JG Thirlwell (Foetus, Steroid Maximus, Manorexia) Talks with David Harrington (Kronos Quartet) for the Talkhouse Music Podcast

Two visionary musicians, champions of new music, get together for a fascinating talk.

JG Thirlwell came out of the early ’80s New York underground scene and, under multiple pseudonyms that all had the word “foetus” in them, made lots of intense albums that evoke what AllMusicGuide has called “a harrowing netherworld of death, lust, disease and decay.” You can hear the Foetus influence in bands like Nine Inch Nails and Ministry.

Over the years, Thirlwell broadened his musical scope to the point where he is now an acclaimed new music composer, as well writing scores for film and television, and developing site-specific sound installations. And he’s kept his hand in rock music, collaborating with a wide range of rock musicians, from the Melvins to Zola Jesus to Sonic Youth. He’s composed pieces for various renowned new music ensembles, including the Kronos Quartet.

One could argue that the chart-topping, prize-winning, multiple Grammy-winning Kronos Quartet is the most famous string quartet in the entire history of string quartets. Over their 42-year existence, they’ve exposed many different kinds of audiences to many kinds of music by breaking down, or at least ignoring, barriers between genres. They’ve played art-tango with Astor Piazzolla, backed up Tom Waits, David Bowie, Paul McCartney and Björk, and covered Bob Dylan, Ornette Coleman and Sigur Rós.

But most importantly, Kronos has been a major player in nurturing the contemporary repertoire, working closely with iconic composers such as Steve Reich, Arvo Pärt, Terry Riley, Laurie Anderson, Henryk Gorecki, Osvaldo Golijov and Philip Glass. And lately, they’ve also begun collaborating with — and commissioning pieces by — a wide variety of younger musicians: Bryce Dessner (the National), Greg Saunier (Deerhoof), Amon Tobin, Glenn Kotche (Wilco) and Richard Reed Parry (Arcade Fire), among many others.

Kronos has commissioned and performed two pieces by JG Thirlwell: “Eremikophobia” and “Nomatophobis,” with a third piece on the way. So we put together these two thoughtful and visionary musicians for a Talkhouse Music Podcast.

JG Thirlwell is a composer/producer/performer based in Brooklyn, New York. As well as his own name, he works under many pseudonyms, including Manorexia, Foetus, Steroid Maximus, Baby Zizanie, Hydroze Plus, Clint Ruin and Wiseblood. He has released over thirty albums. Thirlwell has also worked with a wide variety of artists, including Karen O, Noveller, Zola Jesus, Melvins, Swans, Nine Inch Nails, Lydia Lunch and many more. JG has completed commissions for Kronos Quartet, Bang On A Can, Experiments in Opera and LEMUR among others, and is a member of the freq_out sound-art collective. He also creates solo sound installations. In 2010, he received a fellowship from the New York Foundation of the Arts in sound/composition. He often performs live with a chamber ensemble version of his Manorexia project. JG also creates the musical score of the Adult Swim/Cartoon Network show The Venture Bros, and has created several motion picture scores. You can find him on Facebook here and his website is here.


David Harrington is the founder and artistic director of the Grammy-winning Kronos Quartet. For 40 years, the Kronos Quartet and its non-profit Kronos Performing Arts Association have re-imagined and redefined the string quartet experience through thousands of concerts, more than 50 recordings and 800 commissioned works, and education programs for emerging musicians.