ALBUM REVIEW: Los Angeles Percussion Quartet’s Beyond

by Seth Tompkins

The Los Angeles Percussion Quartet’s Beyond places intimacy front and center.  The delicate sonic encounters that permeate these two discs (or just one if you’re listening to the Blu-Ray) are not classic fodder for percussion ensembles.  While there are a smattering of grooves and some loud moments, Beyond leans much more strongly toward the ethereal and the delicate.  This forward-thinking curation, paired with LAPQ’s sensitive and thoughtful musicianship, makes this release a delight.

Daníel Bjarnason’s “Qui Tollis” is a microcosm of the whole of Beyond, with beckoning atmospheric figures framing a collection of engaging grooves that are made all the more striking by their juxtaposition with the gentle outer material.  This atmospherics-to-groove ratio and pattern runs through many of the individual pieces on this release, but also throughout the entire album as a whole.

Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s “Aura,” like much of her music, explores the boundaries of perception.  A collection of diverse and austere timbres unfolds throughout this piece as it plays with the edge of silence.  A deeply meditative piece, “Aura” benefits, as do many other pieces on this album, from listening in headphones or on a good surround-sound system.  Fancifully, “Aura” could be the musical version of experiencing an unfamiliar landscape: a place that, while neither particularly hostile nor favorable toward you, is captivating in its natural strangeness.

Christopher Cerrone’s transformational “Memory Palace” was the only piece on this release that was not new to my ears; Second Inversion recently released a video of Ian David Rosenbaum performing the entire work.  However, it was very interesting to experience the piece in an audio-only version.  In the video, the visual depiction of the enormous variety of instruments and performance techniques was a delight, but the audio-only performance on this recording offers a sense of intimacy and mystery that the video does not.  Ultimately, both performances are certainly worth a listen: they provide different ways of experiencing a tremendous piece that seems to have already staked out a lasting place in the percussion repertoire.

“Fear-Release” by Ellen Reid is an exercise in well-defined color palettes.  Most instruments used in this piece are metallic, although there are integral parts for marimba and bass drum.  This is perhaps a more traditional soundscape than some of the other pieces on Beyond, but it certainly matches the others in terms of its sophistication.  All five pieces on this release follow internal guiding principles—”Fear-Release” just happens to use a more traditional instrumentation within that same laudable compositional ethic.

Beyond closes with “I Hold the Lion’s Paw” by Andrew McIntosh.  This piece occupies nine tracks and comes packaged by itself in a separate disc (in the CD version).  This is a slightly puzzling setup until you take into account the listening note that accompanies this piece, which  recommends that this piece is best taken in its entirety.  This instruction makes sense, given “Lion’s Paw”‘s tendency towards percussive recitative. This is a slower burn than the other pieces on Beyond, but it is perhaps the most dramatic work on the album.

At many points during Beyond, it is easy to forget that you are listening to a percussion ensemble.  These moments, when the music itself becomes the primary focus, beyond any considerations of the instrumentation, performers, or extra-musical context, are rare—and the ability to deliver them is a triumph for any ensemble.  The fact that Beyond presents so many opportunities in which to become lost in the music is a credit to the curation of the quartet.  The construction of this collection deserves as much praise as the intelligent performances and thoughtful compositions contained therein.

Staff Picks: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from their weekly playlist. Tune in on Friday, June 16 to hear these pieces and plenty of other new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre!

Daníel Bjarnason: “all sounds to silence come” (Bedroom Community)

There is so much good music coming out of Iceland that sometimes it’s a challenge just to keep up with all of it. Icelandic composer and conductor Daníel Bjarnason is a staple on my personal playlist—his gorgeously textured, celestial soundscapes blur the line between classical and electronic musical idioms, drawing freely from the intellectual rigor of the classical tradition while living in the spontaneity and experimentalism of new music.

Scored for chamber orchestra and conducted by Bjarnason, “all sounds to silence come” is a two-movement bonus track released on his debut album Processions. The piece makes use of the orchestra’s entire timbral palette, drifting from a dramatic and densely textured first movement to a soft and ethereal second that hovers just above silence. The result is an immersive sound world that shimmers with color and sparkles with orchestral detail. – Maggie Molloy

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 2pm hour today to hear this piece.


