It’s not often you’ll find yourself with the urge — and societal permission — to head-bang at a percussion ensemble performance, but if you do, chances are you’re watching the Kraken Quartet.
The Kraken Quartet is an explosively-grooving ensemble of percussionists comprised of Chris Demetriou, Andrew Dobos, Taylor Eddinger and Sean Harvey. With dueling drum kits, pulsating synth backings, and wailing vibraphone riffs, the group brings an electricity to percussion music that’s more contagious than anything you’ve ever heard played with mallets.
[su_pullquote]The Kraken Quartert, 8 p.m. Sept. 8, Long Center, $20, Info & tickets[/su_pullquote]
On September 8, the Kraken Quartet will be kicking-off the Long Center’s new concert series, “Viewfinder,” which showcases Austin’s rising new music musicians as well as local visual artists.
Before calling Austin home the ensemble first came together in 2012 during their undergrad years at Ithaca College. After graduation, the four musicians were spread across the country with each of its members enrolled in separate music graduate programs.
“When we split up we didn’t even have to say anything,” says quartet member Chris Demetriou. “We all had that instinct that [the Kraken Quartet] was something that we were passionate about and something that, even though there were going to be some hurdles, we wanted to keep pursuing.”
After years of sending recordings back and forth and touring whenever time permitted, the group permanently came back together in Austin in 2016. Soon after, they successfully kickstarted their first LP, “Separate | Migrate,” an album that thematically tells the journey of how they came back together after their multi-year separation.
With live performances, the quartet has made their mark by delivering dynamic percussion experiences in places you didn’t even know marimbas could physically fit in, whether it be on bar stages, bookstores, or abandoned 200ft grain silos. Despite being stacked to the brim with hefty equipment, the Kraken Quartet is another example of the classical genre’s migration out of the music halls and into the walks of everyday life.
Having this flexibility in venue locales was important to the quartet early on. As great fans of a variety of genres, the ensemble aimed to export their classical training into the DIY show-culture that their favorite bands would play in. Though they’ve certainly succeeded, it hasn’t been without some logistical improvisation.
Armed with two full drum kits, synths, vibraphones, marimbas, and a variety of other beautifully clanking instruments, Kraken Quartet performances sometimes must be instrumentally augmented to adjust to certain locations. As a result, the arrangements of their compositions must change as well.
Sometimes this is as simple as changing the dynamics of a piece to account for natural reverberation, and sometimes it means substituting instruments, or having two band members bang away opposite one another on the same, crazily-shaped drum kit. The idea of a classically-trained ensemble altering instrumental arrangements on the fly is pretty unconventional, but Demetriou thinks of it an opportunity.
“It’s kind of like this interesting puzzle to say, okay we’ve been playing this song for two years and now we’re going to play it somewhere where that version is not going to work at all, how do we do that?” he says. “It keeps those songs exciting even though we’ve been playing them for a while.”
But adaptive and dynamic songwriting is nothing new to the Kraken Quartet. Back in their early student years, the group first tried leaning on standard percussion classics (e.g Cage, Reich, Adams) and commissioning projects from composers to develop their own sound. This changed though when fellow member, Taylor Eddinger, brought over a student composition assignment to work through with the quartet. In working back and forth with one another for the first time, the foursome realized that collaborative composition came naturally to the ensemble, and that it was ultimately the best way to state their musical identity.
Today this collaborative composition process is evolving but it is generally still a communal exchange of musical ideas. Discussing the process, Demetriou states, “Say, Sean has an idea. He’ll bring it in and he’ll say ‘alright, here’s what I came up with’ and I’ll play it or perform it, and then he’ll say ‘and here’s all the different things I was thinking might be cool: what if that was on three mallet instruments all in unison? What if it was everyone playing drums?’”
The session then becomes the perfect mix of careful musical deliberation and a jam session, or as Demetriou refers to it, “[improvisation] under parameters.”
The genres that influence Kraken Quartet’s works are just as free flowing as their composition style. Though having risen up through the slightly more barrier-driven world of classical education, the Kraken Quartet’s music is steeped in a menage of sounds that also come from electronic music, jazz, progressive rock, and more.
This is where Kraken Quartet ties most into what’s becoming a favorite musical term, New Music. While there are plenty of ways to define the current practice or era of music making, in Demetriou’s personal opinion, New Music is “kind of this open book and for us — and we’re not alone in this — that manifests in pulling from styles that we are all attracted to as fans of music and letting it seep its way into our own writing.”
For the “Viewfinder” concert at the Long Center, the Kraken Quartet will be performing some not yet recorded compositions, including some written specifically for the concert, as well as a few new twists on some old favorites.
Ultimately, Kraken Quartet’s lack of place in terms of musical genre is what makes them unforgettable. The hypnotic drones of minimalism and the melodies of bleeding-heart post-rock sends signals to the brain that something truly singular is occurring — in the greatest way possible.
Demetriou is happy to report that this shifting between styles and influences will not only be on full display for “Viewfinder,” but also “will probably be the most clear representation of that fluidity.”
“The style of performance we will be giving is something that maybe traditionally wouldn’t happen at a concert hall like the Long Center, but also traditionally wouldn’t happen at a rock venue on Red River,” he says. “We feel like we’re going to be totally free to do whatever it is that we want to do.”