Nick Zinner, guitarist and songwriter for rock band Yeah Yeah Yeahs, presents 41 Strings, a long-term project fusing rock, classical and pop elements. Originally commissioned for an Earth Day event in 2011 and drawing its inspiration from the cycle of the four seasons, the project has featured members of Patti Smith’s band, Noveller, TV on the Radio, Interpol, Iggy Pop, Boredoms, Gang Gang Dance, Florence & The Machine, Royal Trux and many more. 41 Strings is a song cycle for string orchestra, electric guitars, and an expanded rhythm section but it does include an ensemble of 41 string instruments. Following the latest performance of the piece at NYC’s Rockefeller Plaza in 2019, the inclination arose to formally release 41 Strings as an LP and digital download, resulting in this Chaikin Records album. The music’s core environmentally-centric theme couldn’t be more timely in regards to current issues of climate change.
A distinctive component of the 41 Strings composition is its fusion of ‘classical’ music with rock band, a quality which is reflected in the piece’s instrumentation: violins, violas, cellos, double basses, eight electric guitars, two synthesizers, two electric bassists and three drummers. This dual identity of ‘rock band’ and ‘string ensemble’ is directly linked to Zinner’s multifaceted musical practice as heard in his guitar playing with Yeah Yeah Yeahs and his soundtrack composing for film and television. The music of 41 Strings beautifully leans on these dichotomous ensemble characteristics throughout its depiction of the four seasons – hot and cold, impassioned and calm, joyful and melancholy…
41 Strings performances have had the distinctive honor of including very notable special guests, particularly calling upon the indie rock music scene. The guitar section has featured Lenny Kaye (Patti Smith), Sarah Lipstate (Noveller, Iggy Pop), Paul Banks (Interpol), Gemma Thompson (Savages), Aku Orraca-Tetteh (Florence & the Machine), David Pajo (Slint, Gang of Four), Andrew Wyatt (Miike Snow), among many more; the rhythm section has maintained a consistent line-up with such accomplished players as Jaleel Bunton (TV on the Radio), Andy Macleod (Royal Trux), Hisham Bharoocha (Boredoms), Brian Chase (Yeah Yeah Yeahs), Ryan Sawyer (Gang Gang Dance) and Ben Vida. All of these musicians impart a sense of independent-art ethos with an exalted reach-for-the-stars morale. Such voices excel at tapping into the sensitivity of the music and bringing its beauty to the surface. Violinist Gillian Rivers, in addition to performing, worked as arranger in adapting Zinner’s compositions for string orchestra; additionally, she coached the string section during rehearsals and conducted them during performance.
Counting the debut performance in NYC in 2011, 41 Strings has only been performed four times. This low number is due to the project being such a massive undertaking. Because of the rarity of the performance, each one has been deeply significant. The second performance took place at the Sydney Opera House for the Sydney Festival in 2012; the third took place at London’s Royal Festival Hall for Meltdown Festival in 2014; the fourth took place at Rockefeller Plaza in NYC in the summer of 2019.
The music of 41 Strings is purposefully simple, lyrical, and minimal; melodic motifs gradually unfold over time and convey steady pacing as sections move one from the next. A subtle subjectivity infuses the ‘experience’ of each season as opposed to striving for a more objective ‘picture’: the movements of “Fall” and “Winter” naturally express a temperate majesty and solemn introspection; “Spring” brings the most raucous intensity, aligning itself with the season’s energy of rebirth and adolescent-like freedom; “Summer” expresses an idyllic potential, as if one is planted in the midst of a field surrounded by green grass, trees and flowers, awash in the warmth and light of the sun.