"Sister and brother Mercedes and Ali Helnwein have attracted a young and culturally astute following in L.A. -- Mercedes with her literary and artistic pursuits and Ali with his avant-garde forays into classical music as a composer and musician."

-- LA Times, Jessica Gelt


"Traction Avenue is the main artery of the Los Angeles arts district, an edgy neighborhood where old warehouse buildings have been converted into studio lofts. This is where violinist-composer-conductor Ali Helnwein established the Traction Avenue Chamber Orchestra. So far, his motivating hunch -- that a new kind of orchestra would attract a new kind of audience -- has been validated.

"When I talk to young people," says Helnwein -- who himself is not quite thirty --"many will say they're interested in classical music and would love to go out to concerts. But they never end up doing it. So I started this orchestra as an experiment, to go out and play in the places where they do hang out."

Helnwein did just that: his orchestra played its first concert at a skateboarding park and has played on rooftops and in alleyways. He's also taken his orchestra indoors -- to art galleries, a circus school and even the Herbert Zipper Concert Hall (home of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra).

There's an ephemeral, impromptu quality to this ensemble; concerts are planned on a one-off, ad-hoc basis. But the Traction Avenue Chamber Orchestra has found traction: it's now in its sixth year, presenting four or five concerts per year.

There's no staff or board of directors yet -- and Helnwein does most of the organizational work himself. But he's quick to share artistic credit with others in the ensemble. "I run it," he says, "and I end up making the final decisions. But what I like about the orchestra is that it's a collaborative experience, a small group of musicians who are passionate about what they do. I do always ask for input from them, for ideas on repertoire and places to play."

As for that repertoire, there's been a strong Baroque leaning in the music Helnwein puts on the music stands. But he's also attracted to new works. "More recently," he says, "we've been featuring contemporary local composers. There are a lot of composers in L.A., and I'm interested in what they're doing. Also, the audience responds to new music surprisingly well. You'd think they'd prefer the traditional repertoire, but some people respond well to the most atonal piece on the program."

-- Listen, Colin Eatock

To read full article, CLICK HERE



"Ali Helnwein is the Sonic Youth of Classical Music. He reformats the music scene of Los Angeles in Chinatown alleys, skateboarding parks, and downtown lofts. This summer, find him in an art gallery with artist Vanessa Prager whom we interviewed here. They collaborate on Love You Too. . ."

- Tommy Tung, Juxtapoz Magazine


Prison For Young Offenders

(ENGLISH VERSION) ". . . There’s someone out there who is very aware of this and that’s Ali Helnwein who’s been connected to the world of classical music since he was 9 years old, composer and conductor has worked around people like Has Zimmer and David Campbell. In 2006 he founded his own orchestra, Traction Avenue Chamber Orchestra which seeks to bring classical music to the ears of people in the most random places you can think of, last year he presented his Rain Concerto under the commission of Kat Von D, it was a complete success. I’m pretty sure Ali will be responsible for returning the magic to the world of classical music and for creating the next masterpieces that would be played by the existing and new orchestras all over the world.. . ."

- Mayra Alba, Prison For Young Offenders (online magazine)

(SPANISH VERSION) "Hace algunos días, mientras veía Fantasía…si, si, si…esa película de Disney con flores e hipopótamos bailarines recordé lo divertido que me resulta escuchar música clásica, creo que disfrutarla va más allá de un escenario, un horario o un dresscode y si alguien entiende esto a la perfección es Ali Helnwein quien, desde los 9 años está conectado con el mundo de la música clásica, compositor y director de orquesta ha trabajado con personajes como Hans Zimmer y David Campbell. En el 2006 creó su propia orquesta llamada Traction Avenue Chamber Orchestra, con la que busca llevar la música clásica a oídos de las personas en los lugares más random que puedas imaginar, el año pasado presentó su Rain Concerto bajo comisión de Kat Von D, todo un éxito. Estoy segura que Ali será el responsable de regresarle la magia a la música clásica y de crear las piezas que se unirán al repertorio de las orquestas alrededor del mun. . ."

