Shadow Quartet

Shadow Quartet

The real thief of Baghdad?
Neil Rolnick
Joan La Barbara
Neil Rolnick
Quintet of the Americas
Todd Reynolds
Tyrone Henderson
Catalog Number: 
new classical
string quartet
solo voice

New York, NY

Release Date: 
Mar 29, 2005
Liner Notes: 
1 CD
One Sheet: 

If you haven't heard Neil Rolnick's recent work, this is the place to start. Critics have described his music as "sophisticated," "hummable and engaging," and as having "good senses of showmanship and humor." In this recording he surrounds himself with some of the best performers in new and experimental music. The hard-swinging New York City string quartet Ethel plays the title track with soulful lyricism and a powerful rhythmic drive.

Todd Reynolds's violin virtuosity is an easy winner in Fiddle Faddle, and Joan La Barbara brings her unique vocal elegance to questions about your body which you always wondered, but never thought to ask. Add to that the Quintet of the Americas and poet Tyrone Henderson, and you've got a lively and diverse mix of pieces with great performers and smart, sophisticated computer interactions.



Breathing Machines – literally, machines that breathe – is the title of the second movement of the selection that gives its name to the CD, and can also be considered the poetic manifesto of this American composer. All of the selections on this CD are characterized in fact by the regular and mechanical development of motifs executed by acoustical instruments and then re-elaborated on Rolnick’s computer. That could make one think of a music that is cold and impersonal but it’s not like that... . In this sense, Rolnick distinguishes himself for the use of materials from jazz and pop, for the non-aggressive dynamism of his compositions and for a certain underlying humor that runs through them.

By Filippo Focosi


The memorial for Rolnick's father is highly original and poignant. Elsewhere, his dry sense of humour lets rip... Do composers hear in their dreams?

By Philip Clark


The sound quality is exceptional, though on the loud side.

By Blair Sanderson


Visceral, sophisticated, electro-acoustic music with a sense of humour. Neil Rolnick’s music is not so hard to perform. I mean, all you need are terrific chops, a sophisticated grasp of both advanced compositional techniques and American roots idioms, the ability to work with electronics, and a keen sense of humor. OK, maybe it is difficult, but it shouldn’t sound like it. Fortunately, the musicians gathered here all speak the same language and share a common frame of reference, which ends up turning this collection into a kind of musical block party.

By Ken Smith


Composer Neil Rolnick blended computer-generated sounds unobtrusively with the string instruments in his "Shadow Quartet." The effect was a pastiche of ethereal bell-like tones under beautifully lyrical solos and an ostinato of plucked strings.

By Gail Wein


There is something really disconcerting about hearing Joan La Barbara sing the line "Are boobs just mostly fat?" over and over again to a melody somewhat reminiscent of Steve Reich's tune for Wittgenstein's sentence "How small a thought it takes to fill a whole life" in Proverb. The words Neil Rolnick chooses for his 2004 composition Body Work, however, are not a major philosophic pronouncement but rather the first of series of questions posed by students in University of Portland professor Terry Favero's biology class published in the November 2003 edition of Harper's Magazine. The line is disconcerting not because it's shocking—is anything anymore?—but because it isn't. It's just a series of syllables as worthy of a melodic turn of phrase as a sonnet by Petrarch that Monteverdi would have set, the difference here being that it is surrounded by other layers featuring La Barbara's trademark vocabulary of extended vocal techniques. This enshrining of the seemingly quotidian is a Rolnick hallmark which finds many more fascinating outlets in other works contained on this new disc as well. Infectiously catchy ditties emerge from seemingly austere cascades of single pitches in his wind quintet plus electronics Ambos Mundos. Idiomatic yet completely incongruous western swing invades the first movement of his string quartet Shadow Quartet as a memorial to his Texan father. All in all, Rolnick's music is extremely approachable yet at the same time, it makes you rethink what you're hearing, which is somehow the best of both worlds.

By Frank Oteri


Shadow Quartet for string quartet is an improbable combination of western swing, audio processing and Bartok, and yet it floats! [Gate Beats] finds Rolnick operating the controls of noise gates… Things gradually progress from 60s style minimalism to the nightclub jollity of arch-downtownians, Rootless Cosmopolitans or Sex Mob as the noise gates allow more of the original source material through. The combination of the instrumentation and melodic material reminds me of the Ensemble Modern’s recording of Conlon Nancarrow’s player piano pieces. Curiously, Ambos Mundos employs the same ending device as Fiddle Faddle, a kind of canonic ascending grand finale type phrase (also to be found in Bartok’s First String Quartet). It is unclear whether the electronic processing is performed in reeal time or otherwise, however who gives a schwein’s schwanz about such trifling matters? Certainly not this reviewer.

By Rosemary Weihnachtslied


Things gradually progress from 60s style minimalism to the nightclub jollity of arch-downtownians, Rootless Cosmopolitans or Sex Mob as the noise gates allow more of the original source material through. It floats!



A new CD by Neil Rolnick, an american composer and performer of computer music since the late 70s. Computermusic is his main thing. Besides he worked with ensembles such as The California E.A.R. The New York Ensemble, Unit, Relache, Gerard Schwarz's Music Today Ensemble. So it may be more correct to say that computer combined with accoustical instruments is his main focus. His compositions carry influences of blues, jazz, swing, hiphop, etc.

By Staff