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Standout Track: No. 3, “An Opening in Profile, Part One,” an improvised composition for upright bass, NS bass cello, and electronically treated percussion. It’s a little like listening to John Cage dragging a refrigerator through a Williams-Sonoma. Daniel Barbiero generates the growling low tones by bowing his bass while cellist Gary Rouzer and guest musician Pilesar (aka Jason Mullinax) imitate the shattering dishes.

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Musical Motivation: “We both like looking at modern art, so sometimes we’ll use a painting as a score and play it as we see it,” says Barbiero, an archivist at the National Academy of Sciences. On “An Opening in Profile,” the trio chose a painting by artist Mark Rothko. But exactly how this visual information, which Barbiero describes as “Heavy squares, kind of hanging space,” gets translated into music is a bit mysterious—even for Barbiero. “[The process] does tend to be abstract,” he says. “One time, we did a painting by Franz Klein. It was very linear, so I played a lot of harmonics. Don’t ask me why.”

Enter Sandman: Because of its use of an upright bass—a particularly quiet instrument—Nine Strings has a fairly reserved sound. “We’ve been called cerebral and introspective. I can live with that,” says Barbiero. Sometimes it can be hard for the group to fit in on a bill alongside its noisier peers, but there are some kindred spirits out there. “We played with this group International Nothing—two guys from Germany who played clarinet. They were extremely quiet. Some guys in the audience even fell asleep,” recalls Barbiero. “I thought they were the perfect complement to what we do.”