially in Europe. Also not a coincidence that certain music labels like Switzerland's HatHut deal exclusively in either free improv and modern classical.)

    (And of course there's a whole separate discussion to be had on improvisation vs. composition, but it would have to allow for the argument that Mozart might have been the best improvisor of all time!)

    If you really want to let this music have its way with you, put on your headphones as you start to drift off to sleep. Your critical defenses will be down and the music will infect your dreams! Thanks again!
    I am embarrassingly ignorant about jazz and is something I need to fix. But right now I'm listening to a live performance of Evan Parker's ensemble on youtube and holy cow! You're absolutely right, that comes dangerously close to the more improvisational aspects of contemporary classical. I had no idea that's where jazz is today.

    But you know who it reminds of? Less of Saariaho, except in the quieter sections, and more Wolfgang Mitterer. You should check out Mitterer's coloured noise and Little Smile. coloured noise in particular is a fabulous work.
    Last edited by calvinpv; Feb-23-2021 at 16:27.

  12. #2153
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bwv 1080 View Post
    Cool piece - the sampled cello makes the electronics more organic and subtle compared to the Tristan Murail pieces I am familiar with. Spectral to me is an evolution of the late 60s textural music of Ligeti, Xenakis, Penderecki etc., moving beyond tone clusters to acoustically inspired pitch material. This piece does sounds more or less conventionally tuned to me, unlike some of Murail’s work which often is based upon very high (sometimes >30), out of tune partials (see below), this of course is easier to do with electronics than real performers


    You ought to hear Horațiu Rădulescu's 4th SQ. If I remember the liner notes correctly, there are harmonic partials >60. Granted, that means an extremely low fundamental to fit them all in. But still, I'm not even sure how that works. I'm no string musician, but I feel like there's only so much space on a vibrating string before issues of accuracy kick in.


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  14. #2154
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    There are so many things to comment on with this piece and these performances. Unfortunately, I also have to work for a living.
    Let me just say that my favorite listening experience right now involves the Kronos recording. The stereo width allows for a lot more separation of sound. You could make a case for the meta4 recording because it is more blended and maybe more organic sounding for that reason. But I love hearing the sounds panning from right to left along with all of the timbre changes. It is delightful to hear.
    I do think there is some kind of live processing going on and that accounts for the difference in sound. Of the two live performances, one seems like there is barely have any electronic sounds in the mix while the other one has it in your face from the beginning.
    The integration of electronics, as I think the composer intended, is ingeniously subtle and very different from many other works. I think because it is coming from the acoustics sounds, it strikes us as an intensification of the quartet's sound rather than adding a completely foreign element. A good example is the aggressive scratch tone sections that become like a cloud of lingering distortion. I wonder about the last cello gesture. On the studio recordings you hear this wonderful effect of cycling through some upper harmonics. That must be an electronically enhanced moment?

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    Quote Originally Posted by calvinpv View Post
    I am embarrassingly ignorant about jazz and is something I need to fix. But right now I'm listening to a live performance of Evan Parker's ensemble on youtube and holy cow! You're absolutely right, that comes dangerously close to the more improvisational aspects of contemporary classical. I had no idea that's where jazz is today.

    But you know who it reminds of? Less of Saariaho, except in the quieter sections, and more Wolfgang Mitterer. You should check out Mitterer's coloured noise and Little Smile. coloured noise in particular is a fabulous work.
    Glad you hear the similarity, too! So I'm not crazy. (Or at least, not in this context.) It's funny, though, because I'm not even sure if I'd say this is where jazz is today as much as I'd just call this music a distant remnant. For me, jazz lost its center of gravity around 1970 (Coltrane dies in 1967, Miles goes electric in 1969, Albert Ayler dies in 1970), and "free improv" took on its own new direction. (And you had to go to Europe, Chicago, or downtown New York City to hear it.)

    Anyway, thanks for the heads-up on Mitterer! Checking him out right now.

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  17. #2156
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    So many things to listen to! I really appreciate all of the other pieces mentioned and I am putting them on my list, but also trying to hear more Saariaho.
    I can see the connection to experimental jazz improv. I have heard some things that approach this, but without the strong focus on timbre Saariaho has. I would like to suggest that, while very different on the surface, the minimalist movement asked similar things from the listener. By subverting our rules of how harmony and melody function in regard to time, it forced us to listen to other elements. Saariaho is taking this a step further, by forcing us to examine sound itself. Or something like that. Also, just to throw in something from left field, I have heard the composer mention the transition between what we hear as pitches as compared to noise. That seems to be a theme for her. While 20th century "serious" composers were experimenting this, there was also a genre that incorporated noise by electronic means: rock and roll.
    Finally, I think it would be fun to compare our current quartet with what came before it. Pleyel vs. Saariaho, anyone?

