Music to Dream By: An Evening with Erin Jorgensen and Cristina Valdés

by Maggie Molloy

Photo by Dave Lichterman.

You’ll find Seattle artist Erin Jorgensen right on the corner of waking and dreaming life, floating above her five-octave marimba and whispering elusive melodies amidst a cloud of sleepy radio snippets and atmospheric static.

Or at least, that’s where you’ll find her this weekend. The Universal Language Project is proud to present Undertones: a concert experience that invites you to dream. The performances, which take place this Friday and Saturday, feature a rare collaboration between Jorgensen and pianist Cristina Valdés, one of today’s foremost interpreters of contemporary music.

Photo by James Holt.

Curated by Seattle new music luminary James Holt, the concert is based on Jorgensen’s weekly podcast series of the same name, which is perhaps best used as a soundtrack for dreaming, staring out the window, or receiving outer space transmissions. The music blends together marimba melodies, improvisation, spoken word, radio scraps, found sounds, and anything else that happens to float through Jorgensen’s dreaming or waking life that week.

“The podcast’s only specificity is its relation to what is happening in my life at the moment,” Jorgensen said. “I often use snippets of things I am obsessed with on the internet, or things I happen to hear on the radio, or musical improvisations I come up with that day or week or right in the moment of recording. It might sound like a slowly drifting change of radio stations or the randomly associated thoughts and patterns that drift through one’s mind as they stare out a window or are in a state between sleep and wakefulness.”

Photo by James Holt.

The atmospheric podcast, which Jorgensen began about a year and a half ago, caught hold of Holt’s ear—and when Common Tone Arts asked him to curate a performance on their Universal Language Project series, all of the pieces came together.

“Erin Jorgensen is one of the most inspiring musicians I know, a longtime friend, and someone with a wholly unique musical voice,” Holt said. “The mix of live performance, improvisation, spoken word, and creatively mixed sound design really blew me away—and when I saw that she could do all of this live, kind of like a one-woman-band, I wanted more people to experience it.”

Jorgensen and Holt worked together to integrate these nebulous musical musings with additional solo piano music by three other composers. The result is an evening of music which seamlessly drifts between (and beyond) Jorgensen’s surreal musical subconscious and Valdés’s ethereal piano performances.

“I love the atmosphere that Erin sets up in her podcasts,” Valdés said, “Where the listener feels almost as if they’re having an out of body experience and is able to see and hear things both close up and from afar.”

Photo by James Holt.

At this weekend’s concerts, Valdés will become a part of that musical atmosphere with her performances of Ryan Brown’s softly twinkling “Ceramics,” Madeleine Cocolas’s interstellar “Static” and “If You Hear Me, I Hear You Back,” and two piano miniatures from Whitney George’s somber Extinction Series, which is comprised of musical obituaries for extinct animals. Though wide-ranging in their musical inspirations, each work connects back with Jorgensen’s original podcasts through a larger musical stream of consciousness.

“Erin has a gift for creating musical worlds that encourage you to retreat into your mind and contemplate ideas, think about the world around you, and ponder why we do and say the things we do and say,” Holt said. “The audience can expect the opportunity to do that during these performances. It will be something beautiful and it will be something you surely haven’t experienced before, but will want to experience again.”

Of course, Jorgensen’s music presents an opportunity to not only look inward, but also far beyond ourselves—to quietly dream into distant galaxies and imagine the space between the stars.

Photo by James Holt.

“‘Outer space’ in this context is more of a poetic metaphor for me,” Jorgensen said. “I like the idea of floating in space or the idea of the undiscovered space around us—“us” being individual humans or the entirety of planet earth.”

Though as Jorgensen points out, humans can’t actually hear anything in outer space, at least not in our traditional understanding of sound.

“I think the actual music of outer space would sound like something humans aren’t able to comprehend yet,” Jorgensen said. “For me personally, outer space music could be tuning in to all the different sounds and thoughts that are happening all over the universe, just for a second.”


