String Noise: Giga Concerto

, composer


Violin duo String Noise (Pauline Kim Harris and Conrad Harris) team up with composer Eric Lyon, Deerhoof drummer Greg Saunier, and the International Contemporary Ensemble for this release of Lyon's Giga Concerto and his re-imagined versions of Brahms' op. 105 songs for violin duo and drumset. Lyon's exuberant Giga Concerto revels in quotation, stylistic diversity and orchestral color, and the Brahms' songs provide a thought provoking counterpart and a springboard for creative synergy between three versatile musicians.


# Audio Title/Composer(s) Performer(s) Time
Total Time 40:07
01Giga Concerto I
Giga Concerto I
String Noise, Conrad Harris, violin, Pauline Kim Harris, violin, International Contemporary Ensemble, Nicholas DeMaison, conductor5:00
String Noise, Conrad Harris, violin, Pauline Kim Harris, violin, Greg Saunier, drums1:23
03Giga Concerto II
Giga Concerto II
String Noise, Conrad Harris, violin, Pauline Kim Harris, violin, International Contemporary Ensemble, Nicholas DeMaison, conductor2:54
String Noise, Conrad Harris, violin, Pauline Kim Harris, violin, Greg Saunier, drums2:14
05Giga Concerto III
Giga Concerto III
String Noise, Conrad Harris, violin, Pauline Kim Harris, violin, International Contemporary Ensemble, Nicholas DeMaison, conductor4:27
String Noise, Conrad Harris, violin, Pauline Kim Harris, violin, Greg Saunier, drums1:19
07Giga Concerto IV
Giga Concerto IV
String Noise, Conrad Harris, violin, Pauline Kim Harris, violin, International Contemporary Ensemble, Nicholas DeMaison, conductor5:21
String Noise, Conrad Harris, violin, Pauline Kim Harris, violin, Greg Saunier, drums1:29
09Giga Concerto V
Giga Concerto V
String Noise, Conrad Harris, violin, Pauline Kim Harris, violin, International Contemporary Ensemble, Nicholas DeMaison, conductor4:49
String Noise, Conrad Harris, violin, Pauline Kim Harris, violin, Greg Saunier, drums3:48
11Giga Concerto VI
Giga Concerto VI
String Noise, Conrad Harris, violin, Pauline Kim Harris, violin, International Contemporary Ensemble, Nicholas DeMaison, conductor7:23

Artists find myriad ways to grapple with tradition and bring it into a contemporary context. On Giga Concerto, composer Eric Lyon employs what one might call a mashup or collage approach, pitting canonic melodies, conventional textures, and forms directly against experimental techniques and stylistically hybrid material. Joined by colleagues String Noise (Pauline Kim Harris and Conrad Harris, violins), Deerhoof drummer Greg Saunier, and the International Contemporary Ensemble conducted by Nicholas DeMaison, Lyon weaves together strains of inspiration from the virtuoso concerto form, Brahms songs, and his reaction to current political events to craft an album that is exuberant, occasionally irreverent, and appropriately schizophrenic for our dizzying cultural moment.

The Giga Concerto was originally composed for String Noise as soloists with the String Orchestra of Brooklyn, and adapted in this version for the International Contemporary Ensemble. In six movements, the work highlights the virtuosity and synergy of the violin duo, offsetting the soloists with colorful writing for this small orchestra of fifteen players. While Lyon was composing the work in 2018, Donald Trump was flirting with Kim Jong-un and North Korea’s nuclear arsenal. As a response to this perilous and absurd reality, Lyon embedded quotes from topical songs into the work, among them, “Nuclear War” by Sun Ra and “Rocket Man” by Elton John.

Giga Concerto opens with a vigorous march before leading to a neo-baroque sequential passage featuring the soloists. Throughout this opening movement, Lyon establishes textures that begin in familiar fashion before slowly introducing destabilizing musical elements. By the end of the movement the steady march that opened the piece has become irregular and marked by disjunct interruptions. The glissandi that open the second movement take on a cartoonish quality, interspersed with off kilter interjections, before a steady driving rhythm supports grinding overpressure bowings in the solo parts.

