ALBUM REVIEW: The Colorado

by Maggie Molloy

The Colorado River is a national treasure.download (31)

For the past 5 million years, the Colorado River has carved some of the most magnificent landscapes on Earth.

More than 33 million people across Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, and Mexico depend on the Colorado River for their water supply. The river supports a quarter million jobs and produces $26 billion in economic output each year from recreational activities alone.

But if the numbers alone don’t convince you, maybe the stories behind the river will.

VisionIntoArt teamed up with New Amsterdam Records to create The Colorado: a multimedia, music-based documentary that explores the Colorado River Basin from social and ecological perspectives across history. The project is conceived as equal parts eco-documentary film, live performance, and an educational tool for classrooms.

 

And just wait until you meet the team behind the music. For this one-of-a-kind album, the Grammy Award-winning contemporary vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth breathes life into compositions by Shara Nova, Paola Prestini, Glenn Kotche, William Brittelle, and John Luther Adams.

With color, charisma, tight harmonies, and striking shots of the river and its wildlife, the documentary presents the Colorado in all its majestic splendor—but it also tells a much bigger story.

Today, with a booming agricultural industry to support and nearly 40 million people dependent on its waters, the Colorado is overused, over-promised, and unable even to reach its delta. Add to that the impact of climate change on the region, and you begin to see why these are stories that truly need to be heard.

The Colorado explores vast terrain, both in terms of music and lyrical content. Lyrics by William Debuys navigate from the prehistoric settlements of the region to the current plight of the river’s delta, from the period of European exploration to the dam-building era and its legacy, from industrial agriculture and immigration to the inescapable impact of climate change.

As an additional educational component to the album and documentary, the team behind The Colorado is also in the midst of creating a full-length textbook, corresponding section by section to the film, which will allow students and audiences to explore these topics in greater depth. The goal is to create connections between art, ecology, and regional history while also educating audiences toward a better stewardship of resources.

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The album begins—well, at the “Beginnings.” Composed by rock drummer Glenn Kotche (of Wilco), “Beginnings” sets the sonic scene of the prehistoric Colorado River through sparse instrumentation, evocative rhythms, and layered, wordless vocals. Almost ritualistic in nature, Roomful of Teeth’s voices evoke a deep spiritual connection to the river and its surroundings.

It’s followed by cross-cultural composer Paola Prestini’s “A Padre, A Horse, A Telescope.” Prestini, who is one of the co-founders of VisionIntoArt, takes a more Baroque-inspired choral approach. Setting Jesuit sources as the text for the piece (including a Hail Mary in Cochimí, an extinct Native American language), Prestini creates haunting counterpoint through echoing, intricately layered voices which speak to the religious symbolism of the river—both for Europeans and indigenous peoples.

The river’s relentless pulse comes alive in “An Unknown Distance Yet to Run,” written by composer, singer-songwriter, and mezzo-soprano extraordinaire Shara Nova (of My Brightest Diamond). Through steady rhythms, restless strings, and chant-style vocals, she tells a gripping tale of exploration and adventure.

Composer William Brittelle folds elements of electro-pop into his two contributions on the album. “Shimmering Desert” features breathy, wordless vocals in a kaleidoscopic collage of electronics, radio clips, and strings, while “The Colossus” recalls the drama and dangerous working conditions of the Colorado River dams.

Pulitzer Prize-winning composer and environmentalist John Luther Adams’ contribution to the album requires a bit more patience. Unfolding slowly across layered, softly cascading vocal lines, he creates a vision of a vast, organic river landscape populated by nothing but the soft sounds of nature—in this case embodied ever so delicately by human voices.

Prestini’s narrative-driven “El Corrido de Joe R.” tells a more concrete story of love and sacrifice along the river. Roomful of Teeth sings above trickling water and birds chirping as they tell one family’s story—an anecdote of the interpersonal relationships between people and the land they live on.

It’s followed by another Nova piece, “Welcome to the Anthropocene,” a ghostly illustration of modern man’s massive (and dangerous) impact on the planet as we continue to abuse our resources and damage our world.

And yet, the album ends on a decidedly hopeful note: Kotche’s “Palette of a New Creation.” Roomful of Teeth paints an image of optimism through vividly colored harmonies and beautifully textured polyphony—a reminder of the meaningful change we can create when we lift our voices together.

