Seattle New Music Happy Hour: Tuesday, June 13 at 5:30pm

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.

Join us TONIGHT, Tuesday, June 13 at 5:30pm at Queen Anne Beerhall for New Music Happy Hour, co-hosted by Second Inversion and the Live Music Project. Bring a friend, make a friend, have a drink, and discover connections with fellow new music lovers from all over Seattle!

Click here to RSVP and invite your friends. Plus, sign up for alerts for future happy hour dates and day-before reminders so you’ll never miss a beer—er, beat.

STAFF PICKS: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from their weekly playlist. Tune in on Friday, April 28 to hear these pieces and plenty of other new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre!

Shara Nova: You Us We All (Zosima)
Performed with Baroque Orchestration X

In recent years there’s been a notable resurgence of Baroque forms and instruments in contemporary classical music—but nowhere so convincingly as in Shara Nova’s Baroque chamber pop opera You Us We All.

This colorful court masque tells the story of five allegorical characters searching for meaning in the modern age, traversing through corny fan letters and cornetto solos, broken hearts and Baroque instruments all along the way.

Nova’s lustrous vocals sparkle in the leading role of Hope, alongside a small but mighty cast of singers who play Virtue, Love, Time, and of course, Death. Baroque Orchestration X provides a clean and courtly backdrop on period instruments, with some more modern percussion (typewriter, anyone?) thrown in for a 21st-century spin. All in all, it’s the perfect marriage of old and new: antique instruments, modern music, timeless themes—and just a dash of existentialism. – Maggie Molloy

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


Béla Fleck and Mike Marshall: “The Big Cheese” (Sony Classical)

Here in Seattle, it FINALLY feels like spring has arrived… after a record-breaking-ly soggy winter (look it up).  Still, I’ve been feeling some hesitation to go outside and reconnect with the glowing orb in the sky.  If you, like me, could use a kick in the pants to “get out there,” this track could just do the trick.  The lithe Appalachian flavors here are mixed with some decidedly more square music by English Renaissance composer William Byrd.  Perfect!
Seth Tompkins

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


Patrick Laird: “Che” 
Performed by Break of Reality

Break of Reality is the ultimate “don’t usually like classical but I love this” band.  They brand themselves as “cello rock” and it’s a fitting description as even my punk-rock-playing drummer dad would feel at home in this music.  With fierce cellos and intense percussion, “Che” is a passionate, almost violent, exploration of anger and fear.  If you’re looking for a unique classical experience, this is your stop.
Rachele Hales

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


Julia Wolfe: Early that summer (Innova Records)
Performed by ETHEL

Boy, this is a crunchy piece. Wolfe uses dissonance throughout this ostinato-filled string quartet to propel the energy along, creating an unfolding sense of conflict. It makes sense: she composed the work while reading a book on American political history, where seemingly small incidents (often introduced in the book with the phrase “early that summer”) would snowball into major political crises. This piece was composed in 1992, but it still represents some music that instead of shying away from the dissonance of our current political climate, dives fully in and revels in it.  – Geoffrey Larson

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

Seattle New Music Happy Hour: Monday, April 24 at 5:30pm

by Maggie Molloy

Got the Monday blues? Get happy with us tonight at the next Seattle New Music Happy Hour, co-hosted by Second Inversion and the Live Music Project.

Join us TONIGHT, Monday, April 24 at 5:30pm at the cozy Fireside Room at Hotel Sorrento in Seattle. (Note the new location!) Bring a friend, make a friend, have a drink, and discover connections with fellow new music lovers from all over Seattle!

Click here to RSVP and invite your friends. Plus, sign up for alerts for future happy hour dates and day-before reminders so you’ll never miss a beer—er, beat.

Seattle Sounds and Musical Utterances: Q&A with James Falzone and Bonnie Whiting

“There is a ‘sound’ here, no doubt,” says James Falzone of Seattle’s distinctive new music scene. “It is one I would describe as patient and less influenced by the frenetic energy that you might find in a city with less vistas.”

Photo on left by Patrick Monaghan.

Those famous Northwest vistas are relatively new to clarinetist/composer James Falzone and percussionist Bonnie Whiting, each of whom recently moved here from the Midwest to serve as educators at two major academic institutions: Falzone as the new Chair of Music at Cornish College of the Arts and Bonnie Whiting as the Chair of Percussion Studies and Artist in Residence at the University of Washington.

