Bruce Hodges hears the Jack Quartet’s performance of a work by its own violinist, Austin Wulliman, at Roulette, NYC, on 15 February 2024 

JACK Blue with instruments_Shervin Lainez

Jack Quartet | Shervin Lainez

As a violinist in the intrepid Jack Quartet, Austin Wulliman has been at the forefront of presenting 21st-century composers – and now he can add himself to that list, with The News from Utopia, his album released in 2023. To celebrate the project, Wulliman performed portions from the recording live, with expert assistance from his Jack colleagues – Christopher Otto (violin), John Pickford Richards (viola) and Jay Campbell (cello) – plus Alec Goldfarb on guitar.

While the processes Wulliman deployed are a trifle complicated to describe here, suffice to say that they involved recorded samples of his own violin work, special effects such as digital reverb, and a panoply of additional electronic effects, occasionally expanding the notated material from the album, creating a unique presence for the live performance.

Gently flickering surfaces barely concealed sophisticated layers of sound beneath. Throbbing tones might have been hordes of crickets, flying through fuzzy microtonal clouds, or subatomic particles given microphones to document their collisions. If the means were complex, the actual listening was compelling.

Among many striking moments was Blink (2020), with video images by Iván Decoud, an artist and composer based in Buenos Aires. With Goldfarb added to form a quintet, the ensemble created shimmering textures that seemed to dissolve on stage, while a screen above offered abstract patterns, sandy beaches and birds (and their observers): perhaps nature was being reinterpreted, transformed into electronic pulses. As an ensemble at the forefront of the cutting edge, the Jack players exuded a naturalness as if they were pulling out a well-rehearsed array of Haydn.