ALBUM REVIEW: Andy Meyerson’s “My Side of the Story”

by Seth Tompkins

mysideofthestory

On its face, Andy Meyerson’s new album My Side of the Story does not have an obvious message or agenda. That’s ok; most albums don’t. However, as the album progresses, a distinct overarching narrative emerges. The story is not specific and it makes no grandiose statements. However, it does make for a superb listening experience. Each of the five selections on this release are not only fabulous on their own, but are elevated and intensified when taken together in order. This is a laudable feat – one not achieved by many new releases of contemporary classical music. This success is directly related to a specific thread of continuity that runs from beginning to end.

The continuity that binds My Side of the Story is mostly manifested in the fact that four of these five pieces have a “turn”- that is, a moment when the mood of the piece shifts suddenly and reveals something new. These similar shifts in four wildly different pieces stich this release together. These moments pull back curtains revealing new landscapes. These artesian revelations come, of course, in the context of what came before, thrusting listeners forward and creating an experience that becomes a journey, rather than just a session.

Adrian Knight’s Humble Servant, the first track on this album, stands out for beauty achieved through economy. This is just good orchestration, plain and simple. The vibraphone can sound dated and cheesy, but here its unmistakable sound is used effectively, melodramatic overtones and all. Knight does use the over-the-top emotional connotations conjured up by the vibraphone, but, in sticking to a responsibly confined mode of expression, does not let the melodrama take over. In fact, the emotional connotations of the vibes become a positive aspect of this track, signaling the underlying emotion of the topic at hand (tragic death) while the composer’s skill keeps the potential hokeyness reigned in. Also, the extra-slow speed setting of the vibraphone’s motor allows each pitch to be heard and considered individually. This supports the inward-looking and pensive nature of this track.

Samuel Carl Adams’s Percussion Music for Robert and Andy starts out as an apparently straightforward contemporary work for mixed percussion ensemble. However, at a certain point, the overriding acoustic textures gradually give way to a transformative electro-pop-inspired sound palette that leads in a completely new and unexpected direction.  Originally composed for a solo dance performance by San Francisco-based Post:Ballet, the live performance of this piece must have been revelatory.

Jude Traxler’s Structural Harm marks the beginning of the experimental section of this album, blurring the line between composer and performer. While Traxler assembled the final product, the performance by Meyerson was executed with little input from the composer. Meyerson improvised on MIDI-connected triggers to create the bones of the piece, to which Traxler later assigned sounds and rendered audible in production. The result is pleasant and interesting. This is music that was clearly not designed for an acoustic listening environment – and that’s ok. Structural Harm’s interaction of rhythmic exploration with a gently gradient of purity of sound yields a fascinating matrix.

 

Continuing in an experimental direction, Brendon Randall-Myers’s piece Sherlock Horse: Disintegration Machine is for solo “suitcase drum kit” and production. This piece fits into the tradition of music for acoustic instruments and “tape.” While music in that format often seems to be a dusty relic of 1980s university music programs, this piece happily places the format in the present. Many of the electronic sounds used would not be out of place in punk, rap or indie-pop music. These pleasantly fresh sounds place this piece squarely in the modern-day, despite its connection to the more staid traditions of some electroacoustic music. The only piece without a clear “turn” on this album, this work represents the height of drama in the larger arc of this album.

After the increasingly wayward tack of the previous four pieces, Danny Clay’s May you find what you’re looking for and remember what you have feels, at first, like returning home. However, as the piece progresses, experimental elements reappear and build to a climax unlike anything else on this album. After this sonic Rubicon, the mellow sounds of homecoming return, to be later rejoined with some of the complexities from earlier in this piece. The effect here is the following message: “Everything is okay. Things might not be the way you thought they were – they might be much more complicated and messy. But that doesn’t matter, because everything is going to be alright in the end.”

Only after experiencing the final track does the overarching narrative of this album become clear. Throughout My Side of the Story, the increasingly complex and adventurous sound explorations return to a point of equilibrium, creating at once a sense of peace and a deeper comfort with a more diverse ecosystem of sounds. My Side of the Story will stretch the ears of some listeners, but will reward those challenges with a deep satisfaction that comes after the narrative arc of this album becomes clear.  That said, it bears repeating: this release should be experienced as the “album” that it truly is. Do yourself a favor and listen to this in one sitting. Your ears will thank you.

