ALBUM REVIEW: Balter/Saunier by Deerhoof and Ensemble Dal Niente

by Jill Kimball

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We live in a world where musical groups of every genre often craft signature sounds in order to make themselves more marketable. That’s all well and good for those who find one band’s sound and fall in love with it. But for those of us who prefer unpredictable music, it gets monotonous.

If you fall into the latter group, you probably appreciate the rare but always exciting cross-genre partnership—that glorious moment when two musical groups from different realms team up and produce something truly original. Sometimes it happens with Sufjan Stevens and yMusic. Other times, genres cross within the same family, as has happened with classical pianist Jeffrey Kahane and his more indie-inclined son, Gabriel.

This time around, the collaboration is a jointly-produced full album by the Chicago-based chamber collective Ensemble Dal Niente and the San Francisco avant-rock band Deerhoof. The two groups had an unlikely meeting in 2012 and found common musical ground immediately…so together they set to work on a recording project with Brazilian-American composer Marcos Balter. The result is an album that is by turns ambient and avant-garde, rocking and bebop-ing, lilting and crazed…in a good way.

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Deerhoof.

The centerpiece of the album is Balter’s “MeltDown Upshot,” an incredible mashup of musical genres from across the globe. In other hands, this piece might sound overwhelming, but Deerhoof and Dal Niente are just chill enough to make it work.

The first two movements of “MeltDown Upshot” could be classified as ambient, but don’t mistake the word “ambient” for “boring.” The dreamy opening, “Credo,” spills seamlessly into “Parallel Spaces,” still floaty but with a tinge of sinister foreshadowing. “Ready,” with its frenetic Chick Corea-like jazziness, erratic meter and hazy lyrics (“I dream of sound in color / I dream of light in sounds”) is a sonic outlier in this piece and seems to represent the meltdown at its manic climax. A more organized mania comes in “True-False,” a fast-paced, string-plucking homage to Philip Glass-style repetition. The piece calms down again with “Home,” a delightfully indie take on João Gilberto’s Brazilian bossa nova. The last two movements take us back to the strange, dreamy vibes of the beginning. The sixth movement, “Cherubim,” is the clear highlight of the piece, somehow gathering all of Balter’s jazz, pop, rock and avant-garde influences together into three minutes of pure indie-rock bliss. With its driving percussion, earnest and unpolished vocals and wholly unique instrumentation, I have no doubt university radio hosts all over the country will be clamoring to get their hands on the single.

Ensemble Dal Niente.

Ensemble Dal Niente.

Balter’s other piece on the album, “Pois Que Nada Que Dure, Ou Que Durando,” is set to text by Ricardo Reis (one of the many pseudonyms of Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa). It’s a simultaneously gloomy and carefree ode to the transience of life, a proclamation that it’s worthless to focus on the uncertain future and much better to live in the moment. In this piece, we’re transported back to the creepy ambience that bookends “MeltDown Upshot” with despondent, ghostly vocals and minimal instrumentation.

The album closes with a 20-minute suite called “Deerhoof Chamber Variations” by the band’s drummer, Greg Saunier. It seems to pull together a few elements of Balter’s major piece—there are some repeated pizzicato sections and moments of sinister dissonance—while also referencing melodic themes from Deerhoof’s more well-known songs. It’s really fun to hear their music reworked with harp, brass and strings; it lends the music a whole different, albeit mellower and more ethereal than usual, edge.

It’s such a treat to hear two very different musical groups jam together and take rare sonic risks. Based on the quality and depth of the music heard on Balter/Saunier, I don’t think this will be the last we hear of the Deerhoof/Dal Niente collective.

Second Inversion Showcase at Northwest Folklife 2016!

by Maggie Stapleton

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We are excited to announce the lineup for Second Inversion’s 2nd annual showcase at Northwest Folklife on Friday, May 27 from 8-10pm! RSVP to our Facebook event and invite your friends to this exciting FREE event!