Because together, through education, environmental activism, and effective stewardship of land and water, we can keep the Colorado flowing for generations to come. After all, there is 5 million years’ worth of music coursing through the Colorado River—for those who are willing to listen.

 

Seattle Symphony’s Tuning Up! Festival

by Maggie Molloy

The Fourth of July is almost upon us, and you know what that means: parades, picnics, and barbeques abound! And while hot dogs, fireworks, and flag-covered clothing are a (somewhat) relevant expression of American independence, our county has a whole lot more than just cured meats and corny t-shirts to be proud of.

Tuning Up!Which is why this summer, the Seattle Symphony is turning off the barbeque and turning up the music with Tuning Up!: a two-week festival celebrating American musical creativity in the 20th and 21st century. This star-spangled celebration features nine concerts which traverse America’s vast musical landscape, from jazz to Broadway, avant-garde to minimalism, classics to Hollywood, and much more.

So whether you crave the jazzy grooves of George Gershwin or the swinging blues of Duke Ellington, you can hear it all during the Tuning Up! Festival. Maybe you prefer the massive soundscapes of John Luther Adams, the hypnotic minimalism of Philip Glass, or the movie magic of John Williams—the festival has all that too!

Suffice it to say, Second Inversion is all over this festival. Come visit us at the KING FM table in the lobby at the following events for music, magnets, and other free swag!


Stage & Screen: From Appalachian Spring to the Red Violin
Thursday, June 23 at 7:30 p.m.

From stage to screen to concert hall, these giants of American music transcended borders and paved the way for generations to come. Among them is Florence Beatrice Price: the first African-American woman to be recognized as a symphonic composer. The Seattle Symphony pays tribute with a rousing orchestral rendition of her ragtime classic, Dances in the Canebrakes. Plus, dancers take to the stage alongside the Symphony for a performance of Aaron Copland’s famous folk-inspired and Pulitzer Prize-winning Appalachian Spring.

The program also features Leonard Bernstein’s elegant Divertimento for Orchestra, poignant movie music from Schindler’s List and The Red Violin, and a heartwarming tribute to the late Marvin Hamlisch who, among his many accomplishments in music, served as the Principal Pops Conductor at the Seattle Symphony from 2008 until his death in 2012.


The Light that Fills the World: A Meditation in Sound & Light
Thursday, June 30 at 7:30 p.m.

In the face of trauma and political turmoil around the world, Seattle Symphony offers an intimate meditation in sound and silence, light and dark. Julia Wolfe’s My Beautiful Scream, written after the events of 9/11, opens the program with a slow-building and softly illuminating agony. What follows is utter silence: John Cage’s famous 4’33”.

The program also features Pulitzer Prize-winner John Luther Adams’ immersive, Arctic-inspired soundscape The Light That Fills the World, the delicate breath of Morton Feldman’s Piano and Orchestra, and Philip Glass’ scientific salute, The Light.

Plus, the Symphony invites you to submit your own Glass-inspired photographs to be featured during the performance. Deadline for submissions is this Friday, June 24.


In the White Silence: John Luther Adams’ Alaskan Landscapes
Friday, July 1 at 10 p.m.

To say that composer and environmentalist John Luther Adams is inspired by nature would be a bit of an understatement. He spent much of his life composing from a 16×20 ft. one-room cabin in the Alaskan woods, creating large-scale soundscapes which blur the line between nature and man-made instruments.

In 2013, the Seattle Symphony commissioned and premiered John Luther Adams’ Become Ocean, a 42-minute meditation for large orchestra which went on to win a Pulitzer Prize and a Grammy Award.John Luther Adams

And now, during this special late-night concert, the Symphony revisits one of Adams’ earlier explorations into sonic geography: the 75-minute soundscape In the White Silence. The piece unfolds slowly and patiently, translating the vast horizons of the frozen far north into a musical landscape of clean, radiant harmony and subtle transformation.


Looking for more in American music? Check out the Seattle Symphony’s Tuning Up! Festival Map below:

Tuning Up! Visual Guide

ALBUM REVIEW: David Kechley’s A Sea of Stones

by Brendan Howe

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David Kechley, indisputably the most technically challenging composer of music for guitar and saxophone, has released his latest three works for the unlikely combination – Points of Departure, Bounce, and the eponymous Sea of Stones. Granted, although Kechley was the first to specifically pair the guitar and saxophone together in 1992 with his album, In the Dragon’s Garden and has composed virtually all of the genre’s canon, Sea of Stones stands on its own as a magnificently complex, engaging, inventive work that also effortlessly achieves accessibility – no small feat in contemporary instrumental music.