Diary: How to Read John Cage

by Maggie Molloy

For a composer who once created an entire piece out of silence, John Cage certainly had a lot to say. So much, in fact, that he recorded a five-hour diary in the years leading up to his death.

Diary

Titled “Diary: How to Improve the World (You Will Only Make Matters Worse),” the piece is written in eight parts, traversing vast musical and philosophical territory—often within the span of just a few sentence fragments. Cage’s writing extends far beyond the music itself, all the way into the trivial details of everyday life and back out into the vast expanse of history, global politics, philosophy, science, and society—and all with an idiosyncratic dose of humor and wit.

Inspired by his fearless exploration into the art of sound, I made it my mission to read through his entire diary and create my own personal diary tracking the experience. Click on the icons below to read each installment!

Introduction Part I Part II Part III Part IV Part V Part VI Part VII Part VIII

STAFF PICKS: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts Rachele, Geoffrey, and Seth each share a favorite selection from their Friday 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!

John Adams: Road Movies (on Nonesuch Records)

“It’s a unique experience to listen to music that is relentlessly interesting and also somewhat mundane at the same time, and we get a touch of this in John Adams’ Road Movies, a work for violin and piano. To call Adams a minimalist composer is a bit lazy in my opinion; much of his music, this piece included, is constructed with the scaffolding of minimalist textures, but has much more complexity to offer. One of the composer’s few works of chamber music, Road Movies rJohn Adams Road Moviesejects the big chordal textures of his orchestral pieces and instead focuses on creating a convivial relationship between violin and piano through music that seems to be accompanying us on a cross-country road trip. We even get a bit of scordatura and jazzy swing along the journey. It’s a piece as ordinary as a drive down a long straight stretch of asphalt, and as captivating as the landmarks we find along the way.”

– Geoffrey Larson

Tune in to Second Inversion around 12:10 p.m. today to hear this recording.


Andrew Skeet: “The Unforgiving Minute” from Finding Time (on Sony Classical)
Andrew Skeet Finding Time
“Sometimes musicians write music to make the heart pound, but here Andrew Skeet has delivered a thoughtful, absorbing piece heavy on the strings and layered with delicate electronica. There is a stillness and fragility in this song that, in a world of flashing neon signs, feels like discovering one quietly burning candle.”
Rachele Hales

Tune in to Second Inversion around 11 a.m. today to hear this recording.


Philip Glass: String Quartet No. 3 from Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters,
Performed by the Modern Mandolin Quartet on Americana 
(On Sono Luminus)


“Glass-haters need not read any further. I am not one, however, so I find myself captivated by the Modern Mandolin Quartet’s rendition of his String Quartet No.3. This “quartet” is really four selections taken from Glass’s soundtrack to the 1985 Paul Schrader film Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters. Not having seen that film, or even having been aware of its existence before I encountered this quartet, I was free to hear the piece with clear ears.

I generally like Glass’s music, but the twist here (the quartet being performed on mandolins instead of the traditional bowed string instruments) gives this recording a special quality. Glass’s music performed on string quartet instruments is a sound with which many people are very familiar, but the mandolin quartet does not suffer from that handicap. Instead of the stuffy, all-black-clad (but still quite enjoyable) “indoor” feel of Glass’s music for bowed strings, the timbre of the mandolins imbues a more adventurous, airy, denim-wearing, “outdoor” sound to this music.

Modern Mandolin QuartetThis change in instrumentation and its accompanying departure from a “classic Glass” sound might also allow listeners to forget this music is very much a product of the late 20th century; the “antique” sound of the mandolin might help people to hear this music without 20th century preconceptions, as they would the music of a composer from centuries ago.”
Seth Tompkins

 

Tune in to Second Inversion around 6:25 p.m. today to hear this recording.

ALBUM REVIEW: “Holographic” by Daniel Wohl

by Maggie Molloy

In the realm of contemporary classical, the line between acoustic and electronic is sometimes blurred. In the realm of L.A.-based composer Daniel Wohl, that line simply does not exist.

download photo by Nathan Lee Bush

Photo by Nathan Lee Bush

Wohl’s newest release, titled “Holographic,” bends the rules of light and sound altogether, creating a new dimension in art and music. Released on New Amsterdam Records, the album blends electronic elements with the musical talents of the Mivos Quartet, Mantra Percussion, the Bang on a Can All Stars, Iktus Percussion, Olga Bell (of Dirty Projectors), and Pulitzer Prize-winner Caroline Shaw (of Roomful of Teeth). Not a bad roster for an electro-classical experiment.

