The Kronos Quartet presented Sun Rings by Terry Riley. This is a multi-media work for string quartet, chorus, and pre-recorded sounds. Those sounds include recordings by NASA spacecraft journeying through space e.g. ambient space sounds found in plasma around the planet Jupiter. The sounds have been a part of Don Gurnett's research at the University of Iowa. Willie Williams did the visual design. Williams was notably the visual designer on U2's Zoo tour among other rock shows.
Riley also sought inspiration after the events of 9/11, seeking meaning from the universe. He was present at the concert Friday night.
So, will this work become part of the standard quartet repetoire? Probably not. Would it make a good DVD that might stand up to repeated viewings? Probably.
The music itself varied in intensity and color. The movements with chorus may have been the most effective. The sounds were somewhat disconnected from the music, although the musicians from time to time would wave their arm over a device on the music stand that would temporarily accent the on-going space sounds. The percussion was pre-recorded.
The visuals were shown mostly on a large screen behind the quartet. Each movement usually had a particular visual theme; spinning gyroscopes, science fiction-like views of a satellite, the planet Earth (with little emotional impact), the planet Jupiter (with surprising intensity), etc. At one point, a kaleidoscope of red was projected onto the sides of the theatre, with some impact. The chorus was only visible through the screen, which led to guessing if in fact they were live or had also been pre-taped, which was somewhat disorienting. Williams quote in the program notes indicated he wanted to avoid the standard "planetarium" experience; as a result, the video was not as "cosmic" and spectacular as one might imagine.
The sounds themselves were interesting, and probably would merit interest, even without the music and video. All in all, an interesting evening where the Kronos explore music beyond normal boundaries.
Barbara Rose Shuler's review comments:
"Sun Rings" emerges as a suite of 10 hauntingly powerful "spacescapes" composed to join together Dr. Gurnett's sounds with the string quartet for a distinctive weaving of live performance and recorded space emanations.