String Noise | Credit: Chris Bradley​​

I cannot think of another example of a recording artist or group who simultaneously released three newly-recorded albums on three different labels — which the New York-based, self-styled “classical avant-punk,” husband-and-wife violin duo String Noise (Conrad and Pauline Kim Harris) has just done. (The closest one that comes to mind is the Beatles in early 1964 with records on Capitol, Vee-Jay, and Swan, but those were singles). Now that the tight grip the major labels once had on the classical market is history, will we be seeing more of this sort of thing from small groups and feisty independents?

String Noise’s string of albums leads off with a piece called Giga Concerto by Eric Lyon (New Focus Records), who clearly has a fine, irreverent sense of humor. His task was to compose a six-movement double concerto for two violins and chamber group alternating with five deconstructions for two violins and drum kit of the set of Brahms’s Op. 105 Songs.

Giga Concerto

The first thing drummer Greg Saunier writes in his liner notes is that his father always said that Brahms gave him constipation — which some of us who occasionally have OD-ed on too much turgid meat-and-potatoes Brahms can relate to. This piece does away with all of that, for sure.

The first movement is a march-like neo-Baroque episode with satirical touches that are pretty funny and go to strange places, with dissonant streaks, repetitions, and near-chaos at the end. Brahms’s songs are chopped up by Saunier’s assertive, occasionally rock-influenced drumming, sometimes going against the Harrises, or in “Verrat,” the drums follow the fiddles, not really fighting with them. “Klage” becomes a mad German march with two violins and drum kit breaking them up.

So it goes throughout the piece’s 40-minute span, with 15 members of the International Contemporary Ensemble led by Nicholas DeMaison sounding delighted with the polystylistic excursions that conjure the ghost of Alfred Schnittke. Supposedly, there are embedded quotes from Sun Ra’s Nuclear War” and Elton Johns Rocket Man” — a response to recent saber-rattling between the U.S. and North Korea — but I couldn’t find them. Great fun, nonetheless.

Quickly, then, the remaining two albums — both restricted to just the duo who take us into serious ear-stretching territory.

Alien Stories (Infrequent Seams) is entirely devoted to the works of five African American composers — and a diverse lot they are. Jessie Cox wrote the title track; alienating it is with its abrasive succession of effects. Lester St. Louis’s ARCHIVE01 [Absolute Recoil] continues in that vein with a lot of fluttering, wood-crunching, or pin-pricking effects. Anaïs Maviel’s La Púyala Muntá comes up with a folk-influenced bourrée in a tripping dotted rhythm at first, then tears it asunder with ripped effects, and puts it back together. Charles Overton’s Only Time Will Tell eventually gets around to some jazz-influenced rhythmic inflections before rapid arpeggios signal a pensive close. Jonathan Finlayson’s Yet To Be sits there and watches the world go by in a languid drift, engaging only in brief spurts. A lot of ground is covered in less than half an hour; not much of substance is easily revealed.

Finally, there is A Lunch Between Order and Chaos (Chaikin Records), available physically only on a limited edition cassette — yeah, that’s right, a cassette! — and literally recorded in a closet in order to avoid any room sound whatsoever. Meant to be an album of minimalist pieces played almost entirely in unison, it features a couple of the usual suspects — Philip Glass’s early, hardcore Two Pages, David Lang’s fingernails-on-chalkboard Warmth that reeks of irony — as well as equally single-minded pieces by Caleb Burhans, Tyondai Braxton, Greg Saunier, and Paul Reller. The violins sound raw and unpolished under these conditions — an entirely desired effect, I imagine — and the desired unison is hard-won in many cases, elusive in others.

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