Terry Riley: The Cusp of Magic


The Cusp of Magic


The Kronos Quartet with Wu Man


The Cusp of Magic (Nonesuch 360508)

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Wu Man (pipa, toys) with the Kronos String Quartet: David Harrington (violin, bass drum, peyote rattle, toys), John Sherba (violin, toys), Hank Dutt (viola, toys), Jeffrey Ziegler (cello, toys); Elisabeth Commanday (vocals). Electronic music elements enhanced and mixed by David Dvorin


Composed by Terry Riley


Recorded: Sausalito, August 8, 2007


Rating: 94/100 (learn more)

Take a quick glance at the sleeve of this CD and you will assume that Terry Riley has composed a piece for string quartet. But it may be more correct to say that Riley wrote a piece to subvert the whole concept of a string quartet. You know something odd is going on from the opening bars, which sound like a work for percussion ensemble. Wu Man's pipa (essentially a Chinese lute) adds to the exotic flavor, and before we have finished with this six-movement piece, we will encounter vocals, ambient effects and the accompaniment of various (according to the liner notes) "toys." The Kronos Quartet do get a chance to pull out their bows and play their usual instruments, but this is just part of the wonderful, wild concoction that Mr. Riley offers here. Yet The Cusp of Magic is not just a clever exercise in getting string players to tinker with toys—we have all seen experimental performances of that sort, which are usually about as interesting as a Fisher-Price starter kit. Riley's music, for all its iconoclasm, is not about cleverness. Rather it is a celebration of the musical; that said, Riley's sense of musicality sometimes takes him to strange places. But when this composer goes off on one of his sonic scavenger hunts, you are advised to come along on the journey.

Reviewer: Ted Gioia

If you liked this track, also check out

Terry Riley: In C
Terry Riley: Arica
Philip Glass: Koyaanisqatsi


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