This review won’t even pretend to be one.
I mean, really — just what kind of opinion does a webzine covering mostly Japanese indie rock have to offer about a five-hour string quartet?
If you’re looking for navel-gazing wanking about how Morton Feldman epitomizes art’s highest ideals, go pick up an issue of The Wire.
The most Musicwhore.org can accomplish is a feeble attempt to grasp — through words — what comes out of the speakers when Feldman’s String Quartet No. 2 is on.
For the uninitiated, Feldman’s works consistently draw one adjective — intense.
Sparse, nearly static, invariably quiet, and incredibly long, Feldman compositions require a lot of committment from listeners and performers alike.
Even Kronos Quartet screamed “peeknuckle” when a rehearsal for the second quartet gave the ensemble back problems, forcing a cancellation of the work’s performance.
Recordings of the work weren’t even tackled until recently, when Flux went into the studio for mode, and the Ives Quartet delivered a performance for hatArt.
For a work as long as String Quartet No. 2, a home audience trumps a live audience for convenience — you can’t press a pause button to stop a quartet on stage. Can you imagine sitting through a five-hour recital?
(Flux’s recording comes as a five-CD set or one DVD. I ripped the five-CD set onto MP3 and played the entire work on my computer.)
My only points of reference for Feldman’s work thus far are a recording of Piano and String Quartet by Kronos and pianist Aki Takahashi, and a recording from CRI’s American Masters series which I borrowed from the label during an internship there back in 1992.
Neither brief experience prepared me for the expanse of the String Quartet No. 2 — and I’m not talking exclusively about its length.
Sure, all the usual adjectives apply, but if there’s one thing jarring in a Feldman piece, it’s a triple fortissimo. Early in the piece — that is, some time in the first 30 minutes — the quartet strike violent chords. There are also moments of quiet kinetic energy.
Although brief and sparing, those moments are enough to string a listener along, to encourage them to stick with the remaining four hours and find other sonic morsels.
Of course, most of what I perceived of the String Quartet No. 2 is unconscious. By accident, Feldman has created a work akin to Brian Eno’s Music for Airports — in order to truly feel it, you ultimately have to ignore it.
It’s no accident Feldman’s quartet was the soundtrack to a web development I worked on right before writing this alleged review.
The Flux Quartet should definitely be given props for even putting the effort to document the quartet, but audiophiles might take issue of the recording’s mix. There’s just a sense that Feldman’s multiple pianissimo need not lie so close to the noise floor of the studio console.
The stamina it takes to perform, let alone listen to, Feldman’s second quartet may relegate it to the dust bins of the standard repertoire, so the mere existence of Flux’s recording gives the piece a chance to find an audience. Even if it’s a curious one.