- Mayra Alba, Prison For Young Offenders (online magazine)

To read the full interview CLICK HERE

A Closer Listen

"After Greetings from Spring Break Tapes Vol. 1, it’s a surprise to hear Strange Creations, a composed work which in comparison is indeed strange. Ali Helnwein‘s strangeness is more that of a Danny Burton than an all-out oddity; the cassette is accessible, but creative and playful. Opener “Greed” shares a sonic similarity to Keith Keniff’s “Goldengrove”, featured in last year’s iPhone 4 commercial: what impresses is the artist’s ability to tell a story in a brief span of sonic time.

"Helnwein already works in Hollywood; he was nominated for an Emmy earlier this year for his work on “Touch of Evil”, and has recently scored short pieces for ESPN and Wrangler Jeans. In one sense, this makes him perhaps the most “crossover” composer we’ve ever covered; in another, it demonstrates just how famous one needs to become in order to become a household name. Even though he wrote the orchestral arrangements for a Grammy-nominated album (Draco Rosa’s Amor Vincit Omnia) and was kissed by Muhammed Ali as a child, the Viennese artist has yet to break through to the big time – or at least, the big, big time. We’re a little backwards here at A Closer Listen; I’m now going to think of him as the guy who put together this cool little cassette, and also does those other things, instead of the other way around.

"So for a moment, let’s leave behind all thoughts that Helnwein has made music for short films, as well as the idea that these pieces would work well in short films. As a collection of miniatures, the tape works well on its own. The aforementioned “Greed” is an early highlight, a Christmas-like combination of piano, glockenspiel and strings. The ivories sound as if they were recorded to vinyl, then played back, providing a gritty contrast. ”Faking It” adds handclaps and a Spanish feel (shades of Duo del Sol!). The handclaps reappear on the 55-second “Insect”, which pastes the tone of “Greed” onto a Pachelbel base – an approach that finds its fruition in the processional pace of “Gluttony”. But the strangest creation here is the bird, banjo-and-boot stomped “Whistling Past the Graveyard”, which alone justifies the EP’s title. A full album of such creations would be extremely welcome, but for now, this cassette is a lovely entry into Helnwein’s world."

- Richard Allen, A Closer Listen

To read the full article CLICK HERE

Field Hymns

"This upcoming tape (which I am going to buy as quick as my little fingers can get it, once it hits the physical world) is from Ali Helnwein, a composer, conductor and founder of the Traction Avenue Chamber Orchestra in Los Angeles. These instrumental pieces sound to me like a cross between Morricone and Tom Waits Swordfish Trombone era with some of that pizzicato-d Mothersbaugh chamber music feel that’s so popular these days. Real beautiful stuff from a fellow who will be on the lips of many very soon."

- Field Hymns

To read the full article CLICK HERE


"This is a man that can score anything you throw at him. Ali’s success is only matched by his modesty. Knowing Ali, you could say his talent greatly surpasses his humble demeanor – Which is the best kind of talent, we’ve concluded.

"Go watch everything he’s made and you’ll have a great rest of your day. Liveacre loves Ali and can’t wait to hear whatever he does next!"

- Liveacre

To read the full article CLICK HERE


"Ali Helnwein’s new tape “Strange Creations” is haunting. It’s feels like a soundtrack to a film you haven’t seen and most likely will never see.

Yesterday another package from Spring Break Tapes showed up in my mailbox, and tonight I got a chance to give Ali Helnwein’s tape a solid listen. I found myself parked at the beach watching the waves roll in in the dark. Staring out the windshield only seeing what the headlights illuminated just listening to the beautiful sounds coming through the car speakers.

"These are sounds for a cold dark fall evening with too much to think about. "


To read the full article CLICK HERE

Cassette Gods

"Strange Creations by composer Ali Helnwein is truly a fantastic surprise. Often, when I get put out by one too many noise cassettes, I think I've heard it all before. Then my ears are surprised with an unexpected review submission. Helnwein is a film and TV composer and his moody pieces on this album reflect a flair for the dramatic and understanding of narrative. "Whistling Past the Graveyard" is BEGGING for Tom Waits to throw his gravel scarred vocal chords on top and/or just sit behind the scene of some Tim Burton conceived claymation short film. From "Greed" to "Gluttony," Strange Creations is an album full of inventive arrangements and wonderful melodies. Turn tape over. Repeat."

