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Chicago Tribune: Can the arts get smart about the smartphone?

Chicago Tribune: Can the arts get smart about the smartphone?

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 Ran’s new ring tones, for a project led by the city’s Spektral Quartet that was to debut at a performance Saturday night, are a perfect example of how the rise of smartphones — so ubiquitous that they are carried by 64-year-old classical composers and rap-loving grade schoolers alike — is making people approach their art form from new angles. 

To read the whole article, click here

Chicago Magazine: The Spektral Quartet Has Released the Most Beautiful Ringtones

Chicago Magazine: The Spektral Quartet Has Released the Most Beautiful Ringtones

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 To new-music lovers around Chicago, the four string players of Spektral Quartet seem like they’re everywhere—not just in the concert hall. They’re also in your local bar, playing their Sampler Pack series. And they’re in your living room, with their first album, Chambers, released this past fall. Now they’re trying to get into your pocket.

 

The quartet commissioned more than 40 composers to write ringtones, alarms, and alerts for cellphones. This Saturday, the miniatures drop—not a word you usually like associated with your cellphone—at a party at Constellation. The Spektralists will play short sets of some of the pieces that can be played live, and listening stations will allow attendees to hear all of them. The $15 ticket price includes five free downloads. Also, the local composers Marcos Balter and Chris Fisher-Lochhead will add to the project by writing ringtones live at the party. 

To read the whole article, click here

Classical Voice North America: Forget Wagner, Quartet Dials Up New Ring Cycles

Classical Voice North America: Forget Wagner, Quartet Dials Up New Ring Cycles

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 CHICAGO – Among life’s minor annoyances are all too many ringtones — cheesy, over-played 1980s pop songs or the boring electronic combinations pre-programmed by the phone companies.

 

The Spektral Quartet believes it has just the antidote: Mobile Miniatures. It has recorded more than 60 jazzy, gentle and edgy ringtones, alerts and wake-up alarms for mobile phones, all freshly created by 46 composers across the U.S. Beginning March 29, they will be available for 50 cents apiece or $20 for the set at spektralquartet.com.

 

For the Chicago-based string ensemble, the project is not only a way to provide a practical product to phone users, but it is also an opportunity to take contemporary classical music into a new realm, work with a broad swath of composers, and build the quartet’s profile along the way. 

To read the whole article, click here

Chicago Sun-Times: ‘Mobile Miniatures’ project delivers wee symphonies to your cell phone

Chicago Sun-Times: ‘Mobile Miniatures’ project delivers wee symphonies to your cell phone

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Thus, this new idea was born a year ago, as a way to champion the work of peers and feeding a desire to engage with a new medium. “We have done collaborations with other types of artists in multimedia, and Mobile Miniatures was an extension of that,” says Rolen. “It bridges this old genre we work in with modern-day life in a way that people can relate to and understand, and hopefully gets string music out in the world in a larger way to entice people to become more interested in hearing it.” 

To read the whole article, click here

 

 

Sniff My Pits!

Sniff My Pits!

We’ve all been there…

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Two hours in a suit or gown, the stage lights radiating down with the heat of a thousand suns as you tear through a Presto movement. The lateral blast of the air conditioning creates a frigid ring at your collar, the wet blooming outward with every passing measure. Ticklish beads of sweat scurry down from the under-arm toward the culvert at the belt line.

As you stand for the final bow, you consider the options for greeting friends and fans in the lobby. The old elbows-planted-at-the-waist hug? A quick change of shirt? Did you bring an extra shirt? 

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Old Man and the C cheats on his Dr. Beat

Old Man and the C cheats on his Dr. Beat

It’s been a little while since I dropped some music gear recommendations on you, but trust me on this…this one is well worth the wait!

I remember being ecstatic when metronome apps first started surfacing on iOS, and then quickly realizing that I needed to play everything ppppp with it if I stood any chance of actually hearing the click. Even some of the more robust metronomes (in terms of custom subdivisions) like Metronomics are essentially useless in an ensemble setting because they are about as audible as:

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So the options are, 1) cart around a Dr. Beat DB-90 and its requisite power adapter or 2) plug the iPhone into an existing stereo system or speaker and be constantly bending over or running across the room to adjust settings and turn it on/off. Both options are lousy.