Read More

The third movement returns to the martial character of the opening. Scalar motifs dart through the ensemble, conjuring a circus-like physicality. After an initial passage in the fourth movement that features chords sliding up and down through arrival harmonies, the athletic passagework from the middle of the third movement returns. In the middle of the fourth movement we find the most reflective music of the concerto, a contemplative, post-minimalist chorale of flowing arpeggiations and wispy melodies. Not one to linger in stasis for long, Lyon begins to destabilize this reverie with polytonal material in the guitar, catalyzing a steady unraveling punctuated by three accented notes in the strings that wake the listener from the brief dream. The movement closes with an echo of the gooey, gliding harmonies with which it began.

A flamenco-esque flourish anchors the fifth movement, as the string soloists provide kaleidoscopic, proto-Baroque fortspinnung. Lyon is adept at fixing our attention on a building block component of the musical fabric, here scale passages, and then slowly distorting it by adding rogue elements. The final movement is the concerto’s longest, and doubles down on Lyon’s collage juxtaposition of material, giving ample space for String Noise to raise the temperature with blistering solo lines. The vigorous rhythmic context is primed for hocketed figures, syncopated interruptions, and infectious grooves. Throughout, Lyon takes every opportunity to obscure and toy with expectations once he has established an idea. The ensemble continuity is briefly interrupted for a short series of solos that eventually congeal into a joyful chaos from which the movement never fully recovers. The ritornello for this last movement quotes the main theme from Deerhoof’s song “Giga Dance,” providing a shared link to the Brahms op. 105 song arrangements that alternate with the concerto movements throughout the album.

Those arrangements, initially conceived as duo versions before adding Deerhoof drummer Greg Saunier, magnify the gleeful deconstruction at the heart of this record. Brahms’ long limbed central European melodies become recontextualized as music for a post-modern, neo-vaudevillian sideshow, primed to catch and hold the listener’s attention. The balance between Saunier’s percolating, textural drumming and String Noise’s old school, heart on the sleeve approach to these melodies creates a fascinating amalgam of nostalgia, sarcasm, and aesthetic cognitive dissonance. At one poignant moment in the final arrangement, “Verrat,” the maelstrom of the trio stops and all we hear for a brief moment is a disembodied, unresolved major seventh double stop in one of the violins, as if to pull back the curtain and reveal, just for an instant, the underlying conflict driving this bombastic reclaiming of a hundred and forty years’ old repertoire.

Try as many artists may to escape, elude, or dismiss them, we are all working within a series of interlocking traditions, laden with the weight and baggage of history as they may be. In the music on this recording, Eric Lyon steps squarely to the canonic plate and engages with tropes of classical repertoire, first by embracing, and then twisting and distorting them. In the process, he captures something of the grind of our contemporary aesthetic conundrum, where the ubiquity of content from every documented era tacitly invites us to digest the old and the new simultaneously, flatlining the trajectory of evolution that chronicles the evolution of musical style. In Lyon’s music we hear both the internal tension as well as the liberation of allowing a deconstructive impulse to run free.

— Dan Lippel

Recorded, mixed, mastered, produced by Ryan Streber at Oktaven Audio on Sep. 7 – 8, 2019

Cover art: “The Coming Storm”, 2014 by Will Cotton

Design: Chippy (Heung-Heung Chin)

String Noise

String Noise, New York’s most daring violin duo comprised of violinists Conrad Harris and Pauline Kim Harris, has expanded the repertoire with over 50 new works since their debut at Ostrava New Music Days in 2011. Nearly a decade later, they continue to break down the boundaries of traditional expectations and inspire innovative compositions, displaying formidable virtuosity, integrating multi-media art, electronics, improvisation, video projections, opera and dance. Premieres by String Noise include works by George Lewis, Christian Wolff, Michael Byron, David Behrman, Alvin Lucier, John King, Phill Niblock, Caleb Burhans, Catherine Lamb, David Lang, Petr Kotik, Du Yun, Annie Gosfield, Bernhard Lang, John Zorn, Greg Saunier, Alex Mincek, Tyondai Braxton, Richard Carrick, to name some.