Alyssa Morris: Four Personalities for Oboe and Piano (MSR Classics)
Michele Fiala, oboe; William Averill, piano

Have you ever wondered what the four personalities of Hartman’s Personality Profile would sound like as duets for oboe and piano?

Before reading this most people probably hadn’t wondered, but now it’s an intriguing proposition! American composer Alyssa Morris brings us Four Personalities for Oboe and Piano. She based the four-movement work on the four general categories associated with the Hartman test, which aims to assess the underlying elements that motivate individuals, then assigns them a color: Yellow is motivated by fun, White by peace, Blue by intimacy, and Red by power.

Each movement is entertaining, energetic, and expertly executed by oboist Michele Fiala and pianist William Averill. They capture not just the basic comic book hue of each color, but rather the full kaleidoscopic palette within each personality and clearly have a great time doing it. – Brendan Howe

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 3pm hour today to hear this piece.


Ben Lukas Boysen: Golden Times 2 (Erased Tapes Records)

It occurs to me that this track could be heard as mournful or melancholy, but I have an alternative interpretation.  Despite the Donnie Darko aesthetic, Golden Times 2 seems to be a relaxed and optimistic meditation.  I especially love the extra-low bass that creeps around for most of the track and the swingy cymbal groove that completely transforms the vibe upon entry.  Grab a cold beverage and a seat in the sunshine and enjoy!
– 
Seth Tompkins

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


Robert Beaser: Pag-Rag (Albany Records)
Christopher Janwong McKiggan, piano

Pianist Christopher Janwong McKiggan was the 2009 collegiate gold medalist from the Seattle International Piano Competition. As he moves forward in his career, he is charting a path of new music, commissioning seven composers in 2012 to compose works for piano inspired by Niccolò Paganini’s 24th Caprice. Beaser’s Pag-Rag is both undeniably fun and a deliciously mean technical challenge for the pianist. A far cry from most listeners’ straightforward idea of a rag, this piece is full of lightning-fast changes of character and texture, giving it unexpected depth and variety. It’s a wonderful showcase of McKiggan’s playing. – Geoffrey Larson

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

ALBUM REVIEW: Recurrence by Iceland Symphony Orchestra with Daníel Bjarnason

by Maggie Molloy

Iceland is the most sparsely populated country in all of Europe—with a population just half the size of Seattle’s—and yet somehow, it has cultivated one of the biggest, boldest, and most iconic new music scenes of the 21st century.

Exhibit A: the Iceland Symphony Orchestra’s newest album.

Recurrence is a collection of five utterly ethereal works written by a handful of emerging and established Icelandic artists: Anna Thorvaldsdottir, Thurídur Jónsdóttir, Hlynur A. Vilmarsson, María Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir, and Daníel Bjarnason, who also serves as the orchestra’s conductor and Artist-in-Residence on the album.

It’s a lineup that is emblematic of Iceland’s radiant new music scene, known for its massive, slow-moving sound sculptures illuminated with delicate instrumental details. Each piece on the album is a gorgeously abstracted soundscape in itself, showcasing the small Nordic island’s all but unparalleled explorations of texture, timbre, and immersive, atmospheric colors in music.

The album begins with Thurídur Jónsdóttir’s surging “Flow & Fusion,” a sparkling sound mass for orchestra and electronics—but here’s the twist: the electronics are all derived from recordings of the actual instruments of the orchestra, creating a kaleidoscopic aural effect that plays off the concert hall’s acoustics. The sonic seascape ebbs and flows across the entire orchestra, swelling in glorious waves of sound and evaporating back into near-silence.

It’s followed by Hlynur A. Vilmarsson’s sprawling “BD,” which gradually transforms from an amorphous blur of low-pitched vibrations into a rhythmic, tightly-constructed sound off of nearly every distinctive timbre and extended playing technique in the orchestra. Muliphonics, glissandos, prepared piano, vertical bowing, harmonic overtones, and nontraditional percussion instruments all make an appearance in this playfully orchestrated exploration of the symphonic outer limits.

