Tabs Out | Chester Hawkins – Metabolism Quartet [for Witold Lutosławski] / Nocturne for Poppy

Chester Hawkins – Metabolism Quartet [for Witold Lutosławski] / Nocturne for Poppy

4.18.19 by Ryan Masteller

Imagine I told you I was gonna slice up your string quartet. What would you do about it? Would you be scared? Would you call the police? Imagine me chuckling at your misunderstanding and dismay. “No, no, not literally, like with a knife. With a tape editing machine!” The relief you’d feel would be palpable. I can feel it even now, and it’s theoretical.

Chester Hawkins performed “improvised autopsies” of Lutosławski’s string quartet work: “‘The Metabolism Quartet’ is a mixture of two live performances in Washington DC: one recorded in isolation at Intangible Arts’ studio (4th September 2018) and one in public at Rhizome community arts space (8th September 2018).” He hooked up “three granular synth engines and one tape-edit/concrète emulator” and went to town on the Polish composer. The result is a fascinating mashup of classical and electroacoustic manipulation, which ends up pretty firmly in modern classical territory by the end of everything. Witold Lutosławski is probably beaming down from his perch on a heavenly cloud, having traded in his electric guitar for an angel harp.

Did I say electric guitar? I meant, uh, all the other non-rock instruments he almost certainly played.

Hawkins adds guitar, though. Live lapsteel. Plus he’s added field recordings. I’m not familiar with Lutosławski’s work, but Hawkins is doing some pretty good work here. He may – and this is complete conjecture – be … improving it? (Friend of Tabs Out Scott Scholz is probably rolling over in his grave as he reads this, even though he’s alive.) Because “Metabolism Quartet” is awesome, a friskily tense revue that manipulates the original quartet’s material till it’s a menacing slab of vibrating steel, a gothic reinterpretation that ratchets up the suspense and fills your mind with panic. It’s a 30-minute wander through a haunted house, where a disembodied ensemble soundtracks your every move. That’s an unnerving proposition.

Oh shoot, and there’s another side to this tape? “Nocturne for Poppy”? Well, I’ll be getting right down to that thing in just a sec. Just remember: if anybody asks, like the cops or whatever, I had nothing to do with any string quartets that have, eh, gone missing, or, um, anything like that. Seriously. I’ve been at home all week.

Edition of 50 available from Zeromoon and Intangible Arts.

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