Room 1078 | By the Skin of Our Teeth

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Classical: Contemporary Classical: String Quartet Moods: Type: Instrumental
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By the Skin of Our Teeth

by Room 1078

Contemporary classical music for string quartet and subsets of the quartet
Genre: Classical: Contemporary
Release Date: 

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  Song Share Time Download
1. By the Skin of Our Teeth
12:06 $0.99
2. Shadowy Silences Between Two Glimpses of the Sun I
6:35 $0.99
3. Folk Song
4:29 $0.99
4. Funktionslust
5:15 $0.99
5. Geography of the Sky
12:03 $0.99
6. The Shark
2:12 $0.99
7. Alternative Facts
4:53 $0.99
8. Shadowy Silences Between Two Glimpses of the Sun II
2:22 $0.99
9. Zero at the Bone
4:34 $0.99
10. Where the Sacred Begins and Ends
14:34 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
The physical reality of skilled human beings making music together is staggering when you really think about it. The complex visual and sonic (but non-verbal) communication taking place during a performance is incalculable and reveals the preparation and relationships of the players. I wrote these pieces with four particular human beings in mind–Bram Margoles, Cassidy Goldblatt, Ryan McDonald, and Hanna Rumora–striving to take into account what it would actually be like for them to play these pieces. There are five pieces for them to play as a quartet but also one piece for each possible duet–six in total–i.e. first violin and cello, second violin and cello, viola and cello, etc. This is intended not merely as an exploration of the string quartet in the abstract but of this particular string quartet comprising these particular people. – N.T.

“The virtuoso looks for two things: those vehicles that allow him or her to display absolute wizardry on the instrument, and capturing that psychology of communication that knocks an audience dead...Those things were not as meaningful to me as the social phenomenon of making music among equals and the fact that, in chamber music, the composer was not interested in knocking anybody dead.” Robert Mann

Commentary by Room 1078
Bram Margoles - Violin I
Cassidy Chey Goldblatt - Violin II
Ryan McDonald - Viola
Hanna Rumora - Cello

By the Skin of Our Teeth
- for quartet (13’ 00”)
“I haue escaped with the skinne of my tethe.” Job 19:20, 1560 Geneva Bible

There is no denying the pleasure of watching talented musicians work together to perform a demanding piece. For me these are times when my attention turns away from what the music is doing to what the musicians are doing–to the physical feats they are accomplishing, be they technical, durational, mental or even emotional. Much like watching an acrobat on a tightrope, the knowledge that the performance is a risk and could fall apart at any moment draws me in. In a way this risk helps me be present as a listener in a performance. Ta Nahesi Coates has written that “these are the preferences of universe itself: verbs over nouns, actions over states, struggle over hope.” I think it is the same with music. As composer I have to remind myself that music is, whether difficult or easy to perform, about more than a series of notes on a page. It is as much a visual, kinetic, interpersonal, and performative experience as it is a sonic reality.

“This piece was a mammoth. It had it all: tricky rhythms, tough ensemble work, a wide range of emotional substance, and even an aleatoric barrage of pseudo-folk songs! On top of all that, it has an adrenaline-rushed sprint to the end that never failed to leave me and the rest of the group almost literally gasping for breath. We learned a lot about pacing through working on this piece.” - R. M.

shadowy silences between two glimpses of the sun I.
- for first violin and cello (7’ 30”)
“When you lay in the grass you were under the azure map of clouds and sailing continents, you inhaled the whole geography of the sky….

“Beautiful silences that we shared with the audience were the crux of this piece. Each silence felt deeply meaningful, exposed, and refreshing.” - B. M.

Folk Song
- for quartet (4’ 30”)
This piece was influenced by song written by Nubian musician Hamza El Din. His song informed my piece in its structure and melodic shape but not in any real stylistic way. I did not want to be guilty of cultural appropriation (although I still may be). Classical musicians quote each others’ material all the time; it’s in crossing cultural borders that we enter murkier waters. Once the quartet was ready to let me hear the piece for the first time they informed me that they had made some changes. They improvised on my basic instructions and the piece morphed into something new with an increasingly loose relationship with the written page.
I’ve found myself thinking about what constitutes the difference between a folk song and a piece of classical music, or of jazz music. We tend to romanticize folk culture but in the very act we commodify it and misunderstand it. Is this piece a folk song? To whom does it belong? I certainly don’t have the answer.