Then it hit me: Bluetooth speaker, son!

I had ignored these when they were first introduced because of their dubious audio quality, but for a metronome, this strident mono sound would be perfect. After much deliberation, I decided on the TekNmotion Air Capsule because it pumps out good volume and (full aesthetic disclosure), it is housed in sexy brushed aluminum. It’s small enough to fit in my messenger bag, isn’t tethered by any cabling (BT connection to my iPhone) and runs for days on an internal rechargeable battery. This thing is changing my musical life, for real, and it doubles as a hands-free device in the car. While it isn’t loud enough for a string quartet going full-tilt fffff, it is more than enough for most sonic scenarios. If you want even more decibels, some of these speakers can be daisy-chained (TekNmotion cannot).

Now, your metronome app of choice is ready for business and your phone can remain on the stand with you. Time to go get groovy…

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Q2 Music Album of the Week: Spektral Quartet’s ‘Chambers’ Conveys a Vintage Sheen

Q2 Music Album of the Week: Spektral Quartet’s ‘Chambers’ Conveys a Vintage Sheen

wqxr_logo“New Yorkers should brace themselves for a pang of envy. Listening to “Chambers,” the inaugural release from both the Spektral Quartet and their fellow Chicagoans at the Parlour Tapes+ label, one could hardly imagine a more promising debut from either.

 

Here’s another one of those brief glimpses the rest of the country is periodically afforded into to the first-rate new-music scene of the so-called Second City, and the sheer rigor and vision of the musicianship it offers is painfully tantalizing.”

To read the whole article, click here

Someone Other Than Harold in Italy: An Interview with Mario Lavista

Someone Other Than Harold in Italy: An Interview with Mario Lavista

In reprogramming our Sampler Pack this Sun, I enthusiastically threw in a pitch for Mario Lavista’s cuarderno e viajea solo viola number constructed exclusively of harmonics. I had an opportunity to work with Mario while on tour with ensemble dal niente in 2012, performing this piece at the Festival Internacional Chihuahua, and this composer’s artistic generosity is something that’s never left me. I remember being a little anxious to play for him, given his prominence in Mexico (and beyond) and the precariousness of navigating harmonics, but it took mere seconds to feel at ease in the warmth of Mario’s profound love for live performance.

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I had the chance to ask Mario a few questions this week about his inspiration for what has become one of my go-to pieces when a family member or friend throws me every musician’s favorite curveball: “Play me something!”

 

DA: At the time you wrote cuaderno de viaje, what or whom was motivating you as a composer?

ML: I wrote the piece for an Italian viola player, Maurizio Barbetti. At that time I was very much involved in working with natural harmonics and I wanted to continue the kind of work I had already done in my second string quartet, called “Reflections of the night”, which is based entirely on natural harmonics.

DA: I find myself playing this piece in the practice room as a kind of “looking-inward” even when there’s not a performance of it on the horizon. Did you envision it being as much an intimate experience for the performer as for the audience?

ML: Yes, for me music is an intimate experience for the performer as well as for the audience. I think that is was Stravinsky who pointed out that music is addressed to every particular soul, not to a group of people.

DA: Did you set out to write a piece solely in harmonics, or did the piece you intended to write simply land in that timbral approach?

ML: I wanted to write a solo piece based on natural harmonics. When you do this you are aware, or you must be aware, that you do not choose the pitches: they have already been chosen by each string or fundamental. So you only can change the order of the pitches.

DA: cuaderno de viaje strikes me as a very personal work. Was it written for, or inspired by someone in particular?

ML: The piece is dedicated to Claudia, my only daughter, and was written during a trip in Italy where I met Maurizio Barbetti.

