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In 2007, the string quartet released a recording of Icelandic act Sigur Rós' Flugufrelsarinn; performed with Tom Waits at Neil Young's Bridge School Benefit, and with the queen of Bollywood film soundtracks, Asha Bhosle, at WOMADelaide; and collaborated with Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche. Kronos also released music by Polish composer Henryk Górecki and recorded Terry Riley's quintet The Cusp of Magic with pipa virtuoso Wu Man for release in 2008, among other projects.
Harrington has an insatiable appetite for not just new music, but the entire universe of sound. Over the course of our three-hour conversation, he gushes over everything from Swedish pop act Shout Out Louds (a recommendation from his daughter) and cellist Erik Friedlander to field recordings of underwater seals, Southwestern beetles, and the singing dog teams of the Canadian north. "If somebody really loves something, I have to find out about it," he says, sitting in the Kronos practice space next to a plastic shopping bag of his favorite CDs. "If somebody really hates something, I have to find out about it. And as much as I like to go to Amoeba, I don't believe in categories. They have no meaning for me."
With tastes both esoteric and populist (The Lawrence Welk Show first inspired Harrington to pick up the violin), Kronos' leader offers a list of musicians who brought his continents a little closer in 2007.
Damon Albarn, Monkey: Journey to the West "Damon made this fantastic [theater] piece using a Chinese legend. It's like an opera, but it has acrobatics and dance. I met Damon in July and he's now writing a piece [for Kronos]. But that event that he and his team created was just beautiful. He's really inspiring."
Valentin Silvestrov, Bagatellen und Serenaden "Combine John Cage's touch on the piano with Morton Feldman's touch on the piano with my granddaughter's touch on the piano, and you'll get the touch of Valentin Silvestrov. He's just exquisitely beautiful. He's from the Ukraine."
Alim and Fargana Qasimov, Music of Central Asia Vol. 6: Spiritual Music of Azerbaijan "Alim Qasimov is one of the great singers of the world — after Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, there's Alim Qasimov. Fargana is his daughter. She's sung with him since she was a little child."
Joe Henry, Civilians "I don't think enough people know about him. He's a great producer. He visualizes sound in a really complete way. His band is fantastic, and he's someone we'll be working with in the future."
Amiina, Kurr "This is a group that started out as a string quartet. They're from Iceland. I think one of them is married to the keyboardist of Sigur Rós. I met them on tour when we were in Iceland and we rehearsed with Sigur Rós. A lot of people probably wouldn't call Amiina a string quartet on recordings because there isn't a lot of violins and viola and cello; there's a lot of other instruments and sounds."
Valgeir Sigurdsson, Ekvilibrium "Valgeir is an amazing producer. He produced a recording that we made with Kimmo Pohjonen. I would define Kimmo as the Jimi Hendrix of the accordion. We played with Kimmo at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, opening their 25th season, and he wrote this amazing piece we did with Kimmo on accordion."
Múm, Go Go Smear the Poison Ivy "This is their new album that just came out. There are so many sounds and instruments, you feel like you're discovering music. I love that feeling, like, 'Wow, I've never heard that before; what an interesting way to combine things.'"
Ruby, Misheet Wara Ehsasi "What I love about this album is not necessarily the songs but the sounds of the instruments — there's some strings in some of these songs that are really cool. Ruby is from Egypt. I don't really know much about her, but I just love the sound of her voice. You can think of the voice as another instrument when you don't know the language, and I almost think of that as an advantage."
M.I.A., Kala "I love it when somebody does something and the bar just gets higher. That's what happened here. [British-Sri Lankan M.I.A. created Kala at different locations around the world after being denied a visa into the U.S. to record.] Our government is harassing a lot of people. It's getting more and more expensive for presenters to bring musicians in from . . . Islamic countries. It's getting harder to get good information, and music is information."