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Spektral Quartet + Samuel Adams: On Distance

Chicago-based Spektral Quartet and composer Samuel Adams collaborate on a New Work.



Chicago-based Spektral Quartet is excited to bring Samuel Adams’s Second String Quartet to life. Currently a work in progress, Adams’s 40-minute triptych explores psychoacoustic perceptions of distance through his new and innovative resonant blend of transducer speakers, percussion instruments, and string quartet. The final work will be premiered alongside selected string quartets of Franz Schubert in Chicago, Illinois as part of Spektral Quartet’s 2018-2019 season.

About the work

Samuel Adams’s Second String Quartet is an ambitious, large-scale work that utilizes subtle electroacoustic resonance to augment the acoustic properties of the string quartet. By introducing sine waves and colored noise into percussive resonating bodies—snare drums, sizzle cymbals—Adams builds subtle, intricately textured palettes of sound and achieves maximum resonances and disorienting psychoacoustic perceptions of depth and space.

In Part I, currently titled ‘Quartet Movement,’ subtly distorted sine wave glissandi intersect with slow-motion string writing. The magnetism of tonal cadences are experienced as both allusive and phenomenological.

This technique proved to be fertile grounds for further sonic exploration. Part II utilizes sizzle cymbals as resonant objects, allowing Adams to explore closeness and intensity. Part III utilizes the combination of sizzle cymbals and snare drums, balancing the sonic profile of the work.

Part I was premiered by Spektral Quartet as part of the Ear Taxi Festival of Contemporary Music in Chicago, Illinois. Spektral Quartet gave subsequent performances at University of Chicago, Northwestern University and as part of the Bowling Green State University Festival of New Music.

Concerning presentation

Much of Adams’s recent electroacoustic work engages with the music of Franz Schubert, both thematically and sonically (‘Shade Studies’ and ‘Impromptus’ for piano, and ‘many words of love’ for orchestra). By engaging electronic elements that allow the music to resonate ad infinitum, Adams creates a kind of hyperextended aesthetic stasis: Schubert without a resonating body to absorb and quiet his energy. His Second String Quartet is the culminating piece in this body of work.

Spektral Quartet’s 2018-19 season is an exploration of many environments: natural, urban, social, and interior. Since the proposed work is best suited for an intimate performance space, Spektral Quartet aims to pair it with major works by Schubert in concerts that investigate the ‘environment of the chamber’. These probing, emotional works will be presented in some of Chicago’s most historic homes. Audiences are invited to experience performances in the kinds of small, vulnerable spaces where Schubert’s work was originally heard.

Concerning process

Embracing the spirit of accessibility, the Spektral Quartet and Adams propose a large window of time for preparations. Through open rehearsals and preview performances, audiences are given the agency to connect with the artists, ask questions and experience the work as it evolves. Both the quartet and Adams believe this to be essential to the ultimate understanding of the art and to the development of an engaged audience.


Summer 2018 – delivery of score and materials to Spektral Quartet
Summer/Fall 2018 – workshopping with Spektral Quartet
Winter 2019 – premiere performance of work
Winter/Spring 2019 – subsequent performances of work


Project Media

Quartet Movement
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‘Quartet Movement’ is a 12-minute work for string quartet and resonating snare drums. The music is quiet and built primarily of cadences, silences, and repeated gestures. Each drumhead is activated by a transducer speaker. This is Part I of the proposed new work.

Recorded live by Spektral Quartet at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance in Chicago, IL on October 7, 2016.

To view the score, please click below:


Bagatellen (2015)
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Features: Spektral Quartet

Hans Thomalla’s Bagatellen are nine small explorations of found musical objects – unspectacular little gestures, chord progression, melodic-harmonic figures, or cadences. They share an assertion of “togetherness”: four players creating meaning for a brief moment. The Bagatellen study these attempts of homogeneity, unity, and fleeting harmony – they amplify it, put it in different perspectives, and test its limits and edges and the space it leaves for an individual autonomous voice. Recorded live at Bowling Green State University, March 14 2016.

Start and End Dates



Chicago, Illinois

Project Created By

Chicago, Illinois
Samuel Adams (b. 1985, San Francisco, CA) is a composer of acoustic and electroacoustic music. His inventively orchestrated and atmospheric works draw from traditional forms, noise, and his experiences as an improvisor. His work has been hailed as “mesmerizing” and “music of a composer with a personal voice and keen imagination” by The New York Times…

In Collaboration With

Chicago, Illinois


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