String Quartet Synesthesia

The Kronos Quartet rounded out its year-long residency at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts this weekend with a concert featuring the music of a bunch of incredible women composers and vocalists.

From the hushed, sepulchral creepings of Laurie Anderson’s “Flow,” sensitively arranged by Jacob Garchik, to the strident, mystical incantations of Van-Anh Vanessa Vo’s “All Clear,” the music was consistently inventive and emotionally panoramic.

It was also visually stunning.

One thing you rarely want to do during a Kronos concert is close your eyes. I often several minutes at concerts with my eyelids down, just to get a pure taste of sound through deprivation of the more primary sense of sight.

But if you so much as blink at a Kronos gig, you risk missing a magical, humorous or bizarre visual moment.

This concert was no exception.

Watching the players ceremonially walk across the stage to beat hanging gongs, stick pacifier-like objects in their mouths and then emit kazoo-esque parps, or pass sand through their fingers into a concave “drum” the size of a small satellite dish, was an immersive experience.

In fact, the visuals were so well incorporated into the rich and diverse sonic landscape that I felt like I was experiencing temporary synesthesia. My senses of sight and hearing merged into one.

No matter how well they play, few string quartets are capable of transforming people in this way.

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  1. says

    Couldn’t agree more. When the history of chamber music in the 20th and 21st century is written, Kronos Quartet is sure to be recognized for expanding its visual and theatrical elements. They first made waves by wearing hip outfits on stage (I remember David Harrington’s Beatle boots during the 70s); their use of lighting, video, and stagecraft has led the way for so many other influential groups, from eighth blackbird and Alarm Will Sound to So Percussion and ETHEL.