Sound of Late
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Sound of Late is a new music ensemble that creates distinctive performances and unexpected collaborations that build and inspire the communities around us. They believe music is best when shared with other people, which is why Sound of Late is working to support the artistic and creative community across the Pacific Northwest. By dissolving the boundary between artist and audience, they hope to inspire new collaborations and to raise the visibility of our region.

Skyros Quartet
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The Skyros Quartet, praised by the Topeka Capital-Journal as “stellar,” brings a bright and inventive style to the concert hall and can be seen performing, teaching, and leading community events in their new hometown of Seattle, as well as concertizing around the US and Canada.The Skyros Quartet is passionate about the future of music and performing works by living composers. They have worked extensively with composers Tonia Ko, Andy Davis, Devin Maxwell, and Liza Sobel.

The Westerlies 
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The Westerlies (“prevailing winds from the West to the East”) are a New York based brass quartet comprised of four friends from Seattle, Washington: Riley Mulherkar and Zubin Hensler on trumpet, and Andy Clausen and Willem de Koch on trombone. They re-imagine the chamber music experience through boldly personal performance, recording, collaboration, education, and outreach. Since their inception in 2011, they have cultivated a new brass quartet repertoire featuring over 50 original compositions as well as adaptations of Ives, Ellington, Bartok, Ligeti, Stephen Foster and numerous traditionals. Their music exudes the warmth of their longstanding friendships, and reflects the broad interests of its members.

STAFF PICKS: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts and community members share a favorite selection from this Friday’s playlist and a few other gems, too. Tune in at the indicated times below on Friday, April 29 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!

Nina Simone: Stars from Little Girl Blue (Naive Records)

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Elton John named one of his pianos after her,  Beyoncé cited her as a strong musical influence, and in 2014 cellist Sonia Wieder-Atherton released an entire album dedicated to offering Nina Simone the voice of her cello. That album is Little Girl Blue, and we’re featuring one of the pieces from said album that I admire most: “Stars.” The bare texture of “Stars” gives it a sober atmosphere, yet it is a passionate piece that keeps building up. – Rachele Hales

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 8am hour today to hear this recording.


Donnacha Dennehy: Stainless Staining from Stainless Staining; Lisa Moore, piano (Cantaloupe Music)

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This is a busy time of year. Personally, I have lately been in the mood to just keep my head down and focus on the tasks at hand. The vacations and summer plans are all arranged, but right now, there’s work to be done. My pick for this week is music that supports such a mindset: Donnacha Dennehy’s Stainless Staining. The intricate rhythmic modulations and evolving motives here are the perfect soundtrack for taking care of business. This is not surprising, given the cinematic qualities that are present in this work; at points, this piece sounds like a film score in search of a film. The sustained intensity to which this piece builds is somewhat unexpected given its minimalistic and relatively relaxed opening, but it is ultimately quite pleasing. Also notable is the wide variety of sounds that Moore draws out of the piano; these sounds and their flow into and out of each other are truly beguiling. Have that third cup of coffee and enjoy the ride! – Seth Tompkins

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 10am hour today to hear an excerpt from this recording.


Brian Eno and Icebreaker: Stars from Apollo (Cantaloupe Music)

apollocoverdigitalhiresMusic can take you anywhere in the world—from the shores of Spain to the Steppes of Central Asia, from the romantic forests of France to the regal palaces of Russia. But music also has the power to take you far beyond this world—out into the dark mysteries and uncharted territories of the universe.

Brian Eno’s Apollo takes you to the furthest reaches of outer space through a series of ambient and atmospheric pieces performed by the 12-piece contemporary music group Icebreaker. The pieces were originally composed in the 1980s for a feature-length documentary titled For All Mankind, directed by Al Reinert. The original version of the film had no narration, and simply featured 35mm footage of the Apollo moon missions collected together and set to Eno’s music.

But honestly, you don’t have to watch the movie to appreciate the music—it stands on its own. Icebreaker brings sparkle, polish, and an inimitable sense of awe to Eno’s music, highlighting the shimmering timbres, subtle orchestration, and nebulous atmospheres of outer space. We can’t all be astronauts, but this music will definitely have you seeing stars.  – Maggie Molloy

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 5pm hour today to hear an excerpt from this recording.


