The Jasper String Quartet Navigates Works with Extended Techniques and Microtonal Twists on ‘Insects and Machines’

The four string quartets of the Canadian composer Vivian Fung, composed over an 18-year time period, form the entirety of this new release

By Miranda Wilson | From the March-April 2024 issue of Strings Magazine

The four string quartets of the Canadian composer Vivian Fung, composed over an 18-year time period, form the entirety of this new release by the Jasper Quartet. Fung’s music for string quartet is deservedly earning a place in the present-day core repertoire, having previously been performed by the Shanghai and American String Quartets, among others. Her style demonstrates her absorption of influences from the folk musics of Asian countries, including regions of China, Indonesia, and Cambodia. 

Insects and Machines: Quartets of Vivian Fung, Jasper String Quartet (Sono Luminus)

The use of diatonic folk modes in the arresting first movement of String Quartet No. 1, Animato, contrasts with the mayhem of atonal extended techniques in the second, Interludium. The pizzicato third movement, composed before the others, uses metric modulation and other rhythmic play to create momentum and contrast. The moto perpetuo finale’s use of counterpoint echoes that of Bartók’s string quartets. 


Fung’s String Quartet No. 2, written for the Shanghai String Quartet, directly quotes Chinese folk song across the first, fourth, and sixth movements (Introduction, Interlude,and Postlude), a unifying gesture that makes for tightly knit thematic coherence throughout the whole work. Interspersed between them are movements whose poetic titles (Of the Wind, Of Birds and Insects, and Of Tribes and Villages) suggest the characters of folk songs. Using a mixture of diatonic and atonal melodies, Fung’s use of extended techniques imitates the sound of traditional instruments. 

The single-movement String Quartet No. 3, composed especially for the occasion of the Banff International String Quartet Competition, plays with the ornamentation and microtonal possibilities of non-Western scales and modes, and reflects the composer’s ideals of faith and spirituality. String Quartet No. 4 (Insects and Machines), another single-movement work, reflects the undercurrents of horror and grief that Fung experienced during a trip to Cambodia, combined with the frenetic buzzing of insects that she heard in the jungle. Its powerful emotional journey provides the perfect conclusion to the album.

The Jasper String Quartet performs Fung’s compositions with intensely dramatic energy throughout, demonstrating both their advocacy of new music and their transcendent mastery of post-tonal idioms and techniques.