The album begins with “Replicate,” a dense two-movement tapestry of sound featuring Iktus Percussion and a whole lot of electronics. Pitched percussion figures circle above a two-note drone, creating a warm, tranquil sound world that slowly builds in density as the piece progresses. The first movement is liquid, like echoes rippling across an ocean of sound—but the second movement picks up the pace, transforming into a chaotic wind tunnel of machines clinking, glass breaking, foghorns blasting, and electronics oscillating.

Mivos Quartet and Mantra Percussion team up with Wohl to perform “Formless,” a five-minute musical soundscape which oscillates from ear to ear. The string players slither and slide through cyclical harmonies amidst a web of muted electronics and softly pulsing percussion, blurring the boundaries between acoustic and electric, man and machine.

The album’s title track is more kaleidoscopic in nature. Performed with the Bang on a Can All-Stars, the two part “Holographic” is a something of an aural illusion—it is filled with small clusters of musical material which distort and transform to create ever-changing colors, timbres, and musical textures. It’s no wonder the work was originally conceived as a multimedia piece (which, by the way, featured a synchronized visual component designed by artist Daniel Schwarz). And though the album doesn’t include any visuals, the piece is just as vivid without them.

In keeping with vibrant musical imagery, Wohl’s next piece on the album is perfectly titled “Pixelated.” Performed with Mantra Percussion, the piece sounds sort of like a cross between a winning slot machine and a bag full of brightly-colored bouncy balls flying off the walls. It is light, bright, colorful chaos, like spilling rainbow sprinkles all over the kitchen floor.

“Source” is slightly less frenzied, though every bit as striking. The wordless vocals of Olga Bell and Caroline Shaw flow in and out of focus in this eight-minute rumination on computer music and sampled sounds, as if ghosts in an eerie electronic landscape. 

The album climaxes with the hyperactive “Progression,” a maverick mashup of unusual sonorities and even more unusual rhythms. The frantic strings of Mivos Quartet intertwine with the frenetic percussion of Mantra to create this fast-paced and fretful sound world.

The album ends with Wohl’s atmospheric “Shapes,” co-written with the L.A.-based experimental music outfit Lucky Dragons. Mivos Quartet’s transparent strings mingle with humming electronics in this ethereal meditation, immersing the listener in warm waves of sound.

And in these liquid musical moments, it’s difficult to tell exactly where one instrument ends and another begins. The beauty of this album is that with each piece, Wohl artfully erases the line between acoustic and electronic, creating three-dimensional, holographic sound worlds which engulf the listener in their textures, timbres, shapes, sounds, and of course, their shimmering colors.

HOLOGRAPHIC Cover

Seattle New Music Concerts: February 2016

SI_button2Second Inversion and The Live Music Project have partnered to create a monthly calendar featuring contemporary classical, cross-genre, and experimental performances in Seattle, the Eastside, and Tacoma. 

thvLYmNB

Keep an eye out for our this flyer in concert programs (and in coffee shops!) around town. Feel free to download, print, and distribute it yourself! And if you’re interested in being a part of this collaboration, drop us a line!  
Program Insert - February 2016 - onesided

Wayward Music Series
Concerts of contemporary composition, free improvisation, electronic/electroacoustic music, & more.
Various days, 7:30/8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-15

Racer Sessions
A weekly showcase of original music with a jam session based on the concepts in the opening presentation.
Every Sunday, 8-10pm, Cafe Racer | FREE

Gabriel Kahane & Brooklyn Rider
This show samples their new collaborative album, The Fiction Issue, and is co-presented by Second Inversion.
February 1, 8pm, Tractor Tavern | $15

Counterpoint | Phase: All Steve Reich
Gloriously hypnotic sounds: clarinet, marimbas, cello, violin
February 2, 8pm, On the Boards | $10

Seattle Symphony [untitled] 2
This program includes works by New York Experimental composers Feldman, Wolff, Cage, and Brown.
February 5, 10pm, Benaroya Hall Lobby | $15