“This piece truly embodies the collaborative spirit of this album. Nate gave us this piece and after a few days of working on it we decided it needed a little something extra. That little extra turned into a lot of extra, especially toward the end of the piece where we added a whole improv section! When we played it for Nate, he loved the additions and even gave extra suggestions of his own. The collaborative spirit is in the music itself as well. All four of us would occasionally make stuff up as we went, and it was really fun to constantly react to these little spins off the rehearsed norm.” - R. M.

- for first violin and viola (5’ 00”)
Funktionslust: a German term meaning, roughly, “pleasure taken in doing the thing at which one is best.” This is an experience that musicians know well.

“As we worked with this music, the quartet began to affectionately refer to this collection as ‘Nate's Collection of Grooves.’ No other piece takes this to heart as much as Funktionslust and we had a blast working on this piece. The meticulous rhythmic inner workings of the duet gradually evolve into pure fun and excitement. The kaleidoscopic changes of color can easily lull the listener into a trance; I know it did me when we listened through recordings in the studio!” - B. M.

Geography of the Sky
- for quartet (9’ 00”)
One of my favorite poets, Gerard Manley Hopkins, kept a diary which he filled predominantly with wild and delicious descriptions of the weather.

“Generally fine betw. hard showers; some hail, wh. Made the evening very cold, a flash of lightning, a clap of thunder, and a bright rainbow; some grey cloud betw. Showers ribbed and draped and some wild bright big brown flix at the border of a great rack with blue rising behind.”

“The light and shade being brilliant, snowy blocks of cloud were filing over the sky, and under the sun hanging above and along the earth-line were those multitudinous up-and-down crispy sparkling chains with pearly shadows up to the edges….Spits or beams braided or built in with slanting pellet flakes made their way. Through such clouds anvil-shaped pink ones and up-blown fleece-of-wool flat-topped dangerous-looking pieces.”

Unlike Hopkins we tend only to notice the weather when it is violent or exceptionally pleasant, but at all times there is a continuous and unknowable drama unfolding in the sky. It is a perpetual frontier–a chaos of mostly invisible molecules whose motions cannot be accurately modeled by the strongest computers. And out of that chaos result the tranquility of drifting, morphing clouds, the punishing terror of a hurricane, the gentle breeze, the sudden flagrance of lightning, the life-giving rain, and the simple but sublime inspiration for artists throughout the world and for this piece.

“I love how this piece showcases each of the instruments in turn, while highlighting the personal strengths of the players at the same time. Personally, I loved getting to wallow in my wide vibrato, glissando across the strings, and show off my cello's gorgeous lower register. The cello solo in this piece really felt like it was mine. Similarly, I've always felt that one of Bram's greatest strengths is his absolute versatility as a musician; his solo here has a slow rock feel to me, which he handles so naturally that it feels improvisational. Ryan's solo exhibits his soulful, pure tone, something that isn't easy to find in a violist. His command of time manipulations also shines through in his solo. It's unusual and refreshing to play something so tailored to our own ways of playing, and that's what made this piece one of my favorites on the album.” - H. R.

The Shark
- for second violin and viola (3’ 00”)
Most species of sharks are obligate ram ventilators, that is, they must swim forward without stopping in order to push water through their gills. In our fear of them we impute an awful malevolence to sharks, but I find it hard not to think of them as tragic characters, endlessly swimming for breath through an ocean of absurdity.

“It’s amazing to me how accurately the concept of an obligate ram ventilator embodies the heart of this duo. This piece places one directly into the imagined mindset of a shark—not merely as a sea creature, but as one doomed to be forever just evading the clutches of suffocation—and suddenly every moment of melancholy, frustration, and downright anger feels perfectly explicable (and not a little pitiable).” - C. G.