 

You can discover more of Mario Lavista’s music here

Inside the Composer’s Studio: An Interview with Phil Taylor & Igor Santos [Part 2 of 2]

Inside the Composer’s Studio: An Interview with Phil Taylor & Igor Santos [Part 2 of 2]

Read Part 1 here…

The other composer featured in our Logan Center space during the Jan 25th Inside the Composer’s Studio event was Igor Santos. Much of his violin/viola duet memory, memorialization – o urubú e o gavião compels the listener to hyper-focus, starting as it does with toneless 32nd-note glissandi in the viola part. It made for a dynamite pairing with Phil’s lyrical Apparitions of Snowand for our Constellation show this Sun, each will be featured on one half of the program. 

One of the primo benefits of doing what we do as a quartet is getting to chew the fat with so many manipulators of sound and silence. It keeps it farm-stand fresh!

As such, I had a few questions for Igor after the premiere of his new work:

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DA: It seems to me that writing your piece was an opportunity to explore extended-technique notation, but in a cohesive, and non-etude way. What were you most surprised at in this process?

IS: I had written the piece aware that you guys were going to play it, so I knew I could rely on an experienced body of knowledge for contemporary performance practice. I wasn’t terribly surprised, to be honest, that we were able to fix and sculpt sounds rather quickly, almost in real time, to what I had imagined.

DA: How does listening to your new work in the practice room with Austin and I compare to the way you heard it in the Logan concert setting? Did the audience change anything for you?

IS: Yes, I would say the audience changed my perception quite dramatically. Because my piece it is extremely soft for most of its duration, it was interesting to feel the tension in the room as everyone is focusing their listening intensely to be able to hear the sounds being produced.

DA: What was the most bizarre question an audience member asked you that night?

IS: I was really pleased to hear this question, twice: “Are you Brazilian?”. Two Brazilian audience members told me they came to the concert because they saw the title of the piece “…o urubú e o gavião”, and assumed I was from Brazil (which is correct). They also told me they liked the piece (this is perhaps, the bizarre part), and that it was their first time attending a contemporary music concert.

 

Inside the Composer’s Studio: an interview with Phil Taylor & Igor Santos [Part 1 of 2]

Inside the Composer’s Studio: an interview with Phil Taylor & Igor Santos [Part 1 of 2]

And now for some concert format real juice:

On January 25th, Austin and I were invited to perform two new violin/viola duets written by University of Chicago composers Phil Taylor and Igor Santos. As a co-producer of Inside the Composer’s Studio, Phil curated a set of three rooms at the Logan Center in which brand-new pieces were performed, the audience rotating every 20 minutes. First off…getting the crowd up off its ass periodically is a fantastic concert strategy. What made this show even more engaging, though, was the papering of the walls with composer sketches for each number. With early versions and feverish-looking notes hanging behind them, Phil and Igor were there to answer questions about process before and after Austin and I played, and the whole vibe was just brilliant.

So when we found ourselves reprogramming our Feb 9th Sampler Pack at Constellation, we knew we wanted to reboot these duets for the north side crowd. I caught up with Phil recently to get his thoughts on his Composer’s Studio piece, Apparitions of Snow:

 

Taylor_headshot_bwDA: I was really taken with how beautifully you paired the violin and viola in a largely tonal idiom. This was less an assignment and more a totally excellent way to land a first date, right?

PT: Definitely! There was no set task for this piece. For ‘Inside the Composer’s Studio’ we came up with several contrasting instrumentations to give each room a different personality, then the six composers decided which chamber group they wanted as their collaborators. I knew immediately that I wanted to write a string duo, and had you and Austin in mind from the very beginning. The idiom/language of Apparitions is what I always do; I’m constantly trying to expand my palette as an artist, but in a way that allows me to remain true to myself and my gut instincts when it comes to the music.

DA: How does listening to your new work in the practice room with Austin and I compare to the way youheard it in the Logan concert setting? Did the audience change anything for you?

PT: To my ears the piece is so intimate that it didn’t really change that much. Of course, the space was bigger and that will always change some things about the experience, but the gestalt of the work remained the same to me. It really is close-knit chamber music with the focus of the two players less towards the audience and more towards one another. I’m excited to hear it again (on a second date) at Constellation, in an even larger space — and likely a larger audience — and to see if that makes a difference.