An entire ocean of sound comes alive in María Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir’s “Aequora,” which takes its name from the Latin word for the calm surface of the sea. Sigfúsdóttir takes the image a step further, emulating the majestic beauty of the sea both under softly glistening sunlight but also under the exquisite lightning of an ominous storm: soft strings and whispering winds evoke the sustained surface of the sea amidst swelling percussion motives and brilliantly colored washes of deep brass.

The theatrical climax of the album comes with Daníel Bjarnason’s cinematic three-movement “Emergence,” an aurally arresting exploration of darkness and light. The piece traces the arc of existence from the vast expanse of total darkness to the life-giving warmth of breath, touch, and worldly textures—and all the way out into the luminous, incandescent light of outer space.

The album closes with Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s “Dreaming,” an icy and ethereal illumination of the beauty of utter stillness. Enormous sound masses sparkle with delicate orchestrational nuance in a sound world so stunning that it almost seems to halt time itself.

It’s a reminder, like so many of the works on this album, to be still, to listen—and to dream in shimmering detail.

STAFF PICKS: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from their playlist. Tune in on Friday, March 31 to hear these pieces and lots of other great new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre!

Daníel Bjarnason: Skelja (Bedroom Community)

I’ve always been a fan of the contemporary Icelandic label Bedroom Community, which seems to produce a steady stream of magic in its new music offerings. Processions is the debut album of Daníel Bjarnason, and it holds some musical treasures. One is the final track, Skelja, a work for harp and what seems to be a small collection of pitched gongs. The percussion adds a drowsy color to the spare notes of the harp solo, a faint background of dark hues. This is a tender harp work that truly has something to say, and I enjoy listening to it again and again. – Geoffrey Larson


Robin Pecknold: White Winter Hymnal (Portland Cello Project)

Image result for fleet foxes white winter hymnal portland cello projectThis 2.5 minute gem makes me long for winter, even as milder temperatures and cherry blossoms are among us. If I dare say, the Portland Cello Project puts even MORE warmth into this soothing, soulful tune than the original version by the Fleet Foxes. Trumpeter John Whaley soars effortlessly above the cellos with the melody, drifting in and out with ease. I might just have to seek out a trail that still has some snow on it this weekend….  – Maggie Stapleton


Mason Bates: Observer in the Magellanic Cloud (Chanticleer)

Image result for mason bates observer in the magellanic cloudI love this track not only because of the novel subject matter (a distant satellite observing human activity on the Earth) but also because of how it bridges the gap between humanity and technology.  Even while it presents the satellite as a distant observer, out there in the cold blackness and sterility of space, the connection between the satellite and the humans it observes manages to anthropomorphize the machine just enough to make the relationship seem intimate.  Maybe our computerized future won’t be so bad, after all. – Seth Tompkins

STAFF PICKS: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from their playlist. Tune in on Friday, February 17 to hear these pieces and lots of other great new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre!

Daníel Bjarnason and Ben Frost: SÓLARIS with Sinfonietta Cracovia (Bedroom Community)

Iceland is the most sparsely populated country in all of Europe—yet somehow, it has one of the biggest, boldest, and most iconic new music scenes. Daníel Bjarnason and Ben Frost are just two Iceland-based composers in a long laundry list of artists shaped by the arid winds and ocean currents of this breathtaking northern island.

The duo’s ambient and ethereal symphonic suite SÓLARIS is a sparkling addition to Iceland’s massive library of new and innovative sound art. Composed for orchestra with live programming and performed with Sinfonietta Cracovia, the elusive melodies and expansive soundscapes ebb and flow across icy strings and haunting distortion.