It is important to note that Kechley’s compositions are heavily influenced by time spent in Kyoto, Japan, and that during his initial collaborations with saxophonist Frank Bongiorno and baroque guitarist Robert Nathanson for Dragon’s Garden they paid particular and meditative attention to the famed Zen garden at Ryoanji Temple – an experience that so inspired Bongiorno and Nathanson that they began calling themselves the Ryoanji Duo.

In both title and concept, Kechley derives Sea of Stones from the “controlled randomness” of the rock garden – fifteen boulders arranged in groups of two, three, and five, such that the maximum number of boulders visible from any angle is fourteen, the fifteenth revealed upon enlightenment. As Kechley asserts, his album is filled with motifs “that repeat, but don’t” – they maintain a familiar atmosphere while adding new perspectives for a sense of enriched understanding.

Points of Departure differs from other Kechley works for guitar and saxophone in that it consists of five discreet movements, as opposed to movements that flow directly into one another. Saxophonist Laurent Estoppey, who recorded Departure with Nathanson, opens the work in Prologue and Dramatic Exposition and closes the work in Epilogue and Lyric Recapitulation with two temple bells struck over Nathanson’s urgent, augmented, arpeggiated seventh and ninth chords, as the opening and closing of ceremonies.

Each movement of Points of Departure is titled to match its character. Kechley’s signature sharp contrasts are readily apparent in the tempo and dynamic shifts of Dramatic Exposition. Estoppey’s soprano sax at one moment frantically trills over Nathanson’s rapid attacks of nylon strings, and the next moment both release and slow to a pill-induced slumber.

The second movement, Quirky, makes heavy use of large and unusual staccato intervals intermixed with short, halting soprano sax phrases. It draws to mind images of ground squirrels doing what ground squirrels do – an impressively unique aesthetic that demonstrates Kechley’s versatility in writing for the two instruments.

Departure’s remaining movements – Chorale, Cadenza and Slow Dance, Relentless, and finally Epilogue and Lyric Recapitulation – each offer wonderfully varied shifts in tone and style, and create a brilliant narrative arc that returns to its starting point, but carrying a profoundly changed perspective.

The second of the three pieces included on Sea of Stones is Bounce: Inventions, Interludes, and Interjections, and was recorded by the Ryoanji Duo as a single 14-minute track. Kechley explains that the instruments build upon a single opening motif, inventing new forms as they go, with strategic interruptions that cause us to “stop and take a breath” at certain points throughout the piece. Lyric interludes also serve to build the structure of the piece. It becomes more continuous, intense, and organic as it evolves, before reaching the end of the cycle exactly where it began.

The latest of Kechley’s works, for which this album is named, brings in a unique orchestral element behind the Ryoanji Duo, here performed by the Polish Sudecka Filharmonia. The first movement, Awakening, opens with a steadily increasing, reverberant drumroll as a call to ceremony, similar to what would have been heard at Ryoanji Temple in the 15th-19th centuries. Diverse percussive instruments, evoking a theatricality akin to Kabuki, punctuate the melodic alto sax and guitar lines. This awakening is precise, crisp, and energized.

Kechley begins Dances and Reflections with the flute, then guitar, then horns, and finally oboe echoing the main sax motif, showing in brilliant resolution the stark perspective shifts that come from reflecting one event in different instrumental voices. The result is heartbreaking and mesmerizing. As the instruments join forces to flow into Arrival, they bring their divergent points of view into a single dramatic narrative.

So as to not give too much away, suffice it to say that the remaining four movements of Stones will not disappoint listeners who are eager to hear the rest of this beautifully crafted experience. Dialogs and Meditations initially breaks cleanly from the perpetual motion of instruments sharing with one another, the sax diving deeply into its own thoughts while the guitar drifts from whimsy to action. Return and Last Light come full circle with familiar motifs and percussion. Though the album concludes almost subconsciously, it leaves the listener with a sense of awakening.

STAFF PICKS: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from this Friday’s playlist. Tune in during the indicated hours below on Friday, June 17 to hear these pieces. In the meantime, you’ll hear other great new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre 24/7!

