(07-18-2002) U2 set designer Willie Williams works with Kronos Quartet - Yahoo - U2 Feedback

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Old 07-18-2002, 09:24 PM   #1
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(07-18-2002) U2 set designer Willie Williams works with Kronos Quartet - Yahoo

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Space sounds featured in new `Sun Rings' piece for Kronos Quartet
Thu Jul 18,10:00 PM ET
By TODD DVORAK, Associated Press Writer

Iowa CITY, Iowa - They are the sounds made by lightning bolts as they bounce and arc across Jupiter's atmosphere, or the rumblings of electron cyclotron waves flowing through pockets of ionized gas millions of miles (kilometers) from Earth.

For nearly four decades, University of Iowa astrophysicist Donald Gurnett has analyzed and interpreted the solar system's chirps, whistles and grunts, all captured during dozens of unmanned space flights by sophisticated radio receivers he invented in the early 1960s.

Aside from the occasional request from broadcast journalists, Gurnett rarely thought that his recordings could have a relevance beyond the world of astrophysics, let alone serve as the melodic and rhythmic accompaniment to an inventive twist in contemporary chamber music.

"I'm not a musician, but I've spent my life studying the sounds and phenomenon of sound waves ... so in a way we kind of speak the same language," said Gurnett, flitting through dozens of cassettes containing 40 years of recordings. "But I really didn't have a clue how or why you would set this stuff to music."

Minimalist composer Terry Riley is putting the "stuff" to music, and the result is an 85-minute multimedia piece called "Sun Rings." The Kronos Quartet will perform it in concert halls in America and Europe this fall, including its Oct. 26 premiere in Iowa City.

Producers are also collaborating with visual designer Willie Williams, who will build a set, coordinate lighting and project dozens of images of outer space from the Voyager I and II missions to Jupiter.

Williams, who has designed the lighting and stages for U2, David Bowie and R.E.M ( news - web sites). concerts, says the performance is all about giving the audience a new way for appreciating and relating to the depth, beauty and mystery of space.

"It's about a journey really," Williams said after a recent rehearsal in Iowa City. "Musically, it feels quite introspective. And using the images from the Voyager archive gives one a sense of the vastness of space."

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration commissioned the piece and contacted Kronos Quartet founder David Harrington two years ago about using Gurnett's sounds.

Harrington said he was thrilled with the idea, and immediately turned to Riley, who has written dozens of pieces for the quartet since its founding in 1973.

"I got a tape of the sounds, and as I was listening to them I got excited because it seemed clear that this could be something that we've never done before," Harrington said. "As for Terry, it seemed like a natural step ... from the music he had done for us before."

Riley said he began the composition process by listening, sampling and digitally manipulating many of Gurnett's recordings. Throughout the piece's 15 sections, Riley uses the samples in various ways, from setting the melodic mood to laying down the rhythmic foundation.

Two of the sections or "islands" as Riley calls them are arranged for voice. Producers say choral groups from each community on the tour will perform with Kronos.

"What I learned after reviewing all the tapes was that the sounds had really wonderful shapes and rhythms," Riley said. "The sounds inspired a lot in me."

But just four weeks into writing, Riley said his energy and inspiration were derailed by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"For a while it was really hard to write music," said Riley. "And it also made me question a lot of what I had already written. Whenever an event that major happens ... nothing becomes superficial anymore.

"When I resumed, I tried to put in the positive ideas and thoughts about what I feel like we should and could be as human beings ... the good we can be, to affect people in the heart."
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