Both powerful players in contemporary and experimental music circles, Falzone and Whiting first met at one of our New Music Happy Hours (co-presented with the Live Music Project)—and their conversation led to a musical collaboration which premieres this Thursday, March 2 at the Wayward Music Series.

Utterances is the name of the performance, which combines original, composed, and improvised music based on text, spoken word, and translation. The program merges the distinct sounds and styles of each musician: Falzone known for his matchless musical fusion of jazz, classical, and world music traditions, and Whiting for her interdisciplinary performances which often venture into nontraditional notation and instrumentation.

The concert program opens and closes with duo improvisations that expand, challenge, and subvert the traditional roles of clarinet and percussion. In between are solo sets featuring original works by Falzone, Whiting, and other composers, along with a performance by Falzone’s jazz-infused clarinet and saxophone sextet the Renga Ensemble.

We sat down with both artists to talk about Seattle sound experiments, unusual instruments, and musical utterances:

Second Inversion: You are both relatively new to Seattle, each serving as educators at two major academic institutions in the Northwest.  What do you find most inspiring about your respective new roles, and what do you hope to accomplish?

Photo by William Frederking.

James Falzone: Cornish has a legacy unlike any other institution, connected to the very heart of American experimentalism. Being the steward of that legacy is something I find very exciting but also humbling, and I intend to take good care of it. This means learning from that legacy and continuing the sense of openness, experimentation, and disruption that Cornish has always represented.

Bonnie Whiting: There are already so many fabulous opportunities that exist for percussionists at UW: the Harry Partch instrument collection on campus, a partnership with the Seattle Symphony, opportunities to perform with groups like the steel band and gamelan ensembles through the ethnomusicology department, and an ever-expanding jazz program.

I’m excited to teach, create, and perform new music by living composers alongside historical works from the 20th century. I also plan more touring and outreach for the percussion ensemble. In March, we’ll perform and lead a hands-on workshop for Tent City 3 (currently hosted on the UW campus.) I’ve been giving workshops in local high schools and middle schools, and we are going to be featured at the Northwest Percussion Festival in April.

In addition to my work with the students, it’s thrilling to have such great faculty colleagues. It’s an incredible scene for new music and improvised music, and I’ve met so many dream collaborators. Right now, I’m working on a project with another new faculty member in the DX Arts program: Afroditi Psarra. She has these incredible embroidered synthesizers and works with sensors, and so integrating these into a percussive soundscape has been fascinating.


SI: What do you find most unique or inspiring about the Northwest’s new music scene?

JF: There is a “sound” here, no doubt. It is one I would describe as patient and less influenced by the frenetic energy that you might find in a city with less vistas. I’m hearing this in composed music, in improvised music, in the soundscape around me; even in the way people speak.

Artists seem hard at work here, presenting their ensembles and music and building a sense of community, attributes of a healthy, vibrant scene. I’m delighted to be a part of it as an artist, and hope to use my role at Cornish to be of service. The wonderful NUMUS Northwest event—which, though not sponsored by Cornish, was held there as a means of service to the community—is an example of what I want to see Cornish doing more of in the future.

Solo improvisation by James Falzone, inspired by the writing of Christian Wiman:


SI: How did this collaboration come about, and how would you describe the music you’re creating together in this performance?

BW: James happened to sit across from me at a New Music Happy Hour last fall, and we had a great conversation. I had heard of him and was familiar with his music; we both moved from the Midwest and moved in similar experimental music circles but hadn’t yet had the pleasure of collaborating.

Earlier this month, we opened the Seattle Improvised Music Festival with a duo set and it was a real joy. One of the elements that has developed (that I love) is the way we subvert the traditional roles played by a percussionist and a wind player. Often, he’ll play rhythmic, groove figures while I make distorted long tones. He’s also happy to move while playing and explore the space. It’s been fun to find percussion instruments that can travel too.

Transcription of an electronic audio score by Richard Logan-Greene. Original realization and performance by Bonnie Whiting:


SI: The Renga Ensemble features six clarinets/saxophones—what is it about this instrument combination that grabs you and pulls you in?

JF: I love homogenous sounding ensembles, though I know many composers do not. The sound of six single reeds resonating together offers far more color than one might imagine. But Renga Ensemble, both in its original state and now with this Seattle mix of players, has always been about personality coming through the texture by way of improvisation.