Eric Lyon

Eric Lyon’s work focuses on articulated noise, chaos music, spatial orchestration, and computer chamber music. He is the author of “Designing Audio Objects for Max/MSP and Pd.” His publicly released software includes FFTease and LyonPotpourri, collections of externals for Max/MSP and Pd. His music has been recognized with a Giga-Hertz prize, MUSLAB award, the League ISCM World Music Days competition, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Lyon has composed for such artists as Sarah Plum, Margaret Lancaster, The Noise Quartet, Ensemble mise-en, String Noise, The Crash Ensemble, Esther Lamneck, Kathleen Supové, Marianne Gythfeldt, and Seth Parker Woods. Lyon has taught computer music at Keio University, IAMAS, Dartmouth College, Manchester University, and Queen’s University Belfast. He currently teaches in the School of Performing Arts at Virginia Tech, and is a faculty fellow at the Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology.

International Contemporary Ensemble

Called “America’s foremost new music group” by The New Yorker, The International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) is an artist collective that is transforming the way music is created and experienced. As performer, curator, and educator, ICE explores how new music intersects with communities across the world. The ensemble’s 35 members are featured as soloists, chamber musicians, commissioners, and collaborators with the foremost musical artists of our time. Works by emerging composers have anchored ICE’s programming since its founding in 2001, and the group’s recordings and digital platforms highlight the many voices that weave music’s present. A recipient of the American Music Center’s Trailblazer Award and the Chamber Music America/ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming, ICE was also named the 2014 Musical America Ensemble of the Year. The group currently serves as artists-in-residence at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts’ Mostly Mozart Festival, and previously led a five-year residency at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. ICE was featured at the Ojai Music Festival from 2015 to 2017, and at recent festivals abroad such as gmem-CNCM-marseille and Vértice at Cultura UNAM, Mexico City. Other performance stages have included the Park Avenue Armory, The Stone, ice floes at Greenland’s Diskotek Sessions, and boats on the Amazon River.

New initiatives include OpenICE, made possible with lead funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which offers free concerts and related programming wherever ICE performs, and enables a working process with composers to unfold in public settings. DigitICE, a free online library of over 350 streaming videos, catalogues the ensemble’s performances. ICE's First Page program is a commissioning consortium that fosters close collaborations between performers, composers, and listeners as new music is developed. EntICE, a side-by-side education program, places ICE musicians within youth orchestras as they premiere new commissioned works together; inaugural EntICE partners include Youth Orchestra Los Angeles and The People's Music School in Chicago. Summer activities include Ensemble Evolution at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, in which young professionals perform with ICE and attend workshops on topics from interpretation to concert production. Yamaha Artist Services New York is the exclusive piano provider for ICE.

Nicholas DeMaison

Nicholas Demaison is an American conductor and composer based in New York City. Passionately devoted to the music being made in our own time, he has led premiere performances of new works for orchestra, opera, choir and various mixed ensembles with new technologies by well over a hundred living composers, and appears on albums released by New Focus, Mode, and Con d’or Records. He is currently the Co-Director of Wavefield Ensemble and Director of Orchestral Studies at the John J. Cali School of Music at Montclair State University.

Greg Saunier

Greg Saunier has written for, produced, and played with many musicians including Anthony Braxton, Mary Halvorson, Ron Miles, Wadada Leo Smith, Nels Cline, String Noise, Stargaze, Brooklyn Rider String Quartet, Dal Niente, yMusic, Jherek Bishoff, and his own band Deerhoof.