- Cassette Gods

To read the full article CLICK HERE

Guide Me Little Tape

"Intriguing, unclassifiable, psychedelic sadness from Ali Helnwein, with Strange Creations on Spring Break Tapes. Psychedelic in the sense that it feels like the soundtrack to a twisted bedtime story. Intriguing in the sense that it's just so darn interesting to listen to. Sounds like a music box come to life, backed by an orchestra while morning the loss of a dear friend. Tracks wander a blurred line between whimsical and touching. The standout second side concludes with the heartrending piece Gluttony which showcases delicate fingerpicked strings over a bombastic rhythm section and mournful melody. This one will test your genre preconceptions, and is exactly the type of heady experimentation I love to find.

Limited edition of 100 on black shells tapes, download included. Grab directly from Spring Break Tapes."

- Guide Me Little Tape

To read the full article CLICK HERE


"I had an amazing time in Los Feliz with Michele, Ali and baby Lou. I have known Ali since he was about 6 years old! Now he is happily married to the beautiful Michele! (Please take note of Michele’s beauty regime, she has the most beautiful skin I have ever seen.) It was my first time meeting baby Lou and she is the most adorable baby girl. I am happy to be called her Auntie. She puts a smile on my face every time I think of her and her wonderful parents! I am looking forward to more visits…"

- Bheaded, Lily Flores


New York Times Magazine

"But the music is equally important to the color. The composer I work with is a really old friend named Ali Helnwein, and he's always made this dark classical music. We collaborate really closely. I'll give him a bunch of temp tracks for each scene and then I'll sit with him each day for a few hours going over everything together."

- New York Magazine, Alex Prager interview by Stella Bugbee


Interview Magazine

PRAGER: I always work with the same composer, his name is Ali Helnwein. I don't have a musical background. [laughs]

BROWN: Do you tell him the idea of the movie and he goes and comes back with something or do you show him parts of it?

PRAGER: I'll show him what we shot; I'll show him the storyboard before we've shot anything. We usually have temp music that I find by myself, way before we start shooting, and I'll give that to him so that he can sit with it for a while and know what I am going for. He'll go compose something that he feels is appropriate and we work on that together until I feel that it is just right.

- Emma Brown, Interview Magazine


International Business Times

"Brad Pitt, Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara and 10 of the year's best actors look to their "evil" side for the New York Times Magazine's annual Hollywood Issue.

The video series, fittingly called "Touch of Evil," showcases he finest evil grins, glass smashing, wicked stares. Of course, evil is not complete without haunting music, courtesy of a young Austrian composer by the name of Ali Helnwein."

- International Business Times


Always Sometimes Anytime

". . .set to a bespoke soundtrack by prolific musician Ali Helnwein (who also contributed the sounds to Alex Prager's short film 'Lara Stone: American Fairytale')."

- Always Sometimes Anytime


Movie Pilot

"In unserer Playlist könnt ihr euch alle Videos ansehen. Aber Vorsicht: Es könnte gruselig werden, wenn zu der Musik des österreichischen Komponisten Ali Helnwein Käfer über Viola Davis krabbeln oder sich Brad Pitts Mund zu einem stummen Schrei des Grauens verzieht. Wer sich danach etwas beruhigen will, kann mal in die Video-Reihe des Vorjahres unter dem Motto Fourteen Actors Acting reinsehen und unter anderem James Franco dabei beobachten, wie er sich selbst einen Zungenkuss gibt."

- MoviePilot


Decoder Magazine

"New Year's Eve, 2011, we introduced y'all to Spring Break Tapes in one of my last posts to Get Off the Coast, recommending their cassette with Don Cash (here's the original post). While they prepare a tape with composer Ali Helnwein, who scored the New York Times' Emmy-nominated short film series Touch of Evil..."

- Decoder Magazine


Sicky Magazine

"...and set to the solemn yet beautiful soundtrack by Ali Helnwein, the film tells a tale of a dramatic journey..."

- Sicky Magazine



"Ali Helnwein’s music is great Halloween fodder when you have exhausted your trashy garage-rock collection, and are looking for your own private backing track as you drift through your neighborhood half drunk and hopped up on candy. Released on cassette by Spring Break Tapes, this is probably the only tape I own from an artist that can boast that they have earned an Emmy. All that respectability permeates from this release!

