Kronos Quartet

Terry Riley: Sun Rings

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Terry Riley's collaborations with the Kronos Quartet have gained substantial audiences and continue to develop in interesting ways, even into Riley's old age. They can't be called minimalist even under a broad definition of the term, for they incorporate a wide range of influences. Perhaps none of those influences has been at once as exotic and yet as directly accessible as the use of actual electronic sounds from outer space in Sun Rings, recorded during missions of the Voyager and Galileo space probes. The work was composed in 2001 and 2002 and has been tweaked periodically since then. Riley sums up the work's appeal neatly: "the intention [is] to let the sounds of space influence the string quartet writing and then to let there be an interplay between live 'string' and recorded 'space' sound." Sun Rings is thus a part of the larger genre of works that combine analog and electronic sounds, but it's a unique example that has a pictorial aspect any listener can grasp. As Riley indicates, the relationship between the string quartet and the space sounds has two modalities: the string quartet can either become part of outer space or represent the human element. A chorus enters later on, and the finale has some abstract intoned texts of a vaguely astrological nature; these, Riley says, are "to further emphasize that this work is largely about humans as they reach out from earth to gain an awareness of their solar system neighborhood." They detract from the focus though: the string quartet is capable of representing the human element by itself. You can sample anywhere to hear the work's characteristic mixture of spooky and calmly warm. Highly recommended.

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