Instrumentation string quartet

Timing 15′ in four movements

Composed 2004

Commissioned by Music TORONTO for the Arditti Quartet, with assistance from the Canada Council for the Arts

World Premiere December 2, 2004, Jane Mallett Theatre, St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, Toronto, Ontario. Arditti Quartet

Programme Notes


The title Slash is a reference to “slash fiction”, a creative endeavour in alternate realities that has become a common feature on internet fan sites. In slash fiction, (usually amateur) writers invent (usually romantic) stories around various combinations and permutations of characters from popular culture — Mulder/Scully, Picard/Crusher, Kirk/Spock, and so on — each pairing separated by a slash.

This idea suggested to me a way of exploring the musically intimate nature of quartet playing. In Slash (string quartet #2), each movement is titled with a “slashed” pairing that functions on several levels. On the surface level, each movement highlights a different pair of players in the context of the full quartet — in I / II, for example, the first and second violinists are featured. On a deeper structural level, selected musical material from each movement reappears, reinterpreted, in the following movement, and the closing gesture of each movement is reused (and again, reinterpreted) as the opening gesture of the next, creating a connected flowing stream of musical consciousness, yet with an overall integration of ideas.

As much as the idea of “slash fiction” suggests romance, the word “slash” also suggests violence, and indeed much of this music is aggressive, propulsive and even obsessive, with the added visual element of slashing motions of the bows. In the final movement, though, the music turns inward, with the players instructed to play “as breathing.”

Slash (string quartet #2) is dedicated to Jennifer Taylor and the Arditti Quartet.


[Ryan is] attracted by the perceptual paradox of music that runs into harmonic stasis while maintaining a lot of rhythmic vigour. There’s a tendency throughout the piece for the music to fall into what pop musicians call a groove, even after Ryan sets up something that would seem to ensure forward motion, such as the viola’s folk-dance riff in the second movement, or the brief four-instrument canon in the third. Like the quiet, glimmering tutti chords of the finale, these episodes nudge you toward wondering what, after all, movement in music really is. (Robert Everett-Green/Globe and Mail)

This is a work that deserves to be heard again. (John Terauds/Toronto Star)

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