Night After Night

I’ve come to think about the three count ’em three new albums the violin duo String Noise issued on March 26 as a glimpse of an abundant past, a pragmatic present (or, optimistically, near past), and an idealized future. Of course, it doesn’t really seem so likely that Pauline Kim Harris and Conrad Harris explicitly intended this effect. Then again, here’s a pair of married fiddlers with busy individual careers, transforming the violin duo from a too close for comfort venture into an ensemble equally suited to the expressive vulnerability of Alvin Lucier’s Love Song and the hoodoo yawp of “No More Beatlemania” by Half Japanese. So really, nothing’s out of the question.

Giga Concerto represents the ghost of business past: a carnivalesque punk-Baroque concerto grosso by Eric Lyon, whose original works and indie-rock arrangements defined early String Noise recordings and shows. Originally composed for the duo to play with the String Orchestra of Brooklyn, it’s adapted here for the broader options of the International Contemporary Ensemble, whose members are conducted by Nicholas DeMaison.

The concerto’s six movements are infused with raucous humor, even timely in-jokes; nods to Elton John’s “Rocket Man” and Sun Ra’s “Nuclear War” evoke the brinksmanship-turned-bromance of Donald J. Trump and Kim Jong-un. They’re interleaved here with five Brahms songs stripped down by Lyon and recast for String Noise with Deerhoof drummer Greg Saunier. Sumptuously recorded by Ryan Streber in Sept. 2019, Giga Concerto takes a listener back instantly to a time when we could enjoy luxuries like ribald humor, raucous arrangements, and cramming close to 20 musicians into a recording studio at the same time.

— Steve Smith, 3.26.2021


Take Effect

The acclaimed composer Eric Lyon is aligned with the violin duo String Noise, i.e. Pauline Kim Harris and Conrad Harris, as well as Deerhoof drummer Greg Saunier and the International Contemporary Ensemble for this very imaginative interpretation of four of Brahms’ op. 105 songs for violin duo and drumset and Lyon’s Giga Concerto.

“Giga Concerto I” starts the listen with dancing strings, firm percussion and an overall quivering, exciting landscape of adventurous, baroque sounds, and “Wie Melodien Zieht Es Mir” follows with a quick blast of imaginative indie-rock meet orchestral ideas that are both chaotic and cautious.

Closer to the middle, “Giga Concerto III” presents a tense display of powerful, even ominous musicianship that flows with a cinematic appeal, while “KLAGE” makes great use of creative textures, precise violin and marching band style drumming. “Giga Concerto IV”, one of the album’s best, then leads calm and meditative before bursting into avant-garde, energetic dynamics that manipulates tone and pitch flawlessly.

Residing near the end, “VERRAT”, one of the busiest tracks, pairs Saunier’s inimitable drumming with String Noise’s fascinating violin work in a fury of alternative, classical song craft, and “Giga Concerto VI” exits the listen with dizzying string acrobatics that unfold in an almost sci-fi sort of way amid unpredictable songwriting.

You’re not going to hear anything quite like this anywhere else, as Lyon’s highly imaginative vision and String Noise’s unmistakable talent shines in this post-minimalist, collage driven and atypically rhythmic effort that is a source of constant surprises amid unclassifiable sounds you can’t help but be enamored with.

— Tom Haugen, 4.04.2021


Burning Ambulance

The duo String Noise consists of two violinists, Conrad Harris and Pauline Kim Harris, who are also married. They’ve been around for a decade, since making their performance debut at Ostrava Days in the Czech Republic in August 2011. Their work encompasses a broad range from modern classical and chamber music to arrangements (by Eric Lyon) of punk songs by Flipper, the Minutemen, Bad Brains and more. Last year, they released a CD of three pieces written specifically for them by Alvin Lucier; we reviewed it here.

The duo have chosen to celebrate their 10th anniversary with three albums, all released simultaneously but each very different from the others.

