By Cristina Schreil
A sweeping exploration of contemporary soundscapes, San Francisco’s Del Sol String Quartet’s Scrapyard Exotica features works by Mason Bates, Ken Ueno, and Mohammed Fairouz.
In “Bagatelles for String Quartet and Electronica,” by Bates—also known as DJ Masonic—23-year-old Del Sol was asked to experiment, wringing unconventional sounds from their instruments. As a result, bright harmonics, bow slaps and reverberating pizzicato twangs pop against Bates’ added atmospheric thumps, beeps, and synths. The work is not too alien or tech-centric; strings are still center stage. “Viscera” contains overlapping pizzicato rhythms bouncing with dazzling asynchronicity. But electronica also overpowers there. A loud beat like a hand striking dry wall almost drowns the quartet.
The following 20-minute single-movement “Peradam,” written for Del Sol by Ueno, may be challenging to digest. It’s inspired by René Daumal’s 1952 allegorical novel Mount Analogue, at the surface depicting an alpine journey. Listeners instead travel to chilling depths, it seems. Haunting hisses, moans, shouts, glissando harmonic yelps, and scrapes from bowing across bridges and fingerboards conjure a macabre tone. Ueno capitalized on the players’ vocal abilities, particularly incorporating violist Charlton Lee’s throat singing.
Fairouz’s “The Named Angels,” four movements representing corresponding figures in the Islamic, Christian and Jewish faiths, is less radical. Featuring distinct Arabian influences, passages have cinematic grandeur and toe-tapping energy. The quartet seems to relish quicker movements, swelling with emotion and imbuing phrases with buoyancy.
Del Sol String Quartet, Scrapyard Exotica, (Sono Luminus)