Kronos Quartet/Kluster/Erik Sanko
at the Next Wave Festival

By Martin Longley

The Brooklyn Academy Of Music's Next Wave festival is now celebrating its twenty-fifth year, combining music, dance, film, theatre, visual art, literature and multi-media confrontations. All of the possible permutations are here, and the Kronos Quartet's three-nighter held within itself a few varied disciplines of its own.

The gig happened (for in some ways it could be described as a happening) in the tastily decrepit Harvey Theater, which, for artistic reasons, hasn't been decorated in eons. Okay, so this glorying in the bareness, the crumbled pocks, the open brick and plasterwork just happens to leave some funds free for more direct support of the artforms, but the side-effect is a wonderfully raw performing space, a theatre that has weathered the years well-ish.
 
San Francisco's Kronos. How to describe this perfectly successful new music institution, a string quartet that retains a sense of adventure even in the midst of what has now become an establishment career? It's all to do with their record collections. Their sharp commissions, their wide-ranging and often unlikely collaborations. One evening, a Kronos gig might feature a modern classical spread that wouldn't alienate the lover of conventional string relationships. This wasn't one of those evenings. This was to be Kronos in performance art mode, with nary a 'straight' new music line in sight.

The opening piece has a confusing lineage. Composed by many, yet credited to Kronos, it's a literal sample-athon of their own recorded output over the last twenty years since their first appearance at Next Wave. Apparently, they're bricollaging around seventy works that they've preformed at this very festival, each player (David Harrington, John Sherba, Hank Dutt and recent addition Jeffrey Ziegler) stationed in one of the side-stage arched galleries, wafting compact discs across their strings, bathed in a ritualistic light. These are apparently infra-red triggering devices. This Shuffle 25 piece is supposedly grafted to Brazilian electronicist Amon Tobin's Bloodstone-Remix 1, which itself made use of Kronos rehearsing samples, but it's hard to discern the join. There's also a similar smearing into the next work, a world premiere of Erik Sanko's Dear Mme., which introduces puppetry. In a big way.

Standing to stage-left is a massive waist-up figure, which scribes across the boards with its proportionately large pencil. Sanko, who's best-known as a longtime Lounge Lizards bassman, has recently emerged from his puppeteer's closet, and this is an early day in what looks like being a fine future career expansion. He's certainly ambitious. A door opens in the looming figure's chest, and a smaller drama takes place within this stage-lit cavity. Oh yes, and Sanko has composed the music for Kronos too. These sonorous strokes and sweeps tend to become part of the whole, so attention is removed from the music as pure music, but this is surely the desired effect during this entire experience. No bad resource-gobbling trails for Sanko: he's made the big figure out of century-old recycled barn lumber, and the small-puppet clothes are micro-tailored from his own cast-offs.

Following the interval, the real meat is now thudded on the chopping block. In fact, the composers of Uniko, which is to sprawl across at least the next hour, look like waiters, chefs or even butchers in an avant garde restaurant. They're the two Finnish men known as Kluster. Flowing bib-skirts, big boots and Mohican or partially-Mohican tonsures are their style-statements, somewhat overshadowing Kronos, who within the classical sphere have been marked out for their adventurous dress-sense.

Kimmo Pohjonen plays accordion, often with the aid of foot-pedal triggerers, and Samuli Kosminen vampirically samples this output, re-constituting matter by way of two laptops and a Kaoss Pad, which allows touch-sensitivity when accessing the sonic flesh. Kronos sit in front of their scores, and Kluster don't, but the end result is inseparable, hard to define as improvisation or composition, appearing to harbour designs on spontaneity. With strings and reed-bellows and 'puter-stretching and spatial dispersement all cohabiting the stage, the music becomes separated from its performers, turning into a sonic abstraction, which is doubtless intended. The surround sound element rears up at crucial intervals, lashing harsh material around the theatre space, around, behind, above and below. Pohjonen radiates a shamanic intensity, intoning ritualistic verbals which themselves become striated into the general flow. He stands up, huffing and puffing both lungs and bellows, causing David Harrington to respond in kind, kicking aside his chair and rising up for a scabrously amplified solo, like he's John Cale in the Velvets. The classical community has become well-accustomed to such stretchings, particularly over the last decade, so probably refuse to be shocked any more, but there was still a feeling that this was a somewhat rebellious sound in its performing context. One of Kronos' more heady nights, methinks...
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