Performances of Undertones are this Friday, March 31 at 8pm at Resonance at SOMA Towers and this Saturday, April 1 at 8pm at the Alhadeff Studio at the Cornish Playhouse. For tickets and more information, please click here.

VIDEO PREMIERE: Ken Thomson’s “Restless” featuring Ashley Bathgate and Karl Larson

On Friday, October 28 on Cantaloupe Music/Naxos releases Composer/Bang on a Can All-Star Ken Thomson’s new album, Restlessfeaturing cellist Ashley Bathgate and pianist Karl Larson performing two “vinyl-side-length pieces,” Restless for cello and piano and Me Vs  for solo piano.

We’re thrilled to premiere this video, by created Ken, Ashley, and Karl, giving you not only an earshot of the music, but great insight into the inspiration behind the music.

This primarily vinyl release harkens back to the classic approach of listening to art music, encouraging one “to sit down and listen to something for 20 minutes at a time,” explains Ken, though the album will also be available digitally.

We highly recommend throwing a listening party for this album which portrays Ken’s notorious difficulty (“It’s the kind of thing that pianists have looked at me and said, OMG you have to be kidding me!” – Ken on Me Vs.) and showcases “a major addition to the repertoire,” the unanimous comment they’ve received about Restless. Enjoy, and pre-order your copy today!

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Seattle New Music Happy Hour: Wednesday, August 24 at 5:30pm

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C’mon, c’mon get happy with Second Inversion, Live Music Project, and Seattle’s vibrant community of musicians at our next New Music Happy Hour on Wednesday, August 24 at 5:30pm at the Queen Anne Beerhall!

Whether you’re a full-time musician, a casual freelancer, music hobbyist, or total music novice, you are welcome! The only prerequisite is an open mind and a willingness to engage in meaningful dialogue about music and art in Seattle and beyond.

RSVP and invite your friends on Facebook and sign up for alerts for future happy hour dates and day-before reminders.

The Queen Anne Beerhall has become our favorite place to gather! It has 25 premium draft beers, over 50 bottles, and full bar offering unique cocktails made with in-house prepared syrups and shrubs. The food menu includes PNW-influenced classic beer hall fare and perfectly executed staples such as soft Bavarian pretzel, wiener schnitzel and a variety of grilled sausages with sauerkraut. 

A few of our favorite shots from last month’s NMHH on July 19! All photos credit: Maggie Molloy

ALBUM REVIEW: Michael Mizrahi’s “Currents”

by Maggie Molloy

Mizrahi-Hi-Res-10_oClassical music is fluid. Try as we might, we can never pin down a definitive “beginning” or “end” to the arbitrary musical eras we’ve created. And while we may broadly categorize music as Baroque or Classical, Romantic or Modern, ultimately all of these seemingly individualized movements blend into a much broader pool: the Western classical music tradition.

But this pool is not static—it continues to change and evolve as composers and performers continue to make waves in the contemporary music world.

That’s the premise behind pianist Michael Mizrahi’s new album of solo piano works, “Currents.” Recently released on the New Amsterdam record label, the album brings together six impeccably performed and expertly recorded new American piano works, almost all of which were written specifically for Mizrahi’s idiosyncratic sound, style, and musical approach.

The result is a unique addition to the 21st century solo piano repertoire that, as the title suggests, embodies movement forward, building on the great piano works of the past while also expanding and propelling the solo piano works of the future. The album features works by Sarah Kirkland Snider, Troy Herion, Mark Dancigers, Asha Srinivasan, Missy Mazzoli, and Patrick Burke.

 

The album begins with the title track: “The Currents” by Sarah Kirkland Snider. Perhaps best known for her song cycles (which feature the inimitable voices of Shara Worden and Padma Newsome), this solo piano piece carries the same flowing lyricism and sensitivity as Snider’s vocal music—but without any of the words. Mizrahi’s fingers swim gracefully through the ebb and flow of the piece, beautifully capturing the depth and breadth of colors that make the currents come to life.

