Baroque Garden

NG4 Quartet
A Quartet For Guitars

Keith Rowe – guitar, electronics, composition
Anthony Taillard – guitar, electronics
Emmanuel Leduc – guitar, electronics
Julien Ottavi – guitar, electronics

An interview text (with composer Keith Rowe) accompanying this disc references Haydn’s String Quartet Op.20 No.1 (3rd movement) as one conceptual signpost for A Quartet for Guitars. Although the music is graphically scored (some tantalising excerpts from the manuscript are printed across the sleeve) you’ll find no hint of the German Baroque here. Rather, Rowe is interested in exploring, with his group, the kind of interrelationships and communication found in a classical ensemble. The results are quite remarkable, although subtle and deliberately understated – titles such as ‘Underwhelm’ and ‘Gacheness’ provide a provocative inversion of typical Baroque expressions. The timbres in play stray to the edges of contemporary guitar technique, often unplaceable, unidentifiable. It’s frequently impossible to imagine how these sounds are produced, and it’s this disjunct between sound and perceived gesture that bring a genuinely mysterious, magical quality to the music, rendered brilliantly by the clearly dedicated performance from the NG4 quartet.

It’s interesting that Rowe also references Slavoj Zizek in his notes, as to my ears there’s a sociological difference within this ensemble to the classical quartet – there is little sense of the hierachy present in Baroque string quartets, where roles are more historically delineated and a musical-class system can perhaps be seen to operates. There are no gags at the viola player’s expense in Rowe’s composition, however – it is democratic music where sounds blend, emerge and submerge, appear and disappear, bringing details into focus and allowing us as listeners to be fully immersed in Rowe’s abstract and beautiful (despite track titles) sound world.