In under two decades, New York’s Attacca Quartet were nearing the limits of what a string quartet could achieve, in terms of both virtuosity and accomplishment: a Grammy for Caroline Shaw’s Orange, performances at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, residencies at Julliard and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and crossover collaborations with James Blake and Björk. They even contributed music to a popular videogame soundtrack.
Given all this, it was bold but well within character when, in 2021, Domenic Salerni, Amy Schroeder, Nathan Schram, and Andrew Yee joined the electronic heavyweights Flying Lotus, Squarepusher, Daedelus, and many others, under the guidance of Snarky Puppy’s Michael League, to reinvent themselves with Real Life. Still, who but the Attacca would think of going electronic for their first album on Sony Classical? (Not that they’ve left their roots in the repertoire behind: another album, featuring music by major minimalists and Renaissance composers, is to follow.)
On the lead single from Real Life, the Attacca matches the stomping bass of A Tribe Called Red’s “Electric Pow Wow Drum” bar for bar. Throughout their reinterpretations, they use distortion and extended techniques to ensure that the music can be reproduced by a string quartet live. The “pulsating, manic energy” of the title track, NPR said, “forces your body to move and, in effect, asks the question: What can and should a classical string quartet be doing in the 21st century?” The exuberant freedom and visceral refinement of Real Life is a persuasive answer.