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Ligeti Quartet x Anna Meredith
Nuc Vanessa Ague , April 11th, 2023 08:37

An album of buzzing, bubbling string quartets by Anna Meredith, performed by the Ligeti Quartet

Energetic swaths of sound drive Nuc. Featuring compositions by Anna Meredith performed by the Ligeti Quartet, the album presents densely-packed thickets that reappear and transform as it progresses. Each piece buzzes through fervent melodies, growing exponentially as each layer interweaves. There’s a constant sense of anticipation bubbling amongst the music, carrying it through every unexpected twist and turn and showcasing both Meredith and the Ligeti Quartet’s aptitude for adventurous, unpredictable sounds.

Nuc is a fitting collaboration for Meredith and the Ligeti Quartet – both artists mix genres and challenge conventions, finding new ways to approach contemporary composition. The pieces they present on Nuc were all composed by Meredith over the last handful of years; some were re-arranged for string quartet by Ligeti’s violist, Richard Jones, in conjunction with Meredith. Each takes on a different undulating texture, bridging electro-pop and classical music to form an acoustic sound akin to Meredith’s music on albums like FIBS, which exemplified her bold, playful approach. And while many of the pieces feel fast-paced and chaotic, they always maintain a sense of organization, tightly weaving each fragmented, repeating motif into one sprawling, intricate web. 

Many of the pieces build around vibrant, pulsating melodies, but that palette can become monotonous the more it’s used. At first, tracks like opener ‘Tuggemo’, made of sliding, syncopated layers tightly woven over thumping beats, feel thrilling; later pieces like ‘Shill’ pick up a similar energy, meandering through surging melodies. By the end, closer ‘Nautilus’, which derives its sound from those earlier pieces, feels heavy-handed, repeating the same frenzied melodies explored elsewhere. 

But Nuc offers some surprising moments of variation that offer new perspectives. ‘Honeyed Words’ presents a slowed-down, pensive sound and a delicate texture: sweet glissandi gently float, gradually expanding into chords that have just a hint of poignancy. It’s a patient and stripped-down track, but it still feels just as colourful as the others, made of sparkling, rich tones that spread out. ‘Chorale’ feels dark, unlike the brightness that’s heard through much of the album, made of deep tremolos that swirl around a whirring electronic hum. But it doesn’t stay in one place too long – within seconds, the texture turns soft again, thinning out into a shimmery, gossamer tones as bird calls flutter underneath. 

These surprising moments underscore Meredith and the Ligeti Quartet’s commitment to the details. This is explosive music, but its intricacies and subtleties make it feel more than just a chaotic swarm. Many of the pieces on the album are jam-packed with ideas, forming maximalist explosions. But it’s in the quartet and composer’s meticulous attention that each melody pops, showing that even in subdued moments, there’s a flurry of colours ready to shine.