Inspired by Stanisław Lem’s 1961 sci-fi novel of the same name, the quiet and consuming suite explores the utter vastness of outer space, the paralyzing fear of the unknown, and—perhaps most importantly—the extraordinary beauty of being so very, very small. – Maggie Molloy


Timo Andres: Thrive on Routine; American Contemporary Music Ensemble (Sono Luminus Records)

I am not much of a morning person, so it’s hard for me to imagine Charles Ives’ supposed morning routine of waking up at 4 AM, digging in a potato patch, and playing through Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier. Timo Andres, however, imagines doing just that in his string quartet Thrive on Routine, composed in 2010. It offers some interesting ideas in direct imitation of these activities, from an alarm-tone-like introduction to the pastoral drone of the potato patch and a somewhat jerky fugue. The sounds have a sunny quaintness, somewhat comforting, even – which is, I guess, one purpose of routine. – Geoffrey Larson


Olga Bell: Perm Krai (New Amsterdam Records)

I have selected a track from this album as my staff pick before… but I it’s so good that I have absolutely no regrets about choosing another one.  In the midst of an extremely busy time, I have been seeking out energetic music that helps me overcome the paralysis that often accompanies an increased workload. Olga Bell’s Perm Krai, and much of the album from which it comes, fits that prescription. – Seth Tompkins

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, September 2 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!

westside+industrialM.O.T.H.: “him” from Westside Industrial on slashsound

Growth, development, and change are inevitable parts of life, right? Sometimes they’re good, sometimes they’re unavoidable, sometimes they’re guided by motivation and hope, and sometimes they’re completely frustrating and disheartening. This ambient, electronic work by M.O.T.H. tells the story of “disillusionment, reassessing, and ultimately optimism after endeavor” from the perspective from “him” and “her” in a rapidly changing culture in a place once guided by arts and bohemian values. Gentrification, commodification, and commercialization have taken over to turn lifestyles into brands and shiny new thises and thats. Having this narrative in mind helps to give the relatively sparse texture of this work some deep meaning. Personally it resonates with me, as the city of Seattle continues to change in some of these ways, rendering certain neighborhoods unrecognizable from just 7 or 8 years ago. Westside Industrial is a reminder that we’re not alone in this change, and through our relationships with one another and with art, we can persevere. – Maggie Stapleton

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 12pm hour today to hear an excerpt from this piece.


a3222330692_16Daníel Bjarnason: Bow to String (Saeunn Thorsteinsdottir, cello; Valgeir Sigurosson, programming) on Bedroom Community

I don’t know what it is about cellists – shredding, rocking out, whatever you want to call it, they have some innate desire for it. Think of all the head-banging cello groups: 2cellos, Cello Fury, Uccello…everywhere there are cellists plugging into amps and tearing it up. They must have some sort of deep inner angst. Bow to String by Daníel Bjarnason definitely taps into that angst with the driving rhythms of the beginning, but relaxes to an almost haunting conclusion. It’s partially electrifying (no pun intended), partially cathartic, and a perfect SI selection. – Geoffrey Larson

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 4pm hour today to hear an excerpt from this piece.


gordon_vangogh_cover_1400pxMichael Gordon: Van Gogh (Alarm Will Sound) on Cantaloupe Music

Vincent van Gogh painted over 30 self-portraits in his short lifetime. Notoriously impoverished, he didn’t have the money to pay models to pose, nor the patronage to pay for the portraits—so, he painted himself.

Just imagine how much time he must have spent looking at his reflection, studying himself, painting his own image. Composer Michael Gordon explores that staggering sense of introspection in Van Gogh, an opera which takes the heartbreaking letters Van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo as its libretto.

Performed here by the chamber orchestra Alarm Will Sound, the opera traces the tragic reality of Van Gogh’s life: his adolescent anxieties and rejections, his professional shortcomings and personal failures, his crippling loneliness and eventual institutionalization.

Van Gogh’s brutal honesty and raw emotions sprawl out amidst a strident ensemble of voice, clarinet, strings, piano, percussion, and electric guitar—each melodic line as thickly textured and brazenly colored as the brush strokes of Van Gogh’s famous canvases. It’s a powerful tribute to one of history’s greatest artists—a creative visionary who changed the face of art without ever making a cent.

“Theo, if you can, write soon,” he pleads. “And of course, the sooner you can send the money the better it would be for me. I spent my last penny on this stamp.” – Maggie Molloy

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 6pm hour today to hear an excerpt from this piece.