Ahnnu: Perception (Leaving Records)

LA-based composer Leland “Ahnnu” Jackson artfully dissects the customs of hip-hop for their abstract emotional essence in his 2015 album, Perception. Mixing field recordings with ‘90s mixtape production methods, Ahnnu creates a dusty, distant ventilator hum, which slips into the subconscious unnoticed, rendering the album a soundscape for the id. Ahnnu bypasses the rules and logic of perception and, with surgical precision, stimulates the limbic system in a considerable number of ways – the neck-prickling, nervous, noir energy of Informant’s modulated synths to the nostalgic, reflective, vinyl textures of Anneal. Given hip-hop’s well established extroversion, Ahnnu’s ambitious project taking the art form to conceptual introversion yields highly intriguing results. – Brendan Howe

CONCERT PREVIEW: What Water Knows: Q&A with Andrew Stiefel

by Maggie Molloy

From Monet to Mendelssohn, Van Gogh to Wagner, Dickinson to Debussy, artists across history and across artistic media have long been inspired by the beauty and majesty of the sea. For many artists, water is a muse—for some, it is the very essence of music itself.

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In few cities is this truer than in Seattle. As Pacific Northwesterners, we look to the Sound, sea, rivers, and streams for food and water, comfort and relaxation, inspiration and even transportation. In Seattle, we awake and fall asleep to the gentle swooshing of Sound—and our lives are shaped and smoothed by its sparkling presence.

Water is also the inspiration behind Sound of Late’s newest music project: What Water Knows. This Friday, the Portland and Seattle-based new music ensemble presents a unique, cross-disciplinary concert program which ebbs and flows between music and poetry.

The shimmering, ocean-inspired music of composers Emily Doolittle, Nicole Portley, Bright Sheng, and Toru Takemitsu will be featured alongside music and poetry of marine biologists and commercial fishers.

We caught up with Sound of Late’s executive director and violist Andrew Stiefel to find out more about their latest musical endeavor:

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Second Inversion: What makes What Water Knows such a unique and inspiring concert program?

Andrew Stiefel: I’m really excited about our collaboration with members of the Fisher Poets Gathering, an annual meeting in Astoria, Oregon where people connected to the commercial fishing industry gather to share poetry and music.

SI: What makes music a strong medium for portraying the sounds of water?

AS: Without water, life as we know it would not exist, so it’s no surprise that artists working in different mediums have chosen to use water as a symbol in their work. Rather than portraying the sounds of water, the music and poetry on this program explore multifaceted human relationships with water through narrative and metaphor.


SI: What are some of the unique challenges and rewards of studying and performing this music?

AS: The spoken word reflects a myriad of experiences. From each poet, composer or musician, we get a glimpse into an intimate moment of life that we can’t access any other way.

The four pieces we’re performing each engage with the concert’s theme in a completely different way: Takemitsu’s music is evocative of place and form; Sheng draws on Chinese folk traditions and poetry; Doolittle’s piece is the result of a collaboration with marine biologists who were studying whale songs; and Portley, a fisheries biologist and composer, explores memory and her genealogical history in her piece.

It has been incredibly rewarding to discover unexpected connections between the composers we’ve chosen to feature and the poetry and music of members of the maritime community.

SI: This concert features music of contemporary composers alongside the music and poetry of marine biologists and commercial fishers. What do you find most inspiring or compelling about collaborating with these people from different fields?

AS: It has been so inspiring to listen to the poetry and prose of people who foster a deep respect for and care about the sea and the life in it. When we performed this concert in Bellingham this past weekend, the first half of the program featured poetry and readings by the Fisher Poets. Listening to the music on the second half of the program was a richer experience as a result, as certain musical moments recalled fragments of stories, ideas, and poetry from the first half.

For me, it is rare to attend a new music event (or a classical music event, for that matter) where you leave feeling like you have learned something new about a range of human experience that you were not aware of before. This program fosters that exchange and makes that understanding real.
SI: What are you most looking forward to with this performance, and what do you hope audiences will gain from it?

