Christine Gunn is a cellist, a composer and the co-founder of Olympia’s The Gravity Quartet playing Saturday at ArtHouse Designs.
But the self-taught musician started her career — and got most of her musical education — busking in Seattle, beginning in her late teens.
“I was working at a Greek food place in the Pike Place Market and I saw that the street musicians were making more money than I was,” she said. “I brought my cello there. I played with a lot of the musicians, because they did better when they had a cute young girl playing with them.
“I would just improvise.”
The quartet, performing Saturday at ArtHouse Designs, is an eclectic one, combining classical instrumentation — and inspiration from the likes of Bach and Beethoven — with themes drawn from mythology and music influenced by the likes of Bowie and The Beatles.
Many artists insist their work defies classification, but The Gravity Quartet is (pardon the pun) down to earth about such matters.
“We have a genre,” Gunn said. “We call ourselves neoclassical impressionistic art rock.”
Gunn and co-founder Ingrid Ferris, who plays oboe and handles lead vocals, use the phrase “orchestral indie pop” to describe the sound of the quartet, which includes guitarist Giles Arendt and percussionist Robin Toye.
“There’s definitely a pop sensibility in our compositions, even the ones that sound classical,” Gunn said.
“The closest contemporary group that would be analogous would be Dead Can Dance,” she said.
Ferris and Gunn have diverse musical backgrounds though they picked up their instruments at age 10, and both got started with classical music.
Ferris studied world music, jazz and opera at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle.
“There was a lot of music fermenting in Seattle at that time,” she said. “It was inside Cornish, but also outside Cornish. We were learning on the streets.”
Gunn never took lessons, but played in the orchestra at Robert Gray Elementary School in Longview. As a busker, she played along with blues bands, groups doing covers of ’60s and ’70s rock and even a Venezuelan folk duo.
When she branched out on her own, Gunn had more success.
“I started playing solo sets where I just made things up as I went and I made a lot more money doing that,” she said. My compositions evolved with what made me the most money, which sounds crass, but it was instant feedback.”
Both musicians performed with other bands — Gunn with Trillian Green and The Walkabouts; Ferris with Gaelica — before they started working together two years ago. Many songs were woven together from Ferris’s words and Gunn’s music. Other songs were put together from sessions of improvisation.
The group plays covers ranging from Puccini to Led Zeppelin and Joni Mitchell.
“The pieces are crafted to take our audience on a musical journey,” Gunn said. “They have a place and a feeling and a time. We get excited about that.”
The Gravity Quartet: Wine, Music, Chocolate
What: Olympia’s The Gravity Quartet is serving wine and chocolate along with its orchestral indie pop — all against a backdrop of the art hanging at ArtHouse Designs.
When: 7 p.m. Saturday.
Where: ArtHouse Designs, 420 Franklin St. SE, Olympia.
Listen: Hear the group perform “The Alchemist” at tinyurl.com/zf7ungo.