Yonatan Gat

American Quartet (Stone Tapes)

Contact Jacob Daneman, Yuri Kwon about Yonatan Gat

Yonatan Gat announces his new album, American Quartet, out digitally on November 4th via Stone Tapes, the label he founded alongside Joyful Noise Recordings, and presents the sprawling first glimpse, “Slow American Movement – II. Lento.” A phyiscal, limited edition vinyl version of the album will be available as a part the Stone Tapes 2022 Vinyl Box Set. American Quartet, Gat’s third solo record, is a reimagining of Antonin Dvořák’s famed American Quartet, one of the most popular string quartets in the classical repertoire, written while Dvořák was – like Gat – an immigrant living in New York City. But, as one might expect from the fiery Monotonix guitarist, Gat’s reimagination offers a completely sui-generis interpretation of the music, imbued with the slash-and-burn energy of punk rock, combined with the unrestricted creative spirit of experimental musicians like Alice Coltrane, who also interpreted Dvořák’s music.


“Since the first time I heard the American Quartet it sounded like rock’n’roll melodies. So on this record we took a stab at performing the 19th century string quartet live from start to finish on electric guitar, bass, organ and drums; adding some improvisation and vibe, but following the melodies and the harmonies quite truthfully,” Gat says. “It might be ambitious but it’s also pretty thrashed out.  It was composed by Antonín Dvořák, who listened to spirituals and Native music and wrote this beautiful piece as a person from another country living in New York. Like me. Unlike Dvořák though, I cannot read music and had to learn the melodies from memory. Greg, Mikey and Curt were responding to the sheet music, each adding their unique take to it. We were also responding to each other. My favorite movement is the second, slow movement. It was the last thing we recorded together – late night studio magic. And it all happened around the time my first child was born.”


Unlike Dvořák’s string quartet (written for two violins, viola, and cello), the musicians featured include Deerhoof’s Greg Saunier on drums, composer Curt Sydnor on organ, Mikey Coltun from Mdou Moctar’s band on bass, and Gat on electric guitar. After a series of live performances, the group entered the studio to record American Quartet. “Recording took place in a day,” Coltun shared. “We set up all together in one room and played each movement once or twice. Very little overdubs and editing occurred on this record as we wanted to capture the piece as the band intended, live and raw.”


While there is a freewheeling spontaneity to this recording, Gat’s first album since 2018’s David Berman-produced Universalists, reconceptualizing American Quartet took years, requiring a long, disciplined process, particularly from Gat, who does not read sheet music. Learning by ear also freed Gat’s playing from a strict interpretation of the score, allowing for the wild and unpredictable performance captured on this recording. This adventurous approach extracts electrifying new textures and emotions from this staple of 19th century classical music. In turn, Dvořák’s complex writing pushes the dynamic boundaries of Gat’s guitar, from bursts of howling psychedelic noise, to extended elegant lyrical passages. Saunier’s drums, loosely following the cello, provide a breathtakingly expressive rhythmic interpretation to the piece, while Coltun and Sydnor each bring their unique versatility transcribing the viola, cello and second violin parts to organ and bass.


American Quartet will be issued on Gat’s Stone Tapes label, continuing the radical clash of sounds and ideas featured on previous and upcoming Stone Tapes releases. Stone Tapes’ artist roster currently also includes trailblazing experimental powwow group Medicine Singers, Moroccan gnawa master Maalem Hassan Ben Jafaar, Guinean guitar pioneer Mamady Kouyate, and Israeli punk legends Monotonix. These artists will be highlighted on the forthcoming Stone Tapes “Artist in Residence” boxed set, limited to 555 copies and available for pre-order here. This will be the only physical release for American Quartet; the standalone November 4 release will be digital only.