The piece is followed by Troy Herion’s pseudo-Baroque solo piano work, cheekily titled “Harpsichords.” Heavily peppered with trills and musical ornaments, the piece evokes the pristine, transparent textures of the Baroque era while venturing into 21st century melodies and musical forms (or, you know, lack thereof). Mizrahi blends both eras seamlessly.

The slow-moving and sincere “Bright Motion Ascending” is nothing short of sparkling. The work was composed for Mizrahi by his NOW Ensemble bandmate, guitarist Mark Dancigers, as the third installment in his “Bright Motion” trilogy. Mizrahi’s fast fingers transform the piano into a harp, his fingertips gliding effortlessly across cascading arpeggios, from the glistening upper registers of the piano all the way down to its earthiest tones.

Asha Srinivasan’s introspective “Mercurial Reveries” draws upon her Indian-American heritage, weaving in elements from Indian classical scales and modes, along with the occasional (and ever so subtle) jazz piano lick. Over the course of five short movements, she explores a vast terrain of distinctive musical textures, at one point even instructing the pianist to physically reach inside the piano and stop the strings’ vibrations with one hand while playing on the keys with the other. Mizrahi, as it turns out, plays the inside of the piano with the same precision and grace as the outside.

The work is followed by Missy Mazzoli’s “Heartbreaker,” an intimate piece which showcases Mizrahi’s virtuosity without bleeding over into the showy (and at times superficial) pitfall of many virtuosic solo piano pieces. The piece starts out deceptively simple, but quickly spirals into freewheeling abandon, dancing just within the limits of the pianist’s control.

The album comes to a close with Patrick Burke’s poignant and pensive “Missing Piece.” Mizrahi’s fingers pace across slow-moving triadic harmonies and yearning dissonances, uncovering the work’s clear Romantic underpinnings.

Ultimately, each piece on the album reminds us that there is no clear line between the music of the past and the music of the present. We don’t always have to separate the music into arbitrary categories—sometimes we just need to sit back, relax, and get swept up in the “Currents.”

STAFF PICKS: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts Seth and Maggie S. (and community member Brendan Howe) each share a favorite selection from the Friday 4/8/16 playlist! Tune in at the indicated times below 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!

Mason Bates: Desert Transport (BMOP/sound)

1045-Bates-cover-1600This week, I chose a piece that reminds me that I’m just a sucker for certain things. Two of those things are the majestic landscapes of the American West and good brass writing, both of which are present in ample measure in Mason Bates’s Desert Transport. Inspired by a helicopter ride over the Arizona desert, this is a well-balanced exploration of the beauty and complexity of the American Southwest that operates on multiple levels. It has the charmingly indulgent and innocently sincere moments of musical Americana that you might expected of a large-scale orchestra work about the Western landscape, but those are balanced with inward-looking moments that suggest a less nationalistic, more humbling consideration of the landscape at hand. Listen especially for a field recording of Pima tribal musicians, which is expertly interwoven with the live performance via offstage speakers. – Seth Tompkins

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 12pm hour today to hear this recording.


Finnegan Shanahan: The Great Sunstroke (New Amsterdam)

The_Two_Halves_Album_CoverIt’s no secret that I love pretty much everything that the New Amsterdam record label produces. I’m prone to gushing about them in my commentary on the Second Inversion stream and to my friends – particularly those who don’t have a clear understanding what “contemporary classical and cross-genre music” really means – because New Amsterdam constantly hits the nail on the head with releasing music that truly rethinks classical. One of the most recent releases is The Two Halves, a geographically-inspired song cycle from 22-year-old Finnegan Shanahan and the ensemble Contemporaneous. The 6 songs are based on a map of the Hudson River Railroad ~1852 and moves along the Hudson River to the Catskills and across the country to the Jemez Mountains and beyond. The Great Sunstroke captures this intersection of deft composition with popular song and folk music. It’s not quite classical, it’s not quite pop, and it falls in that beautiful in-between place with constant energy that keeps me excited about the evolution of music in the 21st century. – Maggie Stapleton

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 4pm hour today to hear this recording.


