Closing the month’s Disquiet Downstream entries on a particularly high note: Raz Mesinai‘s technologically mediated chamber music. Titled “String Quartet for Four Turntables,” it’s a shifting, elegiac piece that plays with the textures and tenets of classical music. The instrumentation is the standard: two violins, one viola, one cello. But if the individual parts appear to have a subtle yet clearly discernible give, that’s because the performers are not playing in tandem, at least not literally.
Mesinai composed the quartet and recorded it, but he produced a separate 12″ LP for each of the four parts, and then manipulated them as a group on a set of turntables (MP3).
According to his June 24 post at razmesinai.blogspot.com, the piece had its debut at Lincoln Center in Manhattan in 2000 with a performances by DJ Olive and DJ Toshio Kajiwara. The version heard here, though, was recorded by Mesinai for the dqxt.org/dubwar podcast series. There is a fifth sonic element: an intense layer of distressed vinyl, the result of conscious lack of care that Mesinai took with the LPs. Though all vinyl can eventually take on this crusty patina, it seems especially fitting to the antique aura of chamber music.
The work serves as an intersection of many of Mesinai’s interests. Its appearance on Dub War cements its provenance with some of his earliest music, the electronic dub he did under the name Badawi, which occasionally he would shoot through with dramatic string arrangements. And in its use of live studio performances as raw material, “String Quartet for Four Turntables” resembles the manner in which he recorded the album Before the Law (for John Zorn’s Tzadik label), on which various improvising out-jazz musicians, including violinist Mark Feldman, committed short, sharp elements to tape, which Mesinai later put together into his own, arguably “unplayable” constructions.
I’d love to hear an album in which a half dozen different DJs take their turn with the material.