Gramophone: 'Serious Business'

‘This album is not funny,’ writes Spektral Quartet viola player Doyle Armbrust in his booklet-note about the quartet’s very not-funny new release of music by Sky Macklay, David Reminick and Chris Fisher-Lochhead, with Haydn plopped down surreally in their midst. The resulting geeky, highly interactive, creative and collaborative fun and games drenched in pop culture are, as advertised, unlike anything its intended audience - or anyone else - has ever heard.

Macklay’s Many Many Cadences is a dizzying layering-on of what the composer calls ‘pinging rapid-fire, tonal cadences all the way down in rhythmic unison, only to scramble back up for another adrenaline fix’. Reminick’s The Ancestral Mousetrap, as befits the lead singer of the punk outfit Paper Mice, requires the quartet to sing macabre, absurdist poetry by Russell Edson while scrambling to play complex musical bits and pieces.

After an incongruously conventional reading of Haydn’s Quartet Op 33 No 2, notable only for oddly affecting, glassy slides in the Trio, the disc’s real serious business turns out to be the concluding 22 tracks and 25 minutes of Hack, in which Fisher-Lochhead and the quartet, ensemble-in-residence at the University of Chicago, create ‘a nuanced, impeccable graph of the cadence and delivery’ of 16 comedians ranging from Lenny Bruce to Tig Notaro. Based on transcriptions of the comedians’ work, the allusions and deciphering them could provide an evening’s entertainment for the right cool crowd. For the Spektral Quartet it’s appropriately ironic, of course, that comedians steal the show on an album that ain’t funny.

- Laurence Vittes