From its 18th century origins until today, the string quartet has undergone a continuous process of change. One of the more interesting and recent of these changes is the string quartet playing freely improvised, often texturally or timbrally focused music. Europe’s Quatuor BRAC is exemplary of the type; a fine new quartet, made up of highly skilled improvisational musicians from Portugal and Germany, brings its own voice to this solid, yet still young, tradition.
The group, which consists of Portuguese-born, Berlin-based cellist Guilherme Rodrigues; Rodrigues’ father Ernesto on viola; and Berliners Dietrich Petzold on violin and viola and Jan Roder on double bass, recorded Get Your Own Picture in Berlin in October 2018. The inclusion of a double bass makes the ensemble’s configuration unconventional—a string quartet ordinarily includes two violins, viola and cello—but not unique. Quatuor BRAC, for example, also includes a double bass. The occasional substitution of a second viola for violin represents a further break with the string quartet’s traditional instrumentation, but it also helps give the group a distinctive sound of its own.
The trio of the two Rodrigueses and Petzold had already formed a musical partnership, having recorded together previously and released three albums that also appear on the Creative Sources label. Roder thus joins a group already fairly well integrated—and one in which his voice seamlessly blends.
As with traditional string quartets line, and especially the complexities of multiple lines interacting, is the focus, but the Rodrigueses, Petzold, and Roder take this traditional focus and subject it to a particularly creative twisting and distortion that decenters and pushes it to the edges of recognizability. The four also embellish their lines with episodes of purely timbral sounds, the effect of which is to add nuance to what is essentially pitch-driven music. Further adding nuance and affective force is the group’s meticulous and carefully calibrated attention to textural density and overall dynamics.