Published Aug 28, 2019Composed by new classical music giant Terry Riley, Sun Rings dates back to an early 2000s collaboration with Kronos Quartet. This is the first full recording of the project.
Riley describes the ten pieces as "spacescapes." Written between August 2001 and July 2002, each was conceived as a kind of musical atmosphere in which the strings would interplay with space recordings — space, as in outer space. Think John Coltrane and Kenny Burrell except with a string quartet and NASA.
The project was in fact partly commissioned by the NASA Art Program. The space agency reached out to Kronos' management office in San Francisco in advance of the 25th anniversary of the Voyager 1 space probe launch. Would the quartet be interested in using NASA audio recordings in their work?
David Harrington, a founding member of Kronos and its artistic director/violinist, says he immediately thought of Riley, already a long-time collaboration partner.
Harrington, along with violinist John Sherba, violist Hank Dutt and cellist Sunny Yang (cello) deliver an inspired performance. There are obvious similarities between the strings and the plasma waves picked up by NASA's electrical antennae.
This is light-years beyond the now clichéd practice of adding astronaut chatter to ambient music. Kronos and Riley deliver on the promise of interplay repeatedly over the course of the album's 80 minutes.
Kronos Quartet has performed Sun Rings on close to 50 occasions, in 11 different countries. Visual designer Willie Williams' work is incorporated into the multimedia production. It's a shame that it's taken this long to get what has to be regarded as a major work recorded. To say you've probably never heard anything like this is to state the obvious. (Nonesuch)