The composer Gloria Coates, born in 1938 in the United States but long resident in Germany, has made her name with orchestral and chamber works that proceed with glissandi and not individual pitches. It's a weird soundworld indeed. This Naxos disc gives us five of her string quartets as performed by the Kreutzer Quartet: Peter Sheppard Skærved and Gordon MacKay (violins), Bridget Carey (viola) and Neil Heyde (cello).
These quartets were written across three decades. The Second (1972), Third (1975) and Fourth (1976-1977) date from not long after she established her mature style. The Seventh, titled "Angels" (2000) and Eighth (2001-2002) represent Coates continuing that style into the new millennium, and the latter is a memorial to September 11. Coates' trademark glissandi proceed either as slow, gradual transitions, or fast-moving waves up and down. The latter passages remind me of the quip (sometimes attributed to Stravinsky) that the ondes martenot in Messiaen's "Turangalila-Symphonie" is the aural equivalent of a colon cleansing. In spite of this unusual technique, the material of Coates's works are often readily perceptible canonic structures.
Coates's music has a sound that might grab you powerfully when you first hear it, like the effect that György Ligeti's sound-mass music in the film "2001" often has on listeners. However, once you've heard one work by Coates, you've basically heard them all. There's no sense of stylistic development from any one quartet to another here, in spite of the thirty-year span. The String Quartet No. 7 "Angels" has unusual instrumentation, adding an organ to the two violins, viola and cello, but is not appreciably different than any of her other works. Compare her to any other composer interested more in thick sound than melody, and Coates's limitations become evident: she never tries to shake things up by juxtaposing serious moments with light ones (there is zero humour in her quartets), nor is there ever a drama of opposition and accord among the instruments here. She's a one-trick pony.
If you are interested in Coates's music in spite of my warning, it's worth noting that all of the music here was reissued in a box set with the other Naxos/Kreutzer recordings of her string quartets.