Brooklyn-coverSergei Prokofiev: Peter and the Wolf, Op. 67 (arr. Project Trio)

If you’ve never heard someone beatbox on a flute you won’t want to miss Project Trio’s performance of “Peter and the Wolf.”  Greg Pattillo’s flute effects are out of this world and this funky, theatrical, exuberant take on a childhood classic is overflowing with humor and joy.  These are three musicians having a blast with their craft and the fun is contagious.  Highly recommended! – Rachele Hales

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 9pm hour today to hear an excerpt from this piece.

 

WEST COAST SPOTLIGHT: Carlsbad Music Festival

by Maggie Stapleton

Beer garden, food trucks, adventurous music by the beach? Yes, please, all of it.

beach

That’s what you’ll get at the Carlsbad Music Festival, the brainchild of Matt McBane: a 3-day summer music festival in his hometown of Carlsbad, California. McBane is no stranger to Second Inversion listeners and blog readers, who have undoubtedly heard his compositions recorded by Build and the Jake Schepps Quintet on our 24/7 stream. He’s twice been featured on our regular “Staff Picks,” blog posts for pieces “imaginary winter” and “On and On and”. This year’s festival is happening this weekend, August 26-28 with over 60 shows!

With an eye toward embracing the entire west coast a bit more, we have a snapshot of our wish-we-could-be-there picks for CMF, whose programming is very well aligned with Second Inversion’s: an eclectic mix of creative and adventurous music ranging from contemporary classical, to indie rock, to world music, to electronic, to jazz, to musicians who work across genres and fall between the cracks.If you’re in the vicinity of Carlsbad, get yourself there over the weekend to catch one of these fantastic performances!

MATT MCBANE AND FRIENDS: Friday, August 26, 7:00-7:30pm

McBane+church

Festival Founder and composer/violinist Matt McBane and friends perform his critically-acclaimed suite of compositions for bluegrass string band, “Drawn.” concert program and more info

“a natural composer, a fresh voice and, from the evidence of his festival, a first-rate organizer with a broad range of musical interests” -Los Angeles Times


WILD UP perform FUTURE FOLK: Friday, August 26, 8:00-9:15pm

CMF16+marketing+photos

Modern music collective slash chamber orchestra wild Up creates a communal concert of sound/noise/experience that celebrates old-world ways of living in the modern era. Featuring works by Meredith Monk, Julius Eastman, members of the ensemble and more. concert program and more info

“All the performances, led by Rountree, were exceptional, the ensemble turning on an astonishing stylistic dime.” -Los Angeles Times


LA PERCUSSION QUARTET: Saturday, August 27, 5:00-6:00pmdownload

Grammy-nominated LA Percussion Quartet performs newly commissioned music by Ellen Reid, Daniel Bjarnason, Kevin Volans, and a west-coast premiere by Matt McBane for triangle quartet. concert program and more info

“mesmerizing.., colorful, atmospheric and…supremely melodic music.” -New York Times


HOCKET: Sunday, August 28, 1:00-2:00pm

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LA-based contemporary piano duo HOCKET comprised of composer-pianists Sarah Gibson and Thomas Kotcheff, performs recent works written for the group including world premieres by Alexander Elliott Miller and Michael Laurello, plus their arrangements of Aphex Twin’s Avril 14th and Nanou 2, concert program and more info

“Their teamwork was exemplary, their playing was a delight… They not only showed a commitment to the music, but to communicating with each other.” -San Diego Union-Tribune


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Matt McBane

“a natural composer, a fresh voice and, from the evidence of his festival, a first-rate organizer with a broad range of musical interests” -Los Angeles Times

Matt McBane founded the Carlsbad Music Festival in his hometown of Carlsbad in 2004. In addition, he is a composer whose music ranges from visceral rhythms and complex grooves to delicate melodies and rich textures, freely and intuitively incorporating a wide array of influences including: minimalism, avant pop, experimentalism, European classical music, art rock, jazz, film music, fiddle music and electronic music. He is the composer and violinist for his band Build which received widespread critical acclaim for its two albums (Place 2011 and Build 2008) on New Amsterdam Records. In 2015 his 5 movement suite for bluegrass string band “Drawn” was released on the Jake Schepps Quintet’s album “Entwined” which was selected as a top album of the year by Colorado Public Radio. He is currently a Doctoral Fellow at Princeton University.