"Strange Creations calls to mind Danny Elfman’s Tim Burton soundtracks, as Ali weaves minimal string arrangements to perfectly fill an empty space. Tracks like “Greed” are whimsical yet sinister, reminding the listener that once the sun goes down, familiar places take on a baleful quality. As much as I enjoy Black Metal and Drone cassettes, this is the first tape I have played that my girlfriend also enjoyed, and I can sincerely say that this release should be in as many hands as possible."

- Spacerockmountain


The Urchin Movement

"Well, the New York Times Magazine is at it again this year, this time calling on director Alex Prager, composer Ali Helnwein, cinematographer Ross Richardson, and thirteen more actors to update and recreate some of most iconic villainy in Hollywood film history."

- The Urchin Movement


Poetry Foundation

"Composer/Conductor Ali Helnwein and several members of his Traction Avenue Chamber Orchestra also performed a collaborative piece with Kahn, a score that Helnwein composed especially for the poem, “Why I Wake Up Slowly."

- Poetry Foundation



"La música del compositor Ali Helnwein acompaña el relato visual de Prager en la mayor parte de su filmografía. En Despair, el corto con el que cerramos este post, las notas musicales hacen las veces de voz en off y acompasan los movimiento de la protagonista con cada cambio de secuencia. Helnwein ha ganado un Emi y un Grammy y en su web puedes escuchar su trabajo y ver alguna de las cintas en la que ha puesto su talento."

LA Times

". . . composed by the up-and-coming young classical music virtuoso Ali Helnwein (son of artist Gottfried Helnwein)."

- LA Times


Forth Magazine

“When my brother Ali gave me the music, which was shockingly perfect and maybe my favorite piece he composed for me so far, it was really easy to put it all together,” says Mercedes.

Together she unites them, these tangles of time in which women collapse and twist and corner themselves, all separately but in the same spaces, their consciousnesses bound by Ali’s sonorous score of violin, cello, clarinet, guitar, and other pieces. This is their third collaboration for an art exhibition.

Whistling Past the Graveyard (2008) began the habit with Ali Helnwein’s cyclical chord progression, the banjo pervasive among the merged instruments. The visuals of Whistling were arranged as modestly as the sound mix.

Livelier, East of Eden (2009) danced on vignettes and accelerated editing, for teamwork met reward. While Mercedes manipulated motion, Ali punctuated the soundtrack. Scales climbed and tumbled. Instruments ran back and forth and around each other. The outcome was charmingly comical and capricious.

- Forth Magazine, Tommy Tung


Post New

“La Petite Mort features music by composer Ali Helnwein and guided by the impeccable eye of Director of Photography, Matthew Libatique of Black Swan and Requiem for a Dream fame."

- Post New


We Are Blag

"If you saw our Katie McGrath film - left, you will have heard a super sneak preview of the music of Ali Helnwein. Ali is breaking ground in LA by introducing a diverse audience and young people to classical in unique ways. Here we talk about Traction Avenue Orchestra, which he founded, Stray Dogs, a company he runs with his sister which promoted arts in LA and his idea film score..."

- We Are Blag



Times Union

"With a score by Austrian composer Ali Helnwein, "Triptych0811" features Norwegian guitarist Ronni Le Tekro, formerly of the hard-rock band TNT.

- Times Union


All About Jazz

"Ali Helnwein's layered violins bring a further dose of otherness to the anthemic "Eagle Rock."

- All About Jazz


Huffington Post

"Music also plays a larger role as brother Ali Helnwein has composed classically haunting music for an accompanying video projection, which will provide further clues to her mysterious characters. Musician Beck, for whom she has previously contributed album art, will be hosting."

- Huffington Post



"Former PAPER cover girl Bryce Dallas Howard is starring in Despair, a four-minute, one-scene silent film by photographer Alex Prager that is shot like a '50s thriller. The short's unsettling score is by composer Ali Helnwein and you can check out the film's premiere tomorrow at Nowness.com."

- Peter Davis, Papermag



"The idea for the story came to me while listening to a piece of music composed by Ali Helnwein."

- Actress/ Director Beth Riesgraf for WESC


"The quality of the cinematography, acting, and direction goes without saying, but what really moved me was the music, put together by a dude named Ali Helnwein. I totally just signed his guestbook on his website, right after a religious zealot left some parting words.

The music in Touch of Evil is reminiscent of an era when the “sounds” of cinema had to be equally, if not more, evocative than the “looks;” a time when films were lauded for their scores, not their profit-generating soundtracks. (That being said, favorite holiday soundtrack, by far, is for Home Alone.)

