Live recording by Ari Streisfeld (violin) and John Pickford Richards (viola) of the JACK Quartet, and Adrianne Pope (violin) and Zan Berry (cello).
The title of this piece comes from the James-Lange theory of emotions, which posits that humans experience emotions following bodily sensations, that is the sensation of running triggers an emotional state in the brain that our culture has labeled fear. While I am not a cognitive neuroscientist, I found this theory of emotions very intriguing and wondered how it might relate to musical performance.
While perusing music to find inspiration for this piece, I thought a lot about Shostakovich's string quartet no. 8. The quartet, especially the second movement, has achieved great fame, and also inspired great debates in musicological research about the true emotional inspiration for the piece. Though much of this research is interesting from a historical perspective, if the James-Lange theory is true, such speculation misses the emotional core of the piece, which cannot be discovered by investigating the context of the writing of the piece. Instead, the core of the piece could only be discovered from actually playing the piece, triggered by its physical sensations.
The germinal material of this piece comes from the opening gestures of the second movement of Shostakovich string quartet no. 8. The harmonic material is derived from a spectral analysis of the opening timbres. The basis of rhythmic treatment throughout the piece is a warping of the opening rhythmic cell of the Shostakovich movement, compressed to make it faster and stretched to a slower tempo, then layered polyrhythmically. The resulting gestures move between desperate gallops and dense clouds of rhythmasized panic, at times recalling andat other times moving beyond an experience of the Shostakovich movement.