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What’s It Like to Play a String Quartet in the Dark?

JACK Quartet violinist Austin Wulliman on the unconventional piece hitting the Logan Center this Friday

The JACK Quartet, illuminated (from left): Christopher Otto, Austin Wulliman, Jay Campbell, and John Pickford Richards   Photo: Petra Hajská

When the JACK Quartet performs Georg Friedrich Haas’s String Quartet No. 9 on February 7 at the University of Chicago’s Logan Center, it will do so in total no-one-can-hear-you-scream-in-space-level darkness — the way Haas intended. Even the exit signs will be covered. Austin Wulliman, one of the quartet’s violinists and an alum of Northwestern’s Bienen School of Music, sheds some light.

Why the dark?

It takes the music into an imaginary, ethereal realm more quickly and effectively. The whole function of darkness and the way the piece is written all serves that purpose — to get to a pure sound.

Is it really that vital that there be absolutely no light?

We’ve played it in halls where they couldn’t really get it all the way dark, and the difference between just a little darkness and complete darkness is enormous. Even one tiny little LED light can completely ruin it.

Has anything odd ever happened during a performance?

One time a guy took off his shirt in the dark, and it was gone when the lights came up. And there has been speculation about some people making out during performances in venues where people had room to lounge.

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