Sunday Sunset Concerts with Erin Jorgensen
An intimate concert as the sun sets and the week ends. Think more punk rock yoga nidra than classic concert.
February 7, 7:30pm, Velocity Kawasaki Studio | $10

Lake Union Civic Orchestra: Higdon’s blue cathedral
This deeply moving tribute by Higdon is paired with Beethoven’ Symphony No.2 & Lalo’s Cello Concerto.
February 12, 7:30pm, Town Hall Seattle | $13-18

NW Symphony Orchestra: Huling, Tonooka, Jones, & more
This show features local composers, including a premiere by Tonooka featuring trombonist Ko-Ichiro Yamamoto.
February 12, 7:30pm, Highline Performing Arts Center, Burien | $12-15

North Corner Chamber Orchestra: The 3 B’s (with a twist)
Bach and Brahms get nudged out by Barber and Bartok on this reimagining of the typical “3 B’s” of classical music!
February 20, 2pm, University Christian Church (2/20)
February 21, 7:30pm, Royal Room (2/21)
$15-25, FREE for Music Students & Youth (under 18)

STG Presents: Kronos Quartet: Vrebalov’s Beyond Zero
This new work commemorates the centennial of the outbreak of World War I & integrates film by Bill Morrison.
February 20, 8pm, Moore Theatre | $20-75

Music of Today: Garth Knox, viola
The UW School of Music presents new and improvised music by internationally renowned violist Garth Knox.
February 22, 7:30pm, Meany Theatre | $10-15

Town Music: we do it to one another
Joshua Roman presents his commissioned song cycle to Tracy K. Smith’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Life on Mars.”
February 25, 7:30pm, Town Hall Seattle | $5-25

Seattle Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra: World Sounds
SMCO presents the winning works of the 2nd International Composition Competition for Young Composers.
February 27, 8pm, First Free Methodist Church | $15-20

STG Presents: Trader Joe’s Silent Movie Mondays
A viewing of Ben Hur – A Tale of the Christ, featuring the original score performed live with Seattle Rock Orchestra.
February 29, 7pm, Paramount Theatre | $25.50

Archives:
January 2016

SNEAK PEEK AUDIO LEAK: Pale Ground by Andrew V. Phillips and Jon Buckland

by Maggie Stapleton

Second Inversion presents new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre… and we mean NEW. Sneak Peek Audio Leak is your chance to stream fresh sounds and brand new music of note with insights from our team and the artists.

Exterior

Imagine you’re here. It’s the largest and northernmost region of Finland, known as Lapland. Only 3.4% of Finland’s population lives here and the population has been declining for the last 25 years. Peaceful, serene, remote.

Now imagine you’re here recording an album in a remote cabin for one week only. Start to finish, Jon Buckland and Andrew V. Phillips had this very experience, and the fruit that bore is Pale Ground. They had no formal, thematic, or stylistic plans, but rather set with intentions to reflect and react upon the landscape, the vastness, the distance, and their emotions that came with it.

(Streaming through Second Inversion’s SoundCloud has closed, but you can stream and purchase via Bandcamp!)

Beginning with “Close In,” Buckland and Phillips perfectly depict the snowy landscape, the Pale Ground, in all its expanse. Slowly unfolding harmonic and melodic ideas strike feelings of contemplation, longing, and searching. A sparkle, the sound of a sleigh bell, emerges amidst the grey backdrop. It’s a subtle nod to the season, and to hopefulness of finding one’s way through the never ending landscape.

Bell-like tones ring throughout “Nautical Twilight,” evoking twinkling stars and a dreamlike state. By the end, it gives way to a demon, emerging at first with gentle persistence. This “night terror” fights with intensity, but only for a brief two minutes, through “The Machine,” and releases its tension into “Skull Beneath The Skin.” By this point, the album has established an ebb and flow that keeps this listener on her the edge of her seat to hear what unfolds next.

After one week, I don’t know if I’d have cabin fever or would want to stay there forever, but I’m glad to have been transported there for 30 minutes with this music. Whether your day-to-day surroundings are vast or compact, I encourage you to immerse yourself in the simulation of space by way of Pale Ground and travel to this virtual winter wonderland of mystery, discovery, and hope.

SNEAK PEEK AUDIO LEAK: Loop 2.4.3’s Time-Machine_music

by Maggie Stapleton

Second Inversion presents new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre… and we mean NEW. Sneak Peek Audio Leak is your chance to stream fresh sounds and brand new music of note with insights from our team and the artists.

