Real Life

Real Life

Real Life takes the Attacca Quartet into the realm of electronic pop. For most string quartets, that would be a surprising move. But for this adventurous, US-based ensemble, it’s a logical next step. In eight albums released since 2013, the Attaccas have explored music as wide-ranging as Haydn, John Adams, Weinberg, and contemporary composer Caroline Shaw (their performance on the 2019 album of Shaw’s music, Orange, cemented their reputation as cutting-edge players). “We’re just stretching expectations further to include more of the diverse interests we have,” violist Nathan Schram tells Apple Music. “With electronic music, we felt like we could be our truest instrumental selves.” Real Life succeeds because of the group’s evident love of electronic pop, which lies at its heart, with each member of the quartet putting forward their favorite tracks. “I felt like a kid in a candy store listening to Thundercat and Flying Lotus and so many other great artists,” reveals second violinist Domenic Salerni. Alongside those names, the album’s tracklist features pieces by US producer and multi-instrumentalist Louis Cole (“Real Life”), Canadian electronic group The Halluci Nation (“Electric Pow Wow Drum”), and cellist/composer Anne Müller (“Drifting Circles”), in addition to original music written for the Attaccas by US record producer Daedelus and British electronic musician and producer/DJ Squarepusher. Each member of the Attaccas had a hand in arranging that music for quartet. They worked, too, alongside American composer, producer, and multi-instrumentalist Michael League, whom Attacca cellist Andrew Yee refers to as an “equal partner.” “There was a lot of playing around in the studio,” they add. “There was an amazing feeling of creating a musical playground. It was so much fun.” All of which led to a supremely tight, thrilling, and often gritty homage to great modern music, which is a testament to the endless versatility of this string quartet. Read on as Yee, Schram, and Salerni walk us through the kaleidoscopic sounds of Real Life. “Electric Pow Wow Drum” Andrew Yee: “During the pandemic in 2020, I would hang out with a group of friends on the sidewalk outside of their house, where we would sit on camping chairs. I told them I was looking for electronic music to arrange, and one of my friends said, ‘You’ve got to listen to this’ and put on ‘Electric Pow Wow Drum’ by A Tribe Called Red, who are now called The Halluci Nation, a First Nation group based in Canada. The music was so unbelievably honest and exciting, and I went home that night and started playing around on the cello. As soon as I sent it to the group, everyone was like, ‘Yeah, this absolutely has to be on the album.’” “Real Life” Nathan Schram: “This one is a track by Louis Cole, an incredible drummer and pop persona. We all wanted to do a Louis Cole track, and Amy [Schroeder, Attacca Quartet’s first violin] took it upon herself to choose one. ‘Real Life’ is almost like a parody of a dance track, and Amy really dug into that. We all decided to go full disco and make it borderline cheesy, because that’s kind of how Louis is. He’ll take something that’s maybe a little corny and he’ll just lean into it. Amy did an incredible, masterful job of arranging this.” “Why?” Domenic Salerni: “‘Why?’ is from an album by [South Korean folktronica musician] Mid-Air Thief called Crumbling, which Nathan discovered. It’s just unbelievable—totally genre-bending stuff. It starts with this crazy, aleatoric, dream-like beginning, and so we all sampled these little snippets. At one point, we were doing a version in Nathan’s own home studio, and he was like, ‘What if I just press reverse?’ And all of a sudden, just by putting that effect on it, it sounded like the original. Also, I remember listening to a Billie Eilish track and just hearing this incredibly close-up mic and that barely singing technique that she uses. We use that for all the vocal sections.” “Clock Catcher” Schram: “The three Flying Lotus tunes [‘Clock Catcher,’ ‘Remind U,’ and ‘Pilgrim Side Eye’] were envisioned to go together in one consecutive suite, so that’s why they’re next to each other on the album. This one is the first song on Flying Lotus’ 2010 album, Cosmogramma. It’s just wild electricity from the beginning. And that’s always been what I’ve wanted to do with a quartet—how wild can we make the string quartet sound? When I found real music that was so wild outside of the string quartet genre, I was so excited to make it exist.” “Remind U” Schram: “This was a really cool collaboration with [US producer and DJ] TOKiMONSTA. It wouldn’t have happened without Sony introducing us to her music and getting her in contact with us. But we were never in the studio with her, and we never met her in person. I think that’s how a lot of music is made these days, and it was really interesting to do it that way. ‘Remind U’ was supposed to be kind of a calm before the storm, but once TOKiMONSTA got hold of it, she turned it into something that had this kind of vintage vibe. She made it feel like these memories of childhood in the ’90s.” “Pilgrim Side Eye” Schram: “Again, this is part of that Flying Lotus ‘suite.’ For us, Flying Lotus was one of the artists that I was most excited to get on this album. When I heard his music, it was so alive in every line and constantly shifting in detail and in content. It seems so perfect that I really see Flying Lotus as a proper composer. We wanted to show people that this music is just as legitimate as Beethoven in our eyes. ‘Pilgrim Side Eye’ leans more on the quirky side. The biggest thing in this piece is Andrew’s bassline, which is an instrument on the original track played by Herbie Hancock.” “Xetaka 1” Yee: “When we found out that Squarepusher was going to write us a piece, we couldn’t believe it. But the music was so unbelievably difficult that I didn’t know what I was going to do! It was like when you see a score by Charles Wuorinen or some out-there composer for the first time: You just can’t figure out where to even begin learning it! We had to start slow and build it up. But it was just one of the most exciting recording sessions that I can remember. This track exists in a zone that I think we’re more known for, closer to a John Adams sort of style. It’s a modern classical piece, for lack of a better way of describing it.” “Holding Breadth” Salerni: “Daedelus sent Nathan an Ableton session—Ableton being a piece of software where you record music into your computer. So, we had this fairly complicated thing with four different soundworlds representing the instruments of the string quartet. And we were scratching our heads: What were we going to do with this? I then transcribed the file into Sibelius and wrote out string parts for everybody. It was an interesting vibe, but we weren’t really sure about it. We talked to Daedelus, and [they were] wonderfully creative and gave us a lot of trust.” “Drifting Circles” Salerni: “It was Andrew who turned me on to Anne Müller. She wrote the original of this track, which is from her album Heliopause. She didn’t get our scratch tracks until two days before we entered the studio. And she, of all our collaborators, is closest to Flying Lotus, in that she has a clear idea of what she wants. When she heard it, she was like, ‘Oh, I really love what you guys did. And here are my notes.’ She had some great ideas, and we incorporated them all.” “More Love Less Hate” Schram: “This one turned into a very different kind of track to the original [by Louis Cole]. It became this oceanic kind of amalgam of all these different feelings we were having about the music. It’s our most improvised music of the album, where we just threw in whatever felt right at one specific moment. I think that’s why it feels so special as a farewell.”

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