Also, I like that he has a “guestbook” on his website. Reminds me of the 90s. "

- eDiscord


De Jeunes Gens Modernes

"La collection est mise en images par la photographe Venetia Scott - qui est d'ailleurs également a l'origine des campagnes Paul Ka, dont nous avons parlées récemment - et par Mercedes Helnwein et dolcefilms.com sous la musique de Ali Helnwein dans cette superbe video de présentation.

- De Jeunes Gens Modernes


W Magazine

Original music was composed exclusively for the film by Mercedes' brother Ali Helnwein (www.alihelnwein.com)

- W Magazine


LA Record

Composer/conductor Ali Helnwein played with his new string quartet Zero Machine while ballet dancers performed choreography by Andrews as part of The MOVEMENT Movement.

To read full article, CLICK HERE

- LA Record


"Hun har med seg et internasjonalt lag i prosjektet: Den amerikanske komponisten Ali Helnwein skal stå for musikken sammen med rockeren Ronni Le Tekrø, som skal spille live på scenen."

To read full article, CLICK HERE

- nrk (Norwegian)


"Aesthetically this short film is other worldly and dream like with a hauntingly ethereal soundtrack written by, Ali Helnwein."

- Bheaded


"...Osobité smyčcové barvy třeba ke snivé i skočné skladbě Eagle Rock doplňuje houslista Ali Helnwein, saxofonista Stuart Bogie se zase podílel na aranži skvělého úvodního kusu Limbs Of A Pine..."

- Kulturissimo

To read full article, CLICK HERE

The Model Muse

"Louisiana Kidd with parents Ali Helnwein & Michele Miskovich-Helnwein..."

- The Model Muse

To read full article, CLICK HERE


FRENCH: "Tape One de Julior Pande et Epic de Don Cash – en écoute intégrale commentée ci-dessous – ne restent cependant qu’un début pour Joe, comptant faire aboutir dès cette année plusieurs autres projets, dont les cassettes de Drawlings – aka Abby Portner, invitée lors d’un showcase Hartzine dans toutes les mémoires (voir) – Ali Helnwein ou Spirit Vine, et ce sans compter sur la Tape Two de Justin Peroff. Charriant le hip-hop, son versant abstract, mais aussi les expérimentations pop et électroniques, l’éclectisme préside au destin de Spring Brake Tapes."

"J’ai quelques trucs quasiment prêts à sortir. Je bosse en ce moment sur une mixtape instrumentale de hip-hop. Et ça s’annonce vraiment pas mal. Je vais aussi bientôt sortir un EP d’un petit groupe de Los Angeles, Spirit Vine. À part ça, j’ai hâte de pouvoir sortir peut-être deux sorties de Drawlings (aka Abby Portner) et d’un compositeur de LA, Ali Helnwein. Et de la Tape Two de Junior Pande. Je pense que ça va être une bonne année."

ENGLISH: "I’ve got a few things slated for release. I’m currently working on a hip-hop instrumental mixtape. It’s turning out to be really great. There is a local LA psych rock band called Spirit Vine & I’m going to release an EP of there’s on cassette. Other than that, I’m looking forward to releasing something possibly from Drawlings (aka Abby Portner) and LA composer Ali Helnwein. Also Junior Pande’s Tape Two. I think it’s going to be a good year."

Click HERE to read the full article.

- Hartzine

LA Record

"THE SERIES is a monthly theatrical experiment slash party on the Standard, Downtown LA’s rooftop. Producer Nicole Disson fuses her talents as mover and shaker, putting on a social event and dancing in it. We’ll call it a dance because overall, during the last one, movement played a part in every stop at this party theater . . .

"The performers included Disson, Hecuba’s Isabelle Albuquerque, and multiple pieces by her choreographer-dancer sister, Jasmine, guest director Mecca Vazie Andrews, and Ali Helnwein and the Traction Avenue Chamber Orchestra, among others."

- LA Record



"I love his string quartet stuff. I have it on my iPod and I think it’s great. It’s soothing because it’s classical, but it’s got some kind of peppy bit that I’m into. I like that. It’s got a modern twist to it, so it’s more relatable to me...."

