Beyond Zero: 1914-1918

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Kronos Quartet Beyond Zero: 1914-1918

A work for quartet with film

Aleksandra Vrebalov, composer
Bill Morrison, filmmaker

David Harrington and Drew Cameron, creative consultants

Janet Cowperthwaite, producer
Kronos Performing Arts Association, production management

About Beyond Zero: 1914–1918

“Unlike official histories, that have often romanticized and glorified the war, artists have typically been the keepers of sanity, showing its brutality, destruction, and ugliness. For many, across history, creating art in those circumstances served as a survival mechanism.

While working on Beyond Zero: 1914–1918, I was inspired by anti-war writings, music, and art created during and immediately after World War I, including, for example, the writings of Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, the music of Satie and Debussy, and the Dada movement.  The piece draws from their disillusionment about heroism and patriotism, summed up in Owen’s line from Dulce et Decorum, that to die for one’s country is the old lie. 

Throughout the piece, there are several documentary recordings from different wars – from the horrific “Loyalty Speech” of James Watson Gerard who served as a U.S. Ambassador to Germany until 1917, to military commands of Serbian and Bosnian troupes during the conflicts that led to the brutal falling apart of Yugoslavia in 1990s, to the chilling sound of air-raid sirens during the bombing of London in World War II. 

My intention was to juxtapose these historical accounts of war with the finest expressions of spirit and creativity occurring at the same time – therefore Béla Bartók’s own playing of his Piano Suite written in 1916, and Huelsenbeck’s reading of his Chorus Sanctus, also written in 1916. A girl calling her cats is a symbolic reminder of suffering of women and children, and of longing for lost safety and domesticity. Beyond Zero: 1914–1918 ends with fragments of a dark Byzantine hymn Eternal Memory to the Virtuous, chanted by the monks from the Kovilj monastery in Serbia, in remembrance to all who lost their lives in the Great War and every war since then.”

–Aleksandra Vrebalov

“The film portion of Beyond Zero: 1914–1918 is comprised of films that have never been seen by modern audiences. I searched archives for rare 35mm nitrate films shot during the Great War, and made new brand new HD scans from the originals. In many cases this is the last expression of these films – some original copies were determined to not be worth preserving beyond this transfer to digital media.

What we are left with is a glimpse of a war fought in fields, in trenches, and in the air. Most of the footage shows some emulsion deterioration – the by-product of a history stored on an unstable base for 100 years. Through a veil of physical degradation and original film dyes, we see training exercises, parades, and troop movement. Some of the battle footage was re-enacted for the camera, and some depicts actual live rounds. All of it was shot on film at the time of the conflict.

We see a record of a war as a series of documents passed along to us like a message in a bottle. None is more powerful than the record of the film itself, made visible by its own deterioration. We are constantly reminded of its materiality: this film was out on these same fields with these soldiers 100 years ago, a collaborator, and a survivor. It is being seen now as a digital image for the first time.

If these are images that we, as viewers, were once intended to see, to convince us of the necessity and valor of war, they now read as images that have fought to remain on the screen. They are threatened on all sides by the unstable nitrate base they were recorded on, and the prism of nearly one hundred uninterrupted years of war, through which we now view them.”

–Bill Morrison




Once again, Kronos has commanded attention, defied convention, and continued Harrington's quest: to discover a sound to end all wars.

Lou Fancher, SF Weekly

viscerally powerful, both shocking and fascinating in equal formed a fittingly potent memorial to the fallen

David Kettle, The Scotsman

one of the most strangely powerful shows of this year's International Festival

John McLellan, Edinburgh Evening News

a moving evocation of all the complexities of war: of how conflict affects us all, and - through Kronos Quartet's elegaic performance of Vrebalov's moving composition - how humanity responds.

Edinburgh Spotlight

Kronos Quartet
Beyond Zero: 1914-1918

A work for quartet with film

Aleksandra Vrebalov, composer
Bill Morrison, filmmaker

David Harrington and Drew Cameron, creative consultants

Janet Cowperthwaite, producer
Kronos Performing Arts Association, production management

Beyond Zero: 1914–1918, with music by Aleksandra Vrebalov and film by Bill Morrison, is supported in part by an award to the Kronos Performing Arts Association from the National Endowment for the Arts.  Art Works.  Additional funding for the project is provided by The MAP Fund, supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Beyond Zero: 1914–1918  was commissioned for the Kronos Quartet by Cal Performances;  National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial and Harriman-Jewell Series, Kansas City, Missouri; and Hopkins Center, Dartmouth College.

10-7-16Los Angeles, CaliforniaRoyce HallCenter for the Art of Performance at UCLA
2-20-16Seattle, WashingtonThe Moore TheatreSeattle Theatre Group
5-6-15San Francisco, CaliforniaSundance Kabuki CinemasSan Francisco International Film Fesetival
4-18-15Nantes, FranceLieu UniqueLieu Unique
3-19-15Richmond, KentuckyEKU Center for the ArtsEKU Center for the Arts
3-10-15Urbana, IllinoisTryon Festival TheatreKrannert Center for the Performing Arts
3-7-15New York, New YorkZankel HallCarnegie Hall
3-5-15Blacksburg, VirginiaAnne and Ellen Fife Theatre, Street and Davis Performance HallCenter for the Arts at Virginia Tech
2-12-15Chapel Hill, North CarolinaMemorial HallCarolina Performing Arts
2-10-15Hanover, New HampshireSpaulding AuditoriumHopkins Center for the Arts

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Jan15Stanford, CaliforniaBing Concert Hall
Jan18Tucson, ArizonaCrowder Hall, University of Arizona School of Music, College of Fine Arts
Jan19Phoenix, ArizonaMIM Music Theater
Jan20Phoenix, ArizonaMIM Music Theater
Jan23Hanover, New HampshireSpaulding Auditorium
Jan25New York, New YorkZankel Hall

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