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Walter Kitundu collaborating with Kronos Quartet

Award: $31,000 Performing Arts grant awarded in 2005

Premiered:  March 25, 2006, Zankel Hall, Carnegie Hall Inc., New York; April 21-22, 2006, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco

Through collaboration with Kronos Quartet, sound artist, composer, and instrument creator Walter Kitundu developed a composition/installation for the instruments of the string quartet and “phonoharps”—beautifully crafted, multi-stringed phonograph turntables capable of simultaneously amplifying the tones of vibrating strings through the stylus as well as the content of a vinyl record.

This collaboration honored American jazz great Charles Mingus (1922-1979).  Kitundu studied the catalog of recordings by Mingus and distilled samples of several of his compositions onto an LP vinyl recording, which he manipulated in live concert on phonoharps.  Kronos accompanied Kitundu on instruments of the string quartet with a specially transcribed composition based on the Mingus samples.  Elements of the Kronos “version” also were recorded on a vinyl LP for Kitundu’s live manipulation during the piece.  Thus, audiences for Cerulean Sweeheard a mix of three versions of a work derived from Mingus compositions.

Raised in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, Walter Kitundu was a San Francisco Bay Area-based musician, instrument builder, and artist whose innovative work did much to further turntable artistry.  He was introduced to music in 1991 through Chicago hip hop turntablist Alton Heraldon. Playing the turntable percussively, he found a whole range of sonic possibilities. In time this led to the development of a stringed turntable, or Phonoharp.

For years, the Kronos Quartet—David Harrington and John Sherba (violins), Hank Dutt (viola) and Jeffrey Zeigler (cello)—has pursued a singular artistic vision, combining a spirit of fearless exploration with a commitment to expanding the range and context of the string quartet. In the process, Kronos has become a widely celebrated and influential ensemble.