DA: What was the most bizarre question an audience member asked you that night?

PT: There were no truly weird ones, unfortunately. One listener asked whether doing the kind of sketch display we had that evening was invasive to the composers — as an audience member he felt voyeuristic, as if he shouldn’t be looking behind this particular curtain. To me, the whole point of the evening was to get inside the composers’ heads a little bit more… maybe from the outside view there’s more going on in there than some people want to know!

 

Tomorrow, my interview with Igor Santos…

 

 

 

Chicago Reader: In Rotation

Chicago Reader: In Rotation

Chicago Reader logoSpektral Quartet Where do I even start with these guys? In my eyes, they’re leading the charge toward progressive, high-caliber contemporary classical, re­inventing the concept of chamber music and taking programs fit for Symphony Center to the Empty Bottle and beyond. One particularly groundbreaking project is their new release, Chambers, which features composers solely from the burgeoning Chicago contemporary-classical scene and came out on Parlour Tapes. Yep, that’s right—a new classical-­music release on a cassette label.”

To read the whole article, click here

Chicago Reader: Our favorite music of 2013

Chicago Reader: Our favorite music of 2013

Chicago Reader logo“The members of the Spektral Quartet have remarkable technique and keen imaginations, but their marketing savvy contributes just as much to their success—they organize programs that intelligently collide classics by the likes of Britten, Ravel, and Haydn with starkly modern contemporary work (with a focus on locals). The group sticks exclusively to Chicago-based composers on its fantastic debut album; it features fine work by Eliza Brown and Chris Fisher-Lochhead, among others, and it’s named after a three-movement piece by Marcos Balter. I’m especially fond of Liza White’s “Zin Zin Zin Zin,” inspired by a spontaneous phrase Mos Def dropped on “Double Trouble” (a track he made with the Roots), but everything here is fantastic—including the thorny moodiness in Hans Thomalla’s “Albumblatt” and the ferocious constellations of tempo-shifting sawing and strummed double stops in Ben Hjertmann’s String Quartet no. 2 Etude.”

To read the whole article, click here

New Music Box: SOUNDS HEARD – CHAMBERS

New Music Box: SOUNDS HEARD – CHAMBERS

New Music Box logo“Now in their fourth season, Spektral Quartet is currently ensemble-in-residence at the University of Chicago and already a well-known champion of Chicago composers, including the six whose works are featured on the group’s first commercial disc release. Since I heard Spektral perform at Chicago’s Empty Bottle this August, I’ve been intrigued by their homebrewed approach to contemporary music. Their first CD offering (also available on cassette, for those with an ’89 Volkswagen Golf or similar playback device) is not only a calling card for the group’s formative artistic collaborations but also a richly detailed portrait of Chicago’s up-and-coming contemporary music scene.”

To read the whole article, click here

Bandcamp Blog: Chicago’s Quirky Modernism

Bandcamp Blog: Chicago’s Quirky Modernism

Bandcamp logo“That density is also present in Chambers, the debut album of the Spektral Quartet and Parlour Tapes+’s first release. The quartet, a vital pillar of Chicago’s classical scene, has already tackled the canonic works of Beethoven and Bartók. In Chambers, it looks entirely to the new, with six quartets all composed in the last four years. Each work is a showcase for the Spektral Quartet’s timbral prowess, its uncanny ability to craft an impressive range of tone colors in extremely complex music.”

To read the whole article, click here

Chicago Tribune: Spektral Quartet Dials Up Micro-Symphonies for Cellphone

Chicago Tribune: Spektral Quartet Dials Up Micro-Symphonies for Cellphone

chicago-tribune-logo-black“Tired of those boilerplate ringtones that signal an incoming call or text message on your cellphone? Chicago’s Spektral Quartet has devised a smart alternative that will enable you to literally carry around new music in your pocket.

