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Christine Southworth: String Quartets

img  Tobias Fischer

Ever since the great romantics, the Western classical music tradition has regarded music as a different reality, as a means of leaving the fleshly desires and fleeting chimeras of the world behind us. No wonder that, in an age of constant changes and crumbling certainties, minimalism has turned into the preferred artistic antidote to materialism and mutability, into an island of calm amidst a sea of noise. Christine Southworth doesn't share the pessimism inherent to escapist philosophy, seeking to model the future instead of lamenting the inevitability of transformation. In her three string quartets, all scored for acoustic ensemble and electronics, she boldly breaks the barrier of mere referencing, advancing into a territory far beyond fusion: There isn't just a rhythmical pulse in these pieces, there are veritable beats; you won't merely find the occasional synth note here and there, but soundscapes on a par with the instruments. And not content with simply including some world music samples, Southworth has created a collective virtual gamelan orchestra, manned by human performers and synced by Midi. "Honey Flyers" may be the most skilfully crafted composition here, juxtaposing the tender poetry of its two closing sections with a first movement featuring cello-riffs which could have a death-metal-guitarist ducking for cover. And yet, it is the dizzying melting pot of opener "Super Collider", a collaboration with the Kronos Quartet,  which is most representative of her maximalist aesthetic, an over-the-top 21st century overload of data streams and global sound perspectives, of Bollywood electronica, sound art and progressive rock. If all of this sounds perfectly clear and personal, that may be the result of our brain adapting to a world slipping beyond our control. More likely, however, it is the achievement of a composer uniquely capable of injecting listeners with anticipation and hope rather than banishing them on an imaginary island of calm. 

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Christine Southworth
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