Alternative Facts
- for quartet (4’ 30”)
This piece takes its title from an utterance given during a particularly egregious (and ongoing) low-point in our societal relationship with the truth. If the truth will set you free then any attempt to obscure or block access to the truth is an act of violence. The search for truth is never over, and the truth is often complicated and multifaceted but in order to obtain any of it, we must begin by accepting that the notion of “alternative facts” and any other such vicious euphemisms are Machiavellian at best.

“From a technical standpoint, this was easily the toughest piece to get down. An absolutely tumultuous frenzy of pitches would be bad enough by yourself, but here we did it in unison! It required us to be constantly on the edge of our seats with laser-focused minds. Sometimes I wonder if it was this piece that should've been named ‘By The Skin Of Our Teeth.’” - R. M.

shadowy silences between two glimpses of the sun II.
- for second violin and cello (3’ 30”)
“...From that communion with the air, the leaves and blades became covered with delicate hair, with a soft layer of down, a rough bristle of hooks made, it seemed to grasp and hold the waves of oxygen. That delicate and whitish layer related the vegetation to the atmosphere, gave it the silvery grayish tint of the air, of shadowy silences between two glimpses of the sun.” -Bruno Schultz, The Street of Crocodiles

“Hanna and I had so much fun working on this piece and searching for what the violin-cello relationship was really supposed to be: tag, a game of cat and mouse, a person coaxing a shy child along to play. From the beginning though we felt the parts’ rhythmic relationship was of paramount importance, so some of our most helpful and amusingly spent rehearsals focused on singing, clapping, and switching parts.” - C. G.

Zero at the Bone
- for quartet (4’ 30”)
Emily Dickinson first used this phrase to describe the jolt of fear at seeing a snake in the grass. I find snakes beautiful and frightening in equal measure. I agree, then, with Edmund Burke who asserted that “ terrible, with regard to sight, is sublime too, whether this cause of terror be endued with greatness of dimensions or not....Terror is in all cases whatsoever...the ruling principle of the sublime.” Perhaps we would be wise to look for the beauty in that which we fear.

“My favorite performance of this piece took place under an overpass. With gravel underfoot, city sounds filtering through the humid air, and a graffitied wall setting the stage behind us, we brought some electricity to the atmosphere around us with this piece. Precisely at the moment where the music really begins to rock, Ryan happened to nod just right so that the sunglasses on his head slipped down over his eyes, perfectly in time. There is no better mental image that I could imagine to describe this piece.” - H. R.

Where the Sacred Begins and Ends
- for first violin and second violin and
- for viola and cello to be performed simultaneously. (14’ 00”)
“There are no unsacred places; there are only sacred places and desecrated places.” -Wendell Berry

“After devoting hours of rehearsal to this piece, I was shocked to learn during our recording sessions that it is over fourteen minutes long. Whenever we play this piece, I lose track of time entirely; I can only feel the moment I am in, giving me a sense of weightlessness. This music truly is sacred.” - H. R.

“This piece, to me, is meant to be played outdoors; the music is so delicate, every thread fine enough to break with too much disturbance, and yet there’s something breathtaking about how every breath, release, and silence pairs with the twitters and rustles of the natural world. The most magical of our performances have happened outdoors—one under a daylight-suffused graffiti bridge and another outside a refurbished warehouse-turned-brewery—and now I can scarcely imagine the piece any other way.” - C. G.


All works composed by Nathan Thatcher, (BMI) 2017.

Room 1078
Violin I - Bram Margoles
Violin II - Cassidy Chey Goldblatt
Viola - Ryan McDonald
Cello - Hanna Rumora

Recording Engineer - Jeff Gazdacko
Assistant Engineer - Patterson McKinney
Recorded at the James and Anne Duderstadt Center, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI
Mastering - Stephen Cope, Studio Studio Dada

CD Design - Mark Orton
Cover Artwork - “Collaboration” by Daniel Bartholomew

Made possible by a generous grant from the University of Michigan SMTD Excel Fund

Many thanks to:
Jonathan Kuuskoski, David Greenspan, Robert Newcomb, Kristin Kuster, Evan Chambers, Daniel Bartholomew, Mikayla Thatcher, and Jane Thatcher




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