Because I’ve presented a couple of concerts by them in Chicago over the last year (including one this past Sunday at Constellation), I haven’t really had the chance to proclaim my adoration for the remarkable New York string ensemble Mivos Quartet, a fearless, precise, and forward-looking new-music group dedicated to some of the toughest material being written today. But I’m pleased as hell to watch them play, strictly as a listener, tonight when they perform an intimate concert at Experimental Sound Studio, the local premiere of the third string quartet by composer Patrick Higgins. In 2013 the group released a superb CD featuring Higgins’s second string quartet and a radical reworking of the same piece, here titled Glacia. The quartet’s work employs a palindrome-like structure to explore memory—that is, phrases in the second half of the seven-movement piece obliquely and not so obliquely recall earlier passages, which draw upon a bruising mixture of materials and approaches—atonality, sweetly melodic lines, harsh dissonance, and more.

Tonight’s concert will complement the performance of the latest string quartet with a promising solo set from Higgins himself. The guitarist might be known best around these parts as a key member in the latest incarnation of the experimental, gut-punching trio Zs (with also features saxophonist and composer Sam Hillmer and drummer Greg Fox, who’s also in town tonight, playing with Liturgy over at Subterranean). Earlier this year that trio released what I consider to be its best album, Xe (Northern Spy), a slashing, shape-shifting barrage of overblown saxophone, meticulous high-velocity guitar patterns, fractured but hard-hitting beats, and heavy-duty electronic manipulation of those elements into a mind-warping collage of noise. While the band has previously used nifty postproduction to inventively transform its music—in fact the first effort by this particular lineup, Grain, did just that with recordings made by an earlier lineup with Hillmer, Ben Greenberg, and Ian Antonio—the line between rigorously precise performances of written material and postproduction is nothing short of masterful here. Below you can check out the album’s opening track, “The Future of Royalty.”

  • courtesy of the artist
  • Patrick Higgins

For tonight’s concert Higgins will be playing music from his forthcoming solo album Skyclad (the label and release date are unknown at present), but he was kind enough to share the music with me, and it knocked me out. At the core are his distinctive, tightly coiled guitar patterns—closely bunched notes of sound that cling to a claustrophobic intervallic range, unspooling in dizzying rushes. A variety of sampled percussive sounds—handclaps, scrapes and thuds from inside a piano, foot stomps, and other harder-to-identify sources—provide a loose framework for stereo guitar parts, which were played in real time. Higgins will perform the album’s five tracks in their entirety. Tomorrow, Saturday, April 11, between 1 and 4 PM both Mivos and Higgins will offer a workshop in which the musicians will perform and discuss work by composers like Felipe Lara, Helmut Lachenmann, Philip Glass, Alex Mincek, and others. Tickets for the Saturday event are $25 ($10 for ESS members and students)

Today’s playlist:

Orchestra Super Mazembe, Mazembe @45 RPM Vol. 1 (Sterns)
Steve Lantner Quartet, Given: Live in Münster (Hatology)
Astrïd, High Blues (Rune Grammofon)
Laurie Spiegel, Obsolete Systems (EMF)
Various artists, Black Slavery Days (Clappers/Honest Jon’s)