Quick: name the New York string quartet who’ve played for a larger live audience than any of their peers. Obviously, that’s kind of a trick question since those groups typically all share a circuit of intimate spaces best suited to that repertoire.
Some of you might be surprised to find out that the answer to that question is the Attacca Quartet, who were invited by Jeff Lynne to open for the Electric Light Orchestra at that group’s Manhattan appearances during the mid-teens. What may have endeared them to him is their dedication to material far outside of standard repertoire, as well as their fondness for unorthodox venues.
One unorthodox space they’re playing this month is Madison Square Park, where they’re holding down a three-week Wednesday evening residency starting on July 13 at 6 PM and continuing with shows on the 20th and 27th. While they tackle a vast range of material from 21st century works, to art-rock with songwriter Becca Stevens, all the way back to Renaissance composers like John Dowland, they also have a punk side. And a punk classical album, Real Life, streaming at Spotify. It’s possible they may air some of that one out in the park.
The album’s shtick is string quartet arrangements of EDM themes. They’re simple and repetitive and obviously weren’t originally conceived for any kind of close listening, let alone much of a shelf life. To call their insistent riffs and endless whoomp-whoomp rhythms minimalist would be giving them too much credit – and the quartet seem to get that. This is closer to the early Kronos Quartet at their cheekiest, or Rasputina, than it is to, say, the fluffy orchestral versions of RZA or J Dilla themes that have been staged in recent years.
Cellist Andrew Yee seems to relish the chance to dig in hard on the low end, whether with his bow or his fingers. Violinists Amy Schroeder and Domenic Salerni and violist Nathan Schram are most likely playing their parts straight through rather than simply looping them. There is also a percussive component, which seems to be electroacoustic: it’s not clear who’s on the drums.
The quartet have the most fun when they’re ornamenting the sound with saucy glissandos, pizzicato flickers, mimicking the sound of a backward-masking pedal, or building hazy ambience before the whoomp-whoomp kicks in. There’s a drifting, summery interlude which looks back to 70s disco, as well as moments of sheer chaos and a woozy, wallowing tableau. This is a gimmicky record, but it’s fair to say that these versions will outlast the source material. And you can do the punk rock dance to most of it.