Frédéric Chopin (arr. Chad Lawson): Prelude No.20 in C minor, Op.28 (Hillset Records)
Judy Kang, violin; Rubin Kodheli, cello; Chad Lawson, piano
coverSometimes, modern re-interpretations of older music yield a product that would not necessarily strike the unguarded listener as terribly modern or even slightly derivative. Chad Lawson’s release The Chopin Variations is one such project. Specifically, the Prelude No.20 in C minor, Op.28 strikes me as a highly successful example. This track is not so much a re-imagining as it is a modern re-hearing of the original. This track is a tangible manifestation of the way Chopin’s original might be internally experienced by a modern listener, filtered through fields of distraction, memories of alternative styles, and competing musical influences. Lawson infuses the Prelude with shades of minimalism, new-age music, and gentle rhapsodic fragments that seem to naturally flow from the original, organically replicating a potential internal mashup that might occur inside the head of modern listener. Maybe modern distraction isn’t an entirely bad thing, after all. – Seth Tompkins

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 9am hour today to hear this piece.


Patrick Laird: The Farewell (Break of Reality)

a3228272509_10Cello rock!  Heck yeah!  You may already be familiar with Break of Reality if you’re one of the 11 million people who have viewed their “Game of Thrones Theme” cello cover on YouTube (it’s badass!), but this group was totally unknown to me until recently.  If you like metal you’ll dig this.  If you like tribal beats you’ll dig this.  If you like classical you’ll dig this.  “The Farewell” is cinematic, textural and so beautifully harmonious. – Rachele Hales

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 1pm hour today to hear this piece.


Cindy Cox: “Playing A Round” performed by Keynote+ (Albany Records)

unnamedI’ll be honest: I don’t really like harpsichord. Even when I hear really good harpsichord music, my first thought is still always “Wow, but imagine if that was played on piano instead!”

Suffice it to say, there are very few harpsichord pieces on my new music playlist. To me, most harpsichord works belong squarely in the pure and polite “early music” category.

Or at least, that’s what I thought—until I discovered a most unusual (Read: GENIUS!) multi-keyboard project called Keynote+, comprised of Jane Chapman on harpsichord and Kate Ryder on prepared piano. In this recording from a concert at UC Berkeley, the two each lend their ten fingers and tireless musical talents to a piece called “Playing a Round” by Cindy Cox.

Across five short movements, the piece blurs the line between Baroque harpsichord and 20th century avant-garde piano idioms, at times making it difficult to tell where one instrument ends and the other begins. Together, Keynote+ envelops the listener in a gorgeously percussive and richly colored orchestra of sound—and all with just two keyboard instruments and 20 very quick fingers. One’s thing for sure: these keyboardists are not playing around. – Maggie Molloy

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 7pm hour today to hear this piece.

ALBUM REVIEW: Stories for Ocean Shells by Kate Moore with Ashley Bathgate

by Maggie Molloy

Picture yourself walking along a beach, listening to the soft crashing of the waves and collecting shells on the ocean shore. Each shell a beautifully delicate, one-of-a-kind work of art—each shell with its own story and its own unique song.

That’s the inspiration behind Cantaloupe Music’s latest release, Stories for Ocean Shells, which tells a wordless tale of two friends and musical collaborators living oceans apart: Australian composer Kate Moore and New York-based cellist Ashley Bathgate.

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The two first met in 2009 when Moore came to New York to rehearse one of her pieces with Bang on a Can, of which Bathgate is a member.

“I knew from that moment that we would work with each other again,” Moore said. “Sharing similar experiences, aesthetic interests, and being at a similar place in our lives meant that we could immediately see where the other was coming from. We were both rebels from a background playing the cello, and we both wanted to break out, with the aim to create something new that we could call our own, tapping into that vast energy around us.”

Moore has written a number of solo cello works which Bathgate has premiered over the past seven years—and Stories for Ocean Shells is a culmination of their close musical collaboration thus far.

The album begins with an invitation. “Whoever you are come forth” is an introspective prelude of sorts—a slow and gradual immersion into the intimacy and strength of a solo, unaccompanied instrument. The piece was written as a wordless interpretation of Walt Whitman’s poem “Song of the Open Road,” about the long and winding journey of a lonely traveler. Bathgate paints a tender image of the lone traveler through her rich tone, bittersweet lyricism, and warm phrasing.

mg_8491c2a9johan-nieuwenhuizec2a92013-foto-johan-nieuwenhuize-2It’s followed by the album’s title track, which Moore wrote as a present for a little girl from Thailand who had shown her gorgeous silks with elaborate handwoven patterns. The young girl’s name translates to “ocean shells.”