LOOP243_Kozumplik_(c)Jamal_Ahmed

Loop 2.4.3 has been producing percussion and electronics-driven music since 2004. Founder Thomas Kozumplik guides the ensemble, varying in size from solo to octet (but most often 2-3 performers), through his vision of exploration and freedom. The group’s name comes from a place near and dear to Thomas’ heart – Powers Hall 243 at Central Michigan University, where he and a “Loop,” of close friends spent countless hours making music together.

Time-Machine_music is an entirely solo composition and performance venture for Thomas. This 6-track collection has juxtaposing acoustic and electronic textures in every pore and fiber of the 36 minutes. Thomas’ electro-acoustic percussion set-up includes Chinese tom-toms, Indian bells, crotales, log drums, tambourim, bass drum, percussion sample pad, tape echo, and delay. The fun doesn’t stop there – he also plays marimba, vibraphone, Thai gongs, piano, Wurlitzer, steel drum, kalimba, and uses vocal samples.

(this album is no longer available for streaming via Second Inversion, but you can visit Music Starts from Silence to order your copy!)

As the name of the album implies, time is of the essence, and explores manipulations of time through a cathartic journey. Thomas goes on to elaborate that Time-Machine_music, “explores the vast and tiny spaces, the worm holes, or the connections between points in time, and even singular points of time where an overwhelming multitude of thoughts, ideas, and emotions occur simultaneously. It acknowledges that brilliance and sagacity may come from a place that is entangled with conflict, controversy, emotional instability, and the surreal, hyperreal, hallucinatory receptors of the mind. It explores the illusion of the individual trapped in the phalanx of society, moving forward, backward and sideways all at once. It is an overwhelming cry for life and freedom, an escape from a world trapped under its own weight.”

Loop 2.4.3’s sound is rooted in classical chamber music, but with psychedelic rock, jazz, and improvisation influences, stemming from Thomas’ upbringing playing in garage bands, metal bands, thrash bands, and jazz bands in Michigan. I might describe it as minimalism meets heavy metal meets techno DJ beats. “Art music” is how Thomas best describes it, and goes on to say, “It’s definitely longer listening than pop music. It takes time to build, but then you get the reward. I suggest you turn it up really f*ing loud (laughing).” Agreed! The opening track, “Out to War,” is anything but a subtle introduction. The opening throaty, dark, repetitive “Mind Control” chanting hearkens back to acidic rock from the past, but soon breaks free to ambient piano, steel drums, and textures that are beautiful, calming, and serene.

The use of human voice is eerie and captivating throughout the disc. Events in Thomas’ life inspired the lyrics, but tie into broader topics. Stay tuned for the full scores with lyrics which will soon be available from MusicStartsFromSilence.com. Voice sampling opens “MK Ultra,” unfolding in a long form to cascading, pattering, sounds of the marimba that interweaves with the voice and flow back into the keyboard percussion.  The title track, clocking in at a significant length of 12 minutes, was the genesis for the body of work and holds the foundation of instrumentation, sounds, and approach. The voice is presented differently here, in single-word, echoing samples from this poem by Thom:

“Stories of power, control, love, and enlightenment are a constant in the history of man. Our idea of TIME is shaped by personal and cultural events.

The history of man floats in the ether of deep SPACE. We must venture there, to learn the secrets of our elders.”

While much of the material in this work has a rather dark quality, “Moving Finger of Time” has a lighter feel to it – more straight-ahead in form and with a bit of humour. The final track in the collection, ironically called “Prelude (for Sophia)” brings the distortion of time full circle. The dedication to Sophia means something to Thomas, like much of the other music here “is open for immersive experience and interpretation.”

Ultimately, I was curious about Thomas’ goal with Time-Machine_music. His response? “I’m not sure it’s about a specific accomplishment. The need to create and express things is most important. I suppose I hope to share it with people. Maybe the biggest accomplishment would be keeping my sanity by spending time working through things and being absorbed in the music. I hope that people will listen to it and know that it’s okay to feel things…to confront the darkness but also to see the beauty. Sometimes the world makes you want to scream… and sometimes maybe you should.”

Whether you scream, cry, laugh, it’s always better out than in. Go forth and express!