On May 10, Pacifica Quartet will be premiering me new string quartet, loose/together, at the Logan Center for Performing Arts. Here’s the program note:
The string quartet is a genre fraught with influence, as the formula of a couple violins, a viola and a cello magically summons the specter of every composer whose name has been etched in the stone of our so-called canon. To mitigate the often paralyzing effects of their presence, I decided to embrace it by thematizing influence itself – just not that of Haydn, Beethoven and Bartók.
With loose/together, I abandoned the constructive principle of a unifying and (most importantly) original idea, instead choosing to employ the string quartet as a prism through which to refract an alien light source: in this case, a work of popular music. Of course, it’s not just any old song, but the singular piece of music that led to me to sit down at the piano and learn it, and to eventually begin writing songs of my own.
I didn’t want the piece to be an elaborate arrangement or set of quotations, so I chose to magnify a small portion of the source material – a ten-second fragment of the original studio recording – and exploded its few concrete musical objects into more abstract concepts that would serve as the fundamental building blocks of the piece. These governing concepts are derived from three interlocking musical fragments: short, staccato stabs that begin the song, the two chords of which they are constituted, and the descending melodic figure that connects them.
In loose/together, these fragmentary concepts are combined, developed, and transformed into nearly unrecognizable versions of themselves. Adapting the traditional form of most pop songs, the recurrence of the opening bars resembles a chorus in which volume and density are increased; and like its inspiration, loose/together concludes with an extended fade-out in which both volume and pitch gradually dissolve. The title has a dual meaning: while it is a direct lyrical quotation from the source material, it also refers to the dynamic relationships between the individual players as they alternate between poles of unity and disunity.