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Clip: Ethel

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  • Carl Zimring
    http://www.nytimes.com/2002/11/02/arts/music/02ETHE.html A Rock Band s Effects in a String Quartet Sound By ALLAN KOZINN [E] thel, the new-music string
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 2, 2002

      A Rock Band's Effects in a String Quartet Sound

      [E] thel, the new-music string quartet, is often compared to the Kronos
      Quartet because both specialize in fresh scores, play their repertories
      vigorously and cultivate personas closer to those of rock bands than of
      conventional chamber groups.

      A more apt comparison, though, is to the Soldier String Quartet, which was
      far more like a rock band than the Kronos could dream of being. Like the
      Soldier (but unlike the Kronos), Ethel uses amplification and takes full
      advantage of the sound-shaping technology of electronics. At the feet of
      each musician is a small metal effects box that, at the touch of a toe,
      couches the player's sound in reverb, tape delay and various kinds of
      distortion -- embellishments that rock guitarists take for granted but that
      violinists, violists and cellists hardly ever use.

      On Thursday evening, Ethel gave the first of three concerts at the Kitchen,
      each with a different program. The series, called "It's About Time," is
      partly a retrospective of the quartet's work since 1998 and partly a
      showcase for new pieces. Thursday's program included two.

      The first, Michael Montes's "For Love of Goth," is an experiment in
      intensity. It begins as barely a murmur, and after the elements of its
      slow, simple theme gradually coalesce, the work goes into a holding
      pattern, repeating its materials with little development. What changes,
      though, is the dynamic of the quartet's playing: the gentle theme becomes a
      forceful wave of sound.

      The second, for which the quartet was joined by Mark Stewart, the
      guitarist, was Anthony Gatto's "Black Dog/Lucky Dog," a spectacular fantasy
      in which the opening riff of Led Zeppelin's "Black Dog" is deconstructed
      and expanded upon. There are humorous and virtuosic touches in the twisting
      lines and distorted timbres of Mr. Gatto's quartet and guitar writing, and
      the "Black Dog" theme, though often well disguised, is never far from the

      The quartet, with Mr. Stewart and Rob Schwimmer, a singer, opened the
      program with excerpts from Joshua Fried's "Headset Sextet," a vocal work in
      which the musicians wear headphones, each carrying a distinct audio track.
      The musicians are instructed to repeat every sound, tone and nuance they
      hear in their headsets. That yielded a lot of chattering, hearty stage
      laughter, shouts, grunting and declarative sentences. But because each tape
      had the same sounds in different places, the result was actually more
      orderly than cacophonous. At times, the sounds passed among the six
      musicians like a fugue subject.

      The vocal gymnastics in the Fried work were set against a tape track of
      electronic sounds, as was the quartet playing in Ingram Marshall's "Fog
      Tropes II," a new version of his more familiar "Fog Tropes" for brass and
      tape. Also on the program was "Never Kinder," a work-in-progress by Ethel
      itself, based on the Poe story "The Tell-Tale Heart." Here the players used
      tape delay to keep lines and percussive figures going as they moved on to
      other material, with exhilarating results.

      The musicians in the quartet are Mary Rowell and Todd Reynolds, violinists;
      Ralph Farris, violist; and Dorothy Lawson, cellist. The last concert is
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