Daníel Bjarnason: Emergence (Bedroom Community)

Daniel Bjarnason Over Light EarthDaníel Bjarnason’s 2013 album Over Light Earth opens with two pieces commissioned by the LA Philharmonic, which respond to paintings by abstract expressionists Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock. The Icelandic composer delivered in magnificently ominous terms, capturing the early Cold War anxieties expressed by both painters in their starkly divergent styles.

Using unconventionally close micing and multi-tracking, Bjarnason accentuates each instrument’s individual character to great effect. The triptych Emergence and the five movements of Solitudes take the listener through a labyrinth of grainy strings, prepared piano à la John Cage, and buoyant woodwinds, all of which conspire to create the album’s pervasive sense of intimacy and unpredictability. – Brendan Howe

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 6pm hour today to hear this recording.

FREE COMMUNITY EVENT: So Percussion presents Steve Reich’s Drumming

by Maggie Stapleton

If you’ve been following what’s going on in Seattle this week, I think you’d agree it’s been an incredible showcase of new music performances. There’s more to come, it involves So Percussion, and it’s FREE!

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Photo Credit: David Andrako

So Percussion kicked off a week long residency with UW World Series and UW School of Music at Meany Hall on Sunday evening. In a presentation on UW World Series’ International Chamber Music series, music of Steve Reich, Glenn Kotche, John Cage, and Bryce Dessner filled the hall with hypnotic precision, leaving a percussion-hungry audience satisfied.

Since then, they’ve been busy working with students, performing impromptu pop-ups around campus, talking shop, and to bookend their visit, So Percussion will offer a collaborative performance of Steve Reich’s “Drumming” with University of Washington School of Music Students on Thursday, February 4 at 6pm in the Meany Studio Theatre. This event is free & open to the public and presented by the UW World Series in partnership with The UW School of Music and Henry Art Gallery.

They also made a stop by our studios to shoot a couple of videos, which will be up and running in a couple of weeks. Look how much fun these guys are!

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We put tomorrow’s “Drumming” performance in the “you better not miss this!” category. We’ll see you there!

NEW VIDEO: Steve Reich’s New York Counterpoint

by Maggie Stapleton

New York Counterpoint for amplified clarinet and prerecorded clarinets is one of many pieces in Steve Reich’s “counterpoint” series, in which one live performer typically plays against up to a dozen recordings of the same instrument. Reich aims to capture “the throbbing vibrancy of Manhattan” in this work, performed here by Rachel Yoder, who also recorded the backing tracks.

This is our first of three Steve Reich videos in collaboration with On the Boards Ambassador James Holt, who is presenting a concert dedicated to the music of Steve Reich on Tuesday, February 2 at 8pm:

Counterpoint | Phase – A hypnotic evening of music in a non-traditional setting from the American master of minimalism. 

LINEUP:
Nagoya Marimbas: Erin Jorgensen & Memmi Ochi
Cello Counterpoint: Rose Bellini
New York Counterpoint: Rachel Yoder
Violin Phase: Luke Fitzpatrick/Marcin Pączkowski

Pre-sales for this event are sold out. A limited number of tickets will be available at the door.

Stay tuned for our of video Violin Phase! Cello Counterpoint is now up and running

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Rachel Yoder is a versatile clarinetist and teacher based in the Seattle area, currently performing with the Seattle Modern Orchestra, Madera Wind Quintet and the Odd Partials clarinet/electronics duo. Rachel is editor of The Clarinet, journal of the International Clarinet Association, and works as adjunct professor of music at the DigiPen Institute of Technology in Redmond, WA. She has performed and presented throughout the United States, including appearances at conferences of the International Clarinet Association, International Computer Music Conference (ICMC), and Society for Electroacoustic Music in the United States (SEAMUS). She holds a doctorate in clarinet from the University of North Texas, and also holds degrees from Michigan State University and Ball State University.