Spektral Quartet turns ringtones into art with 'Mobile Miniatures'

The call in the middle of a movie. The late-night text message. The “ding” of an arriving email during an important conversation.


Cell phone alerts are often seen as unwelcome interruptions, not art. But University of Chicago ensemble-in-residence Spektral Quartet hopes to change that.

For its Mobile Miniatures project, the string quartet commissioned more than 40 contemporary composers—among them UChicago faculty members Shulamit Ran and Augusta Read Thomas and 2012-2013 Arts Incubator artist-in-residence Tomeka Reid—to create new works designed to be used as ringtones, alerts and wake-up alarms.

On April 3, Spektral Quartet offered live renditions of the mini masterpieces at Fulton Recital Hall, as well as iPad listening stations that allowed guests to explore the full catalogue of ringtones.

Russell Rolen, Spektral Quartet’s cellist and executive director, took a break from the festivities to discuss the project: