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The Spektral Quartet Has Released the Most Beautiful Ringtones

The quartet commissioned more than 40 composers to write ringtones, alarms, and alerts for cell phones. This Saturday, the miniatures drop at a party at Constellation.

Spektral Quartet   Photo: Courtesy of Spektral Quartet

To new-music lovers around Chicago, the four string players of Spektral Quartet seem like they’re everywhere—not just in the concert hall. They’re also in your local bar, playing their Sampler Pack series. And they’re in your living room, with their first album, Chambers, released this past fall. Now they’re trying to get into your pocket.

The quartet commissioned more than 40 composers to write ringtones, alarms, and alerts for cellphones. This Saturday, the miniatures drop—not a word you usually like associated with your cellphone—at a party at Constellation. The Spektralists will play short sets of some of the pieces that can be played live, and listening stations will allow attendees to hear all of them. The $15 ticket price includes five free downloads. Also, the local composers Marcos Balter and Chris Fisher-Lochhead will add to the project by writing ringtones live at the party.

Here’s a sampling of the pieces, with our suggestions of how you might use them:

An alert for your upcoming dental appointment

Hey!, Katie Young

The local composer Katherine Young wrote four shorties for Spektral, incorporating snippets of audio from a movie. A sound sample saying “Hey” combines with Spektral’s violist, Doyle Armbrust, saying “Hey,” and the instruments playing what the cellist, Russell Rolen, calls “this weird, slippery sort of sound,” vaguely reminiscent of Lost going to commercial (minus the trombone slide). “It’s very strange,” Rolen says. “I just love it.”

A ringtone for your unconsummated teenage crush

Slow Cycle, Nico Muhly

The gushy austerity of this piece comes from Nico Muhly, one of new music’s hot young things and the composer of the opera Two Boys, which made a splash at New York’s Metropolitan Opera this past fall. The restive interior of the sound and the shimmering harmonies come off so beautiful you might not want to pick up the phone.

A ringtone for that guy who calls without anything to say

Simple Tune, Shulamit Ran

The University of Chicago faculty member and Pulitzer Prize winner Shulamit Ran really got into the project, writing 13 miniatures that can be used individually or played as a six-minute suite. “Simple Tune” juxtaposes a single violin and a whistle in unison, evoking rural China or idle noodling.

An alert for a text from your kid

Song About You, Greg Saunier

Several of the ringtones riff on telephone or cellphone tropes. “I think of it like the vibrate function, evolving,” Rolen says of “Song About You” by Greg Saunier, the drummer in the indie band Deerhoof. “It’s like a buzzy vibration, but with each successive variation it grows and gets bigger and sharper, like the vibrate function coming to life.” Other ringtones trill or have periodic rests like old phones ringing.

An alarm for oversleepers

Wake the F__k Up, Matt Marks

As a member of the new-music ensemble Alarm Will Sound, the horn player Matt Marks probably felt compelled to compose an alarm. After the initial burst of rude-awakening profanity, the piece jumps to absurd cheeriness and quotes the obbligato from Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.” Then there’s more swearing. Also available in a version with fig-leaf bleeps.

Spektral Quartet presents Mobile Miniatures: The Rington Project at 8:30 p.m. on March 29 at Constellation, 3111 N. Western Ave. $15. spektralquartet.com

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