AS: We’re inviting different members from the Fisher Poet’s Gathering to share their work on each concert, so every concert is a little different – I can’t wait to hear what Mary Garvey, David Kessler and Chris Roe will present on our program this weekend! We want our audience to leave feeling inspired to create something themselves. One of my favorite aspects of this concert is that it explores our deep connection with art, whether we profess to be professional artists or choose to pursue our craft alongside another career.

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What Water Knows is this Friday, April 29 at 8 p.m. at the Center for Wooden Boats in South Lake Union, Seattle. There will be another performance on Thursday, May 5 at 7:30 p.m. at Headwaters Theatre in Portland, Oregon. For tickets and more information, please click here.

 

CONCERT PREVIEW: Northwest Symphony Orchestra Premieres Flute Concerto by Sarah Bassingthwaighte

by Maggie Stapleton

“Music has always been the constant in my life,” teenage Sarah Bassingthwaighte realized when it came time to make those big life decisions about college majors.

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Sarah started piano lessons at age 4, composing when she was 5 (she still has these early works, notated in very large script), and flute at age 9. A lingering interest in composition led to formal study at Indiana University (while pursuing a flute degree) with composers like Harvey Sollberger. Hearing some of the new ideas and new sounds that these composers came up with was eye-opening for Sarah – “There’s all this other stuff you can do!” – and she felt like a door had been opened. Little did she know, there would eventually be an entire house of doors.

0702 Siegel-Laufer 5-28-09House of Doors is a concerto for flute and orchestra which will be premiered by Merrie Siegel and the Northwest Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Anthony Spain on Saturday, April 30 at 8pm.
It was composed in the last 6 months, and it’s the first piece she’s written for flute that she is not premiering, which presented some challenges. “I had to see if my notation, my ability to communicate my ideas, worked. When I premiere my own piece, I just play what was in my head in the first place and I’m not even looking at the page. But now I have to see if it works!”

photo credit: Mark Manning

The inspiration for this concerto came from a Buddhist meditation exercise created by Anna Wise of the same name, House of Doors, and it was simultaneously “the most fun” and a “profound experience” for Sarah. Here’s how it works, in a nutshell: You’re in a house that you’ve invented and there’s a hallway with many doors. All the doors look different and you get to go and open any door you want, walk inside the room, look at it in as much detail as you can, walk around, see what’s there, change what you want. Then you leave, close the door, and you can go in another one. The idea is not just to hone your observation and imagination but also to get in touch with your ability to change things in your life.

To hear a sneak peek of House of Doors (the flute and piano reduction) click here!

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In Sarah’s first experience, she visited three rooms.

First, she walked into a room that initially looked like a normal bedroom, but on deeper examination she saw little plants and tendrils and deeper in, a dark jungle that went for miles and miles full of orchids and vines.

The next door was a dark, hot, uncomfortable red cave with an empty chair under a spotlight. It was a very scary place.

Through the last door, there was no floor, no ceiling, just sky. She stepped into the room and moved about how she wished. Flying, free, and fun.

Those images were powerful to Sarah and became the launching points for the piece. It was first notated graphically with just textures and a few descriptive words – it wasn’t until months after she started composing that notes and rhythms came about. “One thing I’ve loved about composing is connecting with the other arts. In this case, a feeling of motion, maybe dance, of visual arts and finding the place where they all meet and eventually ending up in my field, music, and creating the piece. Even within the field of music, Sarah’s had some variety and departures.

After her time at IU, Sarah took a break from classical music to play bass in punk rock bands. That seemingly “left turn” wasn’t totally unrelated to her classical training and she’s been able to find a link between all types of music. The directness and even some of the experimentalism in classical music transferred to the bands she was playing with and she found that a sense of attitude and sense of humor is present in both.

“I went into music and never looked back. I love it and I’ll never get bored of it.”

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The House of Doors Concerto for Flute and Orchestra will be performed on Saturday, April 30 at 8 p.m. at the Highline Performing Arts Center in Burien. For tickets and additional information, please visit this link.