“The cyclical patterns were intricate and beautifully ornate,” Moore said, “Reminiscent of those traced on the surface of a seashell, spiraling in ever-expanding and contracting formations.”

It became the inspiration behind “Stories for Ocean Shells,” a piece comprised of intricately layered cello motives which circle and expand around one another in beautiful waves of sound. If this piece is a silk cloth, then Bathgate is the silk weaver, crafting each wave by hand with beautiful color and detail.

Another cloth-inspired piece follows—this one “Velvet.” Musically, the piece combines the relentless repetition and exaggerated pulse of minimalism with the drama and dynamic color of Romantic era. Bathgate sounds equally at home in the soft elegance of the velvet’s surface as she is in the rich, dark shadows of its folds.

The darkness is palpable in the album’s next track, “Dolorosa.” Moore wrote the piece after the words of the Stabat Mater, 13th-century Catholic hymn to Mary which portrays her suffering during Jesus’s death. Deeply spiritual, the piece features Bathgate’s whispering vocals drifting above long-breathed cello phrases, textured with subtle interjections from Lawson White on pedal steel guitar and vibraphone.

But if “Dolorosa,” is about loss, then “Homage to My Boots” is about liberation. The piece was inspired by Moore’s old Doc Martens’—a symbol of freedom and joyous possibility she purchased for herself when she first left home. Bathgate steps into Moore’s shoes for this piece, dancing through both the exhilaration and the vulnerability of young independence.

The album closes with “Broken Rosary,” a tribute to Moore’s grandmother who died the same year that Moore was born. Her grandmother left her an old rosary, which Moore accidentally broke as a child. She pieces it back together in this emotional work, the beads ever so softly audible behind the intimate cello melody and soft electronic ambiance.

And so Stories for Ocean Shells ends as softly as it begins: a single, lone traveler—though never truly alone.

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“When I was a little girl my grandmother gave me a huge conch shell that she found on the beach,” Bathgate said. “She told me that if I held it up to my ear, I would hear the ocean she visited. That idea stayed with me; that you could share an experience without necessarily being in the same place at the same time.”

Stories for Ocean Shells is proof of that possibility; it is a beautiful and heartfelt reminder that friendship will always conquer distance—and so will music.

“At any given moment, at any given location, somewhere in the universe, two people like us are picking up shells on a beach, listening into them for answers, for ideas, for a connection, for peace, for hope,” Bathgate said. “They’re listening, like we are, with wild imaginations and dreams of what’s to come. The possibilities are endless.”

You’re Invited! Seattle New Music Happy Hour

by Maggie Molloy

You like new music. We like new music. Let’s get together and talk about new music, drink a couple beers, and make some new friends along the way.

Seattle

You’re invited to join friends from Second Inversion, the Live Music Project, New Music USA, and other contemporary classical projects this month for happy hour at the Queen Anne Beerhall on Wednesday, June 22 at 5:30 p.m.

It’s a chance for musicians, new music enthusiasts, non-musicians, and curious bystanders alike to come together and share ideas, create connections, and strengthen Seattle’s ever-growing network of artists and musicians. No experience necessary! The only prerequisite is an open mind and a willingness to engage in meaningful dialogue about music and art in Seattle and beyond.

We hope to see you there!

New Music Happy Hour will be held Wednesday, June 22 at 5:30 p.m. at the Queen Anne Beerhall, located at 203 W Thomas St, Seattle, WA 98119. To RSVP, please click here.

PHOTO GALLERY: Second Inversion Showcase at NW Folklife Festival

by Maggie Molloy

Here in Seattle, we pride ourselves on our imaginative and innovative new music scene. Second Inversion is proud to be a part of that community, where so many hard-working and creative artists and musicians come together to create, support, and share new and unusual sounds from around the Pacific Northwest and beyond.

This past weekend, we came together to celebrate these sounds in our 2nd annual
Second Inversion Showcase at the Northwest Folklife Festival, which featured performances by the bi-coastal brass quartet The Westerlies, the innovative and always-interactive Skyros Quartet, and the boundary-bursting Sound of Late.

All photos by Maggie Molloy.

We would like to give a tremendous THANK YOU to everyone who came out to support new music over the weekend, both as performers and as audience members. Together, we make the Northwest new music something truly special.