The two quartets of Jefferson Friedman presented on this New Amsterdam recording are very much in the tradition, so to speak: modern but not so modern as to leave behind traditional notions of melody and structure—more Bartok than Xenakis, say, in character. As a result, they're classical works of thoroughly accessible character and both receive wonderfully sympathetic readings by The Chiara String Quartet (violinists Rebecca Fischer and Julie Yoon, violist Jonah Sirota, and cellist Gregory Beaver). Bolstering the recording's appeal is the inclusion of two remixes by Matmos duo Drew Daniel and M.C. Schmidt, whose association with Friedman began when the composer contributed string arrangements to the group's 2006 album The Rose Has Teeth in the Mouth of a Beast .
In addition to string quartets, Friedman, born in 1974 in Swampscott, Massachusetts and a graduate of The Juilliard School (where he studied with John Corigliano) and Columbia University, has created orchestral works such as March, The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millennium General Assembly, and Sacred Heart: Explosion. He's clearly found players in sync with his music in The Chiara Quartet, which delivers what would seem to be definitive performances of the two works, and Matmos likewise proves to be an inspired choice as far as remixers are concerned, given the San Francisco-based experimentalists' idiosyncratic approach to electronic music-making (the group has infamously used a rat cage and an amplified synapse from crayfish nerve tissue as sound sources in its work).
Composed in 1999, the second quartet hews to a fairly conventional structural design in following an aggressive first movement with a mournful second before closing with an uptempo third. The first opens with agitated strings that could just as easily appear in Bernard Herrmann's Psycho score as in this context. Violent stabbing gestures give way to quieter moments of distinctively Bartokian character that ostensibly set the stage for the impassioned supplications coursing through the nachtmusik of the second. Like the first, the third alternates between uptempo and slow passages with the music exuding aggression and introspection in turn.
In its forceful attack, the brief introductory movement of the third quartet (composed in 2005) isn't hugely different from the opening movement of the second, and the second likewise opts for languour in both cases too. Compared to the second quartet, the third's middle movement (“Act”) is twice the length of the second's and as such allows the quartet more room to flex its emotional muscle, so to speak (especially when it includes a love duet between the second violin and cello that parallels the real-life engagement of Yoon and Beaver); a programmatic detail also attends the peaceful third movement (“Epilogue/Lullaby”), in being dedicated to the birth of Rebecca Fischer's first child.
Matmos's “A Bruit Secret Mix” re-casts the second quartet as a clubby tech-house mover that's given an oblique edge with the addition of stutter-funk edits, noise accents, and string manipulations. The album-closing “Floor Plan Mix,” on the other hand, is very much in the Matmos tradition of abstract sound collage, with sputtering engine noises, electronics, and rustlings of indeterminate nature colliding with fragments of the string quartet for ten Dada-like minutes. The remixes truly are bonus pieces, but they're hardly off-putting for being so, and they do add contrast to what is otherwise exclusively string-based material. The combination of Friedman's two quartets and Matmos's remixes certainly adds up to a full and rich programme.