Opening for infamously iconoclastic, 40-year-old Bay Area contemporary music heroes Kronos Quartet, as the young Friction Quartet did earlier this year, might launch even the most experienced string player into a bow-snapping fit of nerves. But the Friction foursome was built on determination and fearlessness. “I wanted to start a contemporary string quartet since I was in high school,” co-founder and violinist Kevin Rogers explained. “Doug [Machiz] and I decided that if he ever moved to San Francisco, that we would form one together. A year later, we founded Friction Quartet.”
Cellist Machiz, who hails from Washington, D.C., had his own contemporary music conversion high in the Italian Alps with Rogers, playing Philip Glass’s third string quartet with Rogers at the Zephyr Music Festival. (They opened for Kronos with an exhilarating take on Glass’s fifth string quartet). Friction’s other members — Alaskan violist Taija Warbelow and violinist Otis Harriel, from Arcata — joined for a breathless, edgy past two years, featuring a run of festival dates, 26 commissions, and 22 premieres. Highlights include Transmediation, “a ground-breaking exploration of composer-performer-audience interaction through technology”; Unmanned, a resonant, war-themed environmental-electronic piece by Ian Dicke; and the odd haunting Radiohead cover here and there.
“Initially, finding other like-minded musicians was difficult,” Rogers said, but now the quartet seems up for anything — including reaching a larger audience with their upcoming debut studio album EQM. “It stands for Electronic Quartet Music, a play on the Electronic Dance Music genre, and reflects our interest in all kinds of music.” In May, the quartet will perform “A Show of Hands” at ODC Theater with dance company Garrett-Moulton Productions, and June will see an appearance at the Switchboard presents series. Oh, and they’re also involved in “Little Opera,” an after-school program that guides children through the process of creating an opera, from music to story to costumes.
Rogers summarizes the friction between life and art that sparks creativity and draws many to contemporary music: “Despite, or possibly because of, growing up in the South, I was opposed to a lot of the ideas from the culture. Specifically the conservative ideas about how one should act, or what political party they should follow. I always stuck out a little bit, being this guy that played violin and wrote poetry and advocated for the rights of those who were different. What better place to move to than San Francisco?”
What musicians or works of music have inspired you?
Taija: March from The Love of Three Oranges by Prokofiev — I used to listen to it endlessly on repeat. The work ethic of Midori and Hilary Hahn. Cat Empire also makes me very happy.
Otis: Henryk Szeryng’s Bach Ciaccone, watching violinist Jascha Heifetz’s first movement of the Tchaikovsky violin concerto, Justice, and Ladysmith Black Mambazo.
Doug: Radiohead, Tortoise, and Bang on a Can All Stars are huge influences for me. Brahms’ “Academic Festival Overture” is the piece that inspired me to study the cello.
Kevin: My three major teachers; Nan Hudson, William Terwilliger, and Bettina Mussumeli; Radiohead, Johnny Greenwood, Gidon Kremer (violinist), Kronos Quartet, and eighth blackbird.
What’s the most underrated local act that people should know more about?
Kevin: The Living Earth Show, another post-classical group. They are an electric guitar and percussion duo that slides easily between the realms of the most esoteric contemporary art music and the dirtiest rock-influenced traditions. Check out “north pacific garbage patch” on Soundcloud.