Composers: Terry Riley
Compositions: Sun Rings
Performers: Kronos Quartet
Catalogue Number: NONESUCH 075597925852
The Kronos Quartet and composer Terry Riley have an ongoing history of collaboration dating back to 1980, and reaching its peak with the evening length interactive Sun Rings (2002). Finally, the complete score has been recorded, and what a fascinating work it is. In the late 1990s, the Quartet received a commission from NASA with an idea to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Voyager’s launch whereby the recorded chirps, squawks and whistles gathered during the mission would be added to the string quartet and a chorus.
Quartet leader David Harrington immediately saw the suitability of Riley to tackle a series of sounds which are somehow completely alien to us and yet universal. Riley uses the building block approach of minimalism and ragas, combining them with sonics from space, which can be activated by the quartet members themselves bringing about a Cage-like idea of chance to the music. The work is set out across 10 descriptive and yet sometimes obtuse titles, to create attractively alien and yet somehow strangely familiar “spacescapes”.
Collaborations between the quartet and Riley have led to some of the finest Kronos releases. Impeccably recorded, Sun Rings must immediately take its place as the most successful of all of the Kronos/Riley collaborations. Whilst live performances of the work also incorporate visual input and the ability to improvise, this ‘static’ performance makes for a fascinating and hypnotic listening experience.