  18. #2157
    Senior Member ELbowe's Avatar
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    This is slightly embarrassing but instructive; at least for myself! Yesterday by sheer accident I thought I was listening to our assignment and didn’t realise it had ended and recording was onto Saariaho’s “Lichtbogen” and then…”Sah Den Vögeln” both of which I really enjoyed...!! I went back to our designated quartet and found I appreciated it more than I had previously (at least once a day for past three days…with nominal headway!). Interesting how things progress aurally!

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    Just listened to Lichtbogen with my morning coffee. I heard her playing a little more with melodic fragments. There is a little of that in the SQ but in general our attention is directed towards other things. In particular I heard some scale passages exchanged between instruments that reminds of Joan Tower.
    Here is an observation, nothing profound but it seems really important: there is rarely a note that is simply sustained on an instrument. When it does happen, like in the middle of Lichtbogen, we really notice it. Usually, the sound is excited or altered from it's pure state by trills, temolos, extended techniques. Then of course, there are the electronics. The result is a world that is constantly changing like a kaleidoscope.

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    Just revisited the Kronos recording and just listened to the Adastra live performance for the first time. A couple things I liked in the Kronos were 1. I can actually hear the words of the poem towards the end (I'm still not sure if the poem is really needed) and 2. there is a slight grainy texture to the electronics that adds a bit of color. But overall I think both the Kronos and the Adastra are a bit timid in their use of electronics as a means of blending the sonorities together. And as a result, their interpretations sound pretty "dry", especially in the first half of the work. Meta4 seems to get this and they embrace the electronics, letting it just wash over the quartet like a tidal wave. And while there can be such a thing as too much electronics in a work, I think in this case I prefer more than less because, to be honest, I don't find the underlying quartet writing all that interesting except in a few places.

    Anyways, I'll listen to the Guastalla live performance tomorrow. And then as a nice treat for myself, listen to Saariaho's most recent opera Only the Sound Remains on DVD, which I recently bought.

    Quote Originally Posted by calvinpv View Post
    Not being a professional musician myself, I have no experience as to what's normal practice for speaker/microphone/mixing station placement. But I am noticing a microphone in front of the cellist (and only the cellist) in the last video, and I think that's a microphone behind the cellist in the second to last video (which I think is the one you're not seeing cables go offstage; I agree, seems weird). Since this work is based on the sound spectrum of the cello, it would make sense if the live electronics only captured information from the cello. So those microphones tell me it's live electronics. And I'm pretty sure both of the commercial recordings are as well.
    Oh, and I'm clearly wrong in what I wrote here. While the electronics are definitely live, all the instruments have microphones in the Adastra performance, I don't know how I missed the others.

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    That was so much fun to listen to! Calvinpv really delivered on this one. That introduction also helped get me into the right frame of mind for the listening experience. It's interesting to reframe your perspective into viewing timbre in its whole, raw form as the centrifugal force of the music. I was struck by the beauty of even just singular, isolated lines by themselves because they contain so much color and vibrant, rich frequencies. I wish I could see this live so I could hear the richness of the piece's frequencies at their fullest depth. Saariaho captures a variety of moods that range from being ethereal and serene to really tense and explosive (those "curves of tension" Calvinpv mentioned in the intro), like the fabric of the sound itself is about to rip at the seams. The voices added an interesting effect. The first word that comes to mind when describing the piece is "surreal" but that still seems woefully lacking. Perhaps surreal because the images she conjures up are so unlike anything your brain knows how to process. The pieces I've heard by her always remind me of traveling through space and being at mercy of the raw forces of the universe that are totally indifferent to you.

    This has definitely piqued my interest in exploring electronic and spectral music, and delving into Saariaho more, she's really growing on me. She's the best composer I've heard so far, in my limited sampling of electro-acoustic music, at actually putting it to music. I'm going to listen to some of the other performances and try it on speakers next time as well. I was listening to it on my headphones, as recommended, but I don't like to crank it up too much for the sake of my hearing. Speakers might capture more depth to the frequencies more, even though Calvinpv recommended headphones as speakers put too much space between the listener and the music. All in all, great reccomendation!

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