The Emergency String (X)tet, an improvisational chamber ensemble from the Bay Area, is dedicated to the unknown. The “X” emphasizes this element of its improvised music, while also accounting for the shifting number of players in the group. In its current form, it is a quintet, comprising two violins, two cellos, and a contrabass.
Bob Marsh founded the group about fifteen years ago, but its music is collectively improvised with no special guidance from its leader. The quintet draws from diverse areas of the Bay Area improv scene: Violinists Adria Otte and Angela Hsu both attended Mills College, cellist Doug Carroll is a veteran Bay Area improviser, and contrabassist Tony Dryer is involved in the electronic noise group Basshaters.
The new CD, Meridians, was recorded live at San Francisco’s Meridian Gallery in 2009. Freely calling upon the diversity of their varied histories, the members find their voice in the sounds that come most naturally to string instruments. Shifting tone clusters sustain with tremolo bowing and Xenakis-style glissandi slide past each other atonally. Indeed the music shares much with Xenakis in its collage of widely varied sounds, though its searching nature lacks the Greek composer’s taut intensity. Tony Dryer’s contrabass often fulfills a percussive role, leaping to the forefront with a single, particularly abrasive sound functioning as punctuation to the improvised form — a crucial cohesive element in this otherwise quite amorphous music. (Setola di Maiale)