By Christophe Chataigné
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Kronos Quartet
Issue 337

The Kronos Quartet is probably one of the most prolific string quartets around. Over the past 30 years it has released more than 40 recordings and performed live countless times (it spends at least five months touring every year). But what’s most impressive with the quartet is its thirst to commission original works (more than 600 of them) and the number of artists it works with.

I remember listening to the quartet for the first time in my late teens. It was a composition by Philip Glass, and thinking about getting more of the same I decided to explore the world of the Kronos Quartet. More of the same it wasn’t. The Kronos Quartet is engaging because it collapses musical boundaries – from minimalist maestro Steve Reich to African composers; from performing the works of Béla Bartók to collaborating with Icelandic post-rock band Sigur Rós, as well as recording the haunting soundtrack to the bleak film Requiem for a Dream.

In Floodplains, its latest offering, the quartet takes us to more places. This album takes you to Lebanon, Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan and India, as well as Egypt and Iraq. Tashweesh, one of the tracks commissioned by the quartet, is written by Ramallah Underground, the Palestinian music collective that combines electronic, hip-hop and traditional Arab melodies. It seems like a match made in heaven – subtle beats and repetitive string pickings encapsulate Kronos Quartet’s ability to relate to new music. (Incidentally, Ramallah Underground will be performing at the Marxism festival next month.)

The quartet’s interpretation of the 1970s Iraqi song, “Oh Mother, the Handsome Man is Torturing Me”, is full of frenetic energy, which, thanks to George Bush, gives the song a new and sinister resonance in the shadow of Abu Ghraib.

Floodplains is a journey to places of riches and happiness which can also for a time be places of despair and instability. But what comes out of this album is people’s resilience to build anew – a message of hope in this current state of affairs.

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