The third String Noise album of spring 2021 is completely different from the others. Eric Lyon‘s Giga Concerto features the duo as part of a large ensemble that also includes Saunier on drums and the International Contemporary Ensemble. The ICE lists close to 40 members on their website, but only 15 play on this recording, which calls for two violins, a viola, two cellos, bass, harp, classical guitar, flute and piccolo, clarinet, saxophone, bassoon, French horn, trombone, and percussion.

The concerto has six movements, which feature the entire ensemble. They are separated by versions of Johannes Brahms‘ Fünf Lieder (Five Songs) performed by just String Noise and Saunier. Three of the five are less than 90 seconds long, so they really serve as short bridges rather than stand-alone pieces. The last one, though, Verrat, is almost four minutes long and driven at times by a forceful backbeat. The six sections of Lyon’s concerto are sometimes quite reminiscent of Philip Glass movie scores, and also sweeping and romantic at times. The two violins are the lead instruments at all times, but the orchestra comes in and out in dramatic fashion, sometimes adding just a murmur of horns or a percussive punch, but other times rolling in like a wave. It’s highly melodic music, with a wide emotional palette and plenty of memorable “hooks” and rapid shifts. In some ways, it recalls Carl Stalling‘s scores for Warner Bros. cartoons of the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s, but it has greater coherence than those works, which were a series of stings pegged to specific visual cues. Lyon has composed an entire work designed to stand on its own, then intertwined it with Brahms.

Each of these three albums shows a different side of String Noise. Giga Concerto may seem like the easiest entry point, and A Lunch Between Order and Chaos the most challenging, but all of this music is brilliant, so the best option is to just dive in and absorb it all.

— Phil Freeman, 4.09.2021



Yet another form of connection is on display, or attempted to be put on display, in Eric Lyon’s Giga Concerto on a New Focus Recordings CD. There are two connections created or sought here, actually, one with Brahms and one with contemporary sociopolitical issues. If those sound like uneasy combinations – well, they are, and that is at least part of Lyon’s intent. The six movements designated I through VI of Giga Concerto alternate with Lyon’s instrumental arrangements of the five songs from Brahms’ Op. 105, each played by violin duo and drumset. The songs sound, not to put too fine a point on it, utterly ridiculous this way, but the irreverence is certainly intentional on Lyon’s part, because Giga Concerto incorporates not only various almost-Baroque flourishes here and there but also quotations from several songs that Lyon deemed suitable for a year (2018) in which President Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un were talking about nuclear weapons. True, those discussions themselves had an aura of absurdity, even silliness, about them, despite the enormous stakes and the terrifying potential of the weapons being discussed. But specificity of contemporary references quickly renders any work of art outdated and extraneous, and that is certainly the case here. So what audiences receive in Giga Concerto is a largely deliberate mishmash of mostly upbeat, often comical material sprinkled liberally with quotations or near-quotations from various pieces, whether Brahmsian or from other sources. There are so many styles at play (or at work) here that Giga Concerto ends up having no style at all: it is an intentional mishmash that is actually fun quite a bit of the time, and that might have worked if it were 10 or so minutes long. But Lyon does not know where or when to stop, and Giga Concerto continues for 40 minutes, a length at which it quite clearly overstays its welcome. Intended both as experimental music and as social commentary, it does not success particularly well as either. It is most enjoyable for its sheer sound – those wildly inappropriate drumset elements of the Brahms arrangements are quite enjoyable, at least for a while, and the sound of the non-Brahms material is, if nothing else, creative. The sociopolitical elements of Giga Concerto are obsolete and would not have been particularly pointed in any case. The work would probably be highly entertaining to watch – the virtuosic performance by everyone involved calls up images that can be highly entertaining in their own right – but it is less so to hear, even for listeners who feel a strong attraction to contemporary music and the desire of many of today’s composers to reach back and forward at the same time in a bid to create works that will connect with an audience of some kind, somewhere.