 

The progressive young string group is partnering with more than 40 classical composers in the city and around the country to create, record and distribute tiny pieces of contemporary string-quartet music tailor-made for iPhones, Androids and other handheld communication devices.”

To read the whole article, click here

 

New York Times: Arts Beat

New York Times: Arts Beat

The_New_York_Times_logo“Like all the hippest up-and-coming bands, Chicago’s exciting Spektral Quartet has issued its first album as a limited-edition cassette — less a blow against audiophile snobbery than a wily bit of market positioning. (A high-quality download version is also available.) A vital primer to a bumper crop of talented young Chicago composers, the tape ends with Mr. Balter’s “Chambers,” which shivers, swans and pulsates in a spellbinding three-movement sequence.”

To read the whole article, click here

WFMT: Great ex-SPEK-tations

WFMT: Great ex-SPEK-tations

WFMT logo“This week the University of Chicago-based ensemble, the Spektral Quartet, is coming to Live from WFMT. They are relatively new, founded in 2010, and are fast becoming one of the city’s most celebrated chamber groups. Violist Doyle Armbrust offers a little background on the ensemble.”

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Ringmasters: Collin J Rae

Ringmasters: Collin J Rae

Collin J Rae is one of the most multi-faceted artists I know. We met, virtually-speaking, when Collin was working for Naxos Records where among his many responsibilities, he was creating box sets and collections of some of the weirder (translation: more compelling) music at the label. Rather than the usual Beethoven sonata or Mahler symphony release, Collin was championing new-music talent like Gloria Coates, Nicholas Repac and Frank Bretschneider. Needless to say, we became fast friends and colleagues.

Collin is also one of the world’s most highly-regarded foot fetish photographers. Bet you didn’t see that one coming.

Spektral recently partnered with this boundary-hopping composer for his F O N E (an un-performable symphony) project. Like the other collaborators, we left Collin a voicemail, playing one of the gnarlier passages of Elliott Carter’s Quartet No. 2. All of these voicemails will be mined and restructured to create a brand-new work. It sounds fantastic and bizarre, right?

 

We are really lucky to have Collin on board for Mobile Miniatures, and can’t wait to hear what shenanigans and tomfoolery he gets up to with his ringtone!

Ringmasters: Shulamit Ran

Ringmasters: Shulamit Ran

Shulamit Ran is one of the most artistically generous composers I know. While preparing her Perfect Storm (for solo viola) for a performance at University of Chicago last year, she invited me to her home for a coaching. What took me by surprise that day is Shulamit’s deftness in verbally articulating what she’s after, gesturally and emotionally, in her music. Composing a brilliant and virtuosic passage is one thing, but guiding the performer there expediently, getting him to “hear” exactly what you “hear” is something else entirely.
 
Shulamit’s music is expertly crafted, demonstrative and poignant. She’s also in high demand around the world, so we were delighted when she came on board for Mobile Miniatures. One of her reasons, she explained, is that the challenge of “saying something” in 3-30 seconds was too perplexing to pass up. 
 
It should tell you all you need to know about Shulamit’s work ethic and drive as a composer that in a recent correspondence, she informed us that she had written not one, but an ENTIRE SUITE of ringtones! I feel like we just won the composer commission lottery!
Ringmasters: Matt Marks

Ringmasters: Matt Marks

Matt Marks is one of my favorite composers on Twitter. To give you a taste of his particular brand of humor, his 2010 debut album is titled, The Little Death, Vol. 1. Feel free to go look that phrase up, if you aren’t already chuckling.

Little Death is emblematic of why I am drawn in by Matt’s music. Sugary pop sequences intermingle with praise music, gospel and hip-hop in a subversive narrative about (among other things) navigating sexual tension in a fundamentalist community. Matt is skilled at holding up that proverbial mirror, and nails it with an ecstatic and charming aural delivery system. Give “He Touched Me” a listen and get a taste…
 
Matt is particularly suited to writing a ringtone for Mobile Miniatures, and based on our email correspondence, his will inevitably cause spontaneous eruptions of smiles when your phone goes off in the elevator.