- Juxtapoz


Italian Vogue

"A Standard Story is the title of the short film written and directed by Beth in Portland during risprese leveraged, with the background of a song by Ali Helnwein, who has become the soundtrack."

- Italian Vogue


"Ali Helnwein’s ‘Destroy your Beautiful Life' brings the album to a close and provides a touch of musical levity, while losing nothing in depth. It is probably the clarity of the mix, and the careful, considerate re-rendering of the original composition on lush piano and/or synths that makes this such a cathartic moment, and a highlight in terms of music and mood. The surprising clarity of Wolfgang’s guttural, growled vocals is juxtaposed expertly with the almost-ambient musical canvas here – more so than in any existing beauty/beast metal dichotomy that springs to mind."

- Jamie Janakov, Playlouder


"... it's called 'insect' and it's on the same CD. I just fell in love with it, it's so bizarre and circus-like. It could be on 'Sargent pepper' someplace...

"Ali Helnwein is the name of the composer and he is the proprietor of Strayed Dogs. He is involved in broadening the audience of classical music..."

- Martin Perlich (classical station Program Director/Host, KCSN)

Foam Magazine

" . . . with the collaborators list consisting of all envelope-pushers from LA’s East Side arts scene—including composer Ali Helnwein and the Traction Avenue Chamber Orchestra . . . "


- Foam Magazine

Record Collector News

"The flip side from the 2010 first issue is a wonderful children's story 'The Violin That Played by Itself,' with a beautiful score by the great young composer Ali Helnwein, my good friend."


- Record Collector News


"Australian outfit Thrills and Wrangler go the extra mile to highlight their upcoming collection of denim and shirts ... The whole film was directed by Riley Blakeway with music by Ali Helnwein. For more information on both the custom motorcycle and fashion endeavors of Thrills, head over to their website."

- Hypebeast


LA Record

"Sept. 14: The Series featuring new works by Ali Helnwein + Anna Oxygen + Diaz + Ian Ross + Isabelle Albuquerque Croissant + more . . . "


- LA Record

Curbs and Stoops

The artist’s brother, composer Ali Helnwein, contributed the music.” - Curbs and Stoops


Zaharas Art

"...Ali Helnwein’s music and audio was one of my favorite aspects to the films, so damn powerful...” - Zaharas Art

LA Weekly

" . . . pen drawings on vintage sheet music and a performance by Ali Helnwein's string quartet. . ." - LA Weekly


[Regarding Branden Daniel & The Chics Album]

". . .A string section (arranged by noted LA composer Ali Helnwein) adds a rich dose of grandiose decadence on “Feel Real,” and the compelling, impenetrable album closer “Not Like Anything. . ."

Revista Aplausos

[regarding Draco Rosa's album "Amor Vincit Omnia" that Ali wrote the string and orchestral arrangements for]

"...used an instrumental string background, with violins as the protagonists, over percussion in an attempt to catch the essence of his musical origins."

- Fernando Mexia, Revista Aplausos

Houston Culture Map

"A serendipitous meeting with visual artist C. Gregory Gummersall provided Baker with the idea and the means to produce the Scordatura Music Society’s latest commissioning project. Gummersall agreed to donate six brand new works on canvass to six composers including George Heathco, Jordan Kuspa, Alexandra T. Bryant, Federico Garcia, Paul Dooley and Ali Helnwein, who will each compose a piece of music inspired by the gifted art. The new compositions will be presented, alongside the respective paintings, Nov. 12 at 7 p.m. at Memorial Drive Methodist Church. Six paintings, one visual artist, and six composers gave the project its name: 12 x 7."

- Houston Culture Map, Chris Becker

to read full article, Click Here

iPrincess Diaries

"To top the night off, the Traction Avenue Chamber Orchestra will play, conducted by noted composer Ali Helnwein and performing original music that marries with Kahn’s text."

- iPrincess Diaries, Kate Durbin

to read full article, Click Here

An Essay


An essay on the String Quartet No.1 in E Minor composed by Ali Helnwein.

First of all, do people still compose string quartets these days? In this gym-going, latté-drinking, hummer driving, brave new word of 2006, does anyone still sit down with a pad of paper and a pen and write out a string quartet?

Well, you’d be surprised.