Pan M 360

Another fine example of the porosity between the "scholarly" and "indie rock" universes. The Giga Concerto here is the result of a friendship between a composer, Eric Lyon, engaged in the digital revolution of sound processing, two classical violinists who formed the String Noise ensemble and an all-round avant-rock drummer, acclaimed by Rolling Stone, Greg Saunier.

It started with some crazy lieder arrangements by Brahms for two violins and drums. Arrangements, rest assured, which are billions of stylistic light years from Hooked on Classics! And then, other arrangements were written for the trio, because the fun was stuck, and then a question came up: How can we make the business of demolishing the common sense agreed upon in music even more ferocious? By adding a radioactive chamber orchestra that breaks up conventions with a smile worthy of a hyperactive Joker! Welcome to the International Contemporary Ensemble.

There, we find ourselves with the Giga Concerto, for orchestra, 2 violins and drums, inspired by a piece (Giga Dance) by Deerhoof, an ecstatic rock band founded by… Greg Saunier, and which oscillates between noise, acid mimimalism and the melodic soap. In short, just good postmodern which is brought to an interesting level of scholarship here.

All this reminds me of a brilliant parody deliciously stamped by Raymond Scott, revisited by Don Byron and Arnold Schoenberg. Maybe even a little Mr Bungle, but much softer.

Imagine Bugs Bunny this time getting run over by the train rather than Daffy Duck. We destroy the codes, we remake the musical world in a joyful and apparent anarchy (apparent, because, in truth, it is skilfully controlled).

And then as long as we do, let's do some filling (yes!) By rearranging the Brahms lieder we talked about above for this new a little crazy collective, and here we have an album published under a resolutely contemporary scholarly label, but which will undoubtedly please the ''crowd'' of the groups named earlier, and many others.

(translated from original French by Google Translate, original below)

Un autre bel exemple de porosité entre les univers ‘’savant’’ et ‘’rock indie’’. Le Giga Concerto que voici est le résultat d’une amitié entre un compositeur, Eric Lyon, engagé dans la révolution numérique du traitement des sons, de deux violonistes classiques ayant formé l’ensemble String Noise et un batteur avant-rock tous azimuts, acclamé par Rolling Stone, Greg Saunier.

Ça a commencé par des arrangements déjantés de lieder de Brahms pour deux violons et batterie. Arrangements, rassurez-vous, qui sont à des milliards d’années lumière stylistiques de Hooked on Classics! Et puis, d’autres arrangements ont été écrits pour le trio, parce que le fun était pogné, suite à quoi vint une question : comment peut-on rendre encore plus férale l’entreprise de démolition du gros bon sens convenu en musique? En ajoutant un orchestre de chambre radioactif qui désagrège les conventions avec un sourire digne d’un Joker hyperactif! Bienvenue au International Contemporary Ensemble.

Là, on se retrouve avec le Giga Concerto, pour orchestre, 2 violons et batterie, inspiré d’une pièce (Giga Dance) de Deerhoof, bande rock ecstatique fondée par… Greg Saunier!, et qui oscille entre le noise, le mimimalisme acide et le soap mélodique. Bref, juste du bon post-moderne qui est amené ici à un intéressant niveau d’érudition.

Tout cela me fait penser à une brillante parodie délicieusement timbrée de Raymond Scott, revisité par Don Byron et Arnold Schoenberg. Peut-être même un peu Mr Bungle, mais beaucoup plus soft.

Imaginez Bugs Bunny qui, cette fois, se fait écraser par le train plutôt que Daffy Duck. On détruit les codes, on refait le monde musical dans une joyeuse et apparente anarchie (apparente, parce que, en vérité, elle est savamment contrôlée).

Et puis tant qu’à faire, faisons du remplissage (yess!) en réarrangeant les lieder de Brahms dont on parlait plus haut pour ce nouveau collectif un peu fou, et voilà qu’on a un album publié sous une étiquette résolument contemporaine savante, mais qui plaira assurément à la ‘’crowd’’ des groupes nommés tantôt, et bien d’autres.

— Frédéric Cardin, 4.01.2021

Related Albums