string quartet

Zorn suggests considering the 13 “specimens” or movements of The Dead Man (1990) as like the sound track of a sordid and sadomasochist film set in a gloomy New York or Tokyo basement. The 13 movements of The Dead Man are tightly organized in structure, with repeating motives, repeats of several measures, and thematic reprises. Systematically, in every other movement, the players use practice mutes (which dampens harmonics even more than do regular mutes) to produce a weak but tense sonority. The wide range of effects used in the quartet — Zorn’s instructions to the players include scratch, scrape, crunch — adds almost unbearable tension. In 11 of the 13 parts of the work a passage of virtuoso improvisation marked crazy, insane, or wild bowing interrupts the discourse. Zorn has fun giving ironic titles to the movements. Thus the last movement is called Prelude, the most violent called Romance, and the one with the most static sections called Fanfare!

Olga Ranzenhofer [English translation: Sean McCutcheon, x-21]

Performances