Ali Helnwein, 23, is a classically trained violinist, living in Los Angeles. He currently plays in two L.A. based bands as well as the Jr. Philharmonic Orchestra of California – but first and foremost Ali is a composer. A composer who was stuck in Ireland for three months last year and came back with the String Quartet No.1 in E minor.

He had left L.A. for his family’s home in Ireland last April and remained there for the remainder of the summer. The first few weeks his life consisted mainly of checking his emails (a lot) and barging in on his younger brother and his teenaged friends to see “what’s up” about five times a day. In the electric green of this island, the peace and quiet is supreme, the air is shockingly good and if you live in the countryside, you won’t be able to take two steps without stumbling over a cow. In other words, coming from L.A. you might not know where to put your hands for the first few days. It is genuinely a different planet over there and you almost feel the need for instructions on how to breathe. But once you figured out how to coexist in this overpowering wholesomeness, you begin to understand what a privilege it is to be there.

Having recently studied the laws of composition and listened to a lot of Dvorak, Ali Helnwein approached the piano in the entrance hall one morning with a pad of paper and a pen and went to work. The piano, by the way, was about as in-tune as a Japanese business man singing karaoke at 2 am, so I’m really not sure on how he did what he did. But in the course of a couple of months he had amassed a bunch of musical notations that he thought might sound good when played by two violins, a viola and a cello. “I couldn’t play the four parts together, but I could play two parts at a time – slowly – and then just think of what would logically sound good together” he explains, as though that makes the birth of a string quartet any easier to understand.

Back in L.A. he discovered he had made a $960 profit off of some penny shares that he purchased for $60 about a year earlier. With this money he hired the cream of L.A. studio musicians, put them in a recording studio together and heard for the first time what his quartet actually sounded like. He won’t admit it, but I’ll say it for him: he thought he had one hell of a quartet.

"I was surprised that the musicians were reading through it so easily and not only sight-reading it properly but also interpreting and phrasing it well. It gave the piece real life. The first and second movement went so smoothly that I could have used the first take. In fact, the second movement actually is all just the first take – first run through," he says.

Ali Helnwein’s quartet is a journey through a set of ineffable moods – classical and honoring all traditions of classical structure but made for a new millennium. It is excellent proof that classical music has no reason to play dead. And neither does modern classical music have to exist purely of dissonant and intellectual sounds that you need a college degree to listen to. “Modern art” of whatever shape, form or size should not be concerned with being an erudite celebration of things that only a few people can feel snug about because they’re holding a martini glass and made some sense out of some metal stick protruding from the wall of a gallery. Art has only one purpose: to move. To move on all levels. You should never walk away from a true piece of art and be left the same – un-dented, un-changed, with nothing new floating about in your head.

Moderm classical music, just like any category of art, still has the power to blow your mind and splatter it against the wall behind you. I think Ali Helnwein is one of the few composers who knows this to be true.

You might be sitting somewhere in the sweltering heat of midday Los Angeles – maybe in traffic, under billboards and advertisements that remind you that this is the era of cheap subsititutes – blunt, cynical, clumsy. But you are also sitting in a town whose underground sometimes produces genuine products of a new romantic movement.

The String Quartet No.1 in E Minor starts like a windswept landscape – overcast and abandoned. A strong current of all four instruments introduces the theme with an unexpected immediacy and pulls you into a story of which you are about to be the author. From the headstrong first movement you’ll soon be dropped into five minutes and thirty-four seconds of someone’s bleeding heart – the second movement. Starting with a minimalistic plucking that sounds like the last raindrops of a storm, the music gracefully gives way to the slow and lulling depths of the cello. By the way, you’d be surprised how something that sounds like velvet can cut like a razor. But whatever dreams you might have lost yourself in, the third movement will wake you up. This is probably my favorite one. It starts with a perfectly planned turmoil of a rhythm. The rhythm attacks you without much of a warning and then lets off into a swaying dance through which you can sense the tension trembling. When the melody is at it’s most vulnerable the wrath of all four instruments climaxes again into chaos.

The music ends as abruptly as it begins – like a brilliant accident – and you are left by the side of a road with nothing but the world that has been scraped up in your mind, still throbbing.

And there you have it. The String Quartet No.1 in E Minor composed by Ali Helnwein, who fifteen years ago walked into the music room of a new school in order to choose an instrument to learn. He chose the violin, because it looked the best.

- Mercedes Helnwein