(Graphic of Second String Quartet from Cassidy’s article “Constraint Schemata, Multi-axis Movement Modeling, and Unified, Multi-parametric Notation for Strings and Voices”)
Demystifying Collaboration and Sound Production in Aaron Cassidy’s Second String Quartet
The music of Aaron Cassidy and the scholarship about it have been telling vastly different stories about how the music is made for a number of years. Even as Cassidy’s work has been celebrated at international events such as the Donaueschingen Festival, the information about it has erred toward grouping his music with musical scores it looks like rather than investigating its motivations and aesthetics. This project examines Cassidy’s Second String Quartet, the work that epitomizes a decade of his compositional output, to provide music theorists, educators, and performers accessible and actionable information about this music. Through a combination of musical analysis of the work’s structure and aesthetics with new on-site research and interviews with Cassidy and collaborators such as JACK Quartet, readers will be able to understand the larger musical organization of the quartet and how its busy but delicate balance of different elements of music unleashes the sonic results Cassidy strives for.
While many listeners can easily hear a kind of improvisational immediacy within its visceral, noisy expression, scholars have primarily focused on the uniqueness of the graphic designs found in Cassidy’s scores, sometimes wholly omitting what the music sounds like and the critical role performers play in realizing the detailed but indeterminate music. This project’s focus on how Cassidy’s multi-colored physical gesture inputs are translated into outputs of unstable, arresting sounds leads to a more explicable understanding of the music’s structure and material, the new and different kinds of virtuosity needed to realize it, and what power and stakes performers have as they do so. This approach has also found that rather than emphasize Cassidy’s visual connection with the style known as New Complexity by previous scholars, there is a powerful (though less-discussed) relationship between Cassidy’s compositional and performance aesthetics and American Experimentalist composers such as John Cage and Morton Feldman that directly benefits theorists and performers engaging with Second String Quartet and other works.