All of the music I’ll be presenting incorporates improvisation, mixed with through-composed elements, and this back and forth—this teetering between the “already” and the “not yet”—is what my work focuses on. For me, improvisation brings forth a musician’s personality like nothing else can and the challenge I set for myself in the Renga music is to find the balance point so that you hear the voice of each player as much as you hear the voice of the composer.


SI: Many of your percussion performances feature unusual instruments, sounds, or spoken elements—has your career as a percussionist changed the way you listen to your surroundings in your everyday life? (Or vice versa—was it your interest in sounds that originally led you to percussion?)

BW: Even as a kid I had a long attention span, and I have always loved sounds. My mother says some of my first toys were pots and pans on the kitchen floor. Just the other night I was listening to the radio on a long drive across upstate New York, and I stumbled upon the last movement of Mahler 9.  It’s quite long and I was on the Thruway, so gradually the piece became punctuated by static as I moved out of range. This intensified the listening experience for me: my memory filled in some of the music, my imagination more, and I actually enjoy the sound of static.

I’ve spent more time than I’d like to admit trying to replicate the sound of static and white noise on my snare drum and sandpaper blocks, and my collection of found tuned pot lids are more valuable to me than my five-octave marimba. I’m naturally drawn to pieces that use speech patterns to generate rhythmic material: Globokar’s Toucher and Parenti’s Exercise No. 4 on our program feature this technique. These days, I have a very young son and I enjoy “performing” our bedtime stories, adding sound effects and rhythm each night.


SI:What were some of the written sources that inspired the music of Utterances?

JF: In addition to improvised duets with Bonnie, I’ll be presenting two works that connect to text. The first is an ongoing solo project I call “Sighs Too Deep for Words,” which is an improvised, long-form work that is inspired by language from the New Testament that speaks of “utterances,” which is sometimes translated as “sighs,” that communicate the prayers we do not have words for.

The other pieces come from music I’ve created for my Renga Ensemble, which takes its name from a form of Japanese collective poetry. Most of the music for Renga was created around a haiku by American poet Anita Virgil:

not seeing
the room is white
until that red apple

“The Room Is,” composed by James Falzone and performed with the Renga Ensemble:


SI: What are you most looking forward to with this performance, and what do you hope audience members will gain from attending?

BW: John Cage often said that his goal as a composer was to “make an art that, while coming from ideas, is not about those ideas, but rather produces others.” I echo this desire when I honestly answer that I don’t wish for our audience members to gain any one insight or worse, “message.” I hope our program might inspire others to improvise, or to make work of their own, or to seek out the fantastic spirit that is within each mundane utterance or environmental sound in their daily lives.

Photo on right by Marc Perlish.

Utterances is Thursday, March 2 at 8pm at the Chapel Performance Space at the Good Shepherd Center in Wallingford. For more information, click here.

LIVE BROADCAST + CONCERT PREVIEW: Q&A with the JACK Quartet

by Maggie Molloy

[Editor’s Note] JACK Quartet’s performance tonight will be streamed LIVE on Second Inversion from Meany Hall, presented by Meany Center for the Performing Arts.

To listen, tune in tonight at 7:30pm PST. In the meantime, read all about the concert below, including our special Q&A with JACK violist John Pickford Richards!

jack-quartet

In the classical music world, it’s quite rare to see a string quartet perform works by the 20th century avant-gardist Morton Feldman or, say, the mathematical musical revolutionary Iannis Xenakis.

But the JACK Quartet is not your traditional string quartet. This evening, they’re performing works by both Feldman and Xenakis—plus a couple pieces by Ruth Crawford Seeger, Derek Bermel, and Julia Wolfe, just for good measure.

Comprised of violinists Christopher Otto and Austin Wulliman, violist John Pickford Richards, and cellist Jay Campbell, JACK is dedicated to the performance, commissioning, and spreading of new and experimental string quartet music. And tonight, they’re bringing a little bit of that new music to Seattle for a performance at Meany Hall.

Presented as part of the Meany Center for the Performing Arts’ 2016-2017 season, the concert program features Feldman’s pointillist string Structures, Seeger’s densely dramatic String Quartet, Bermel’s blues-bending Intonations, Julia Wolfe’s fiery, fervent Early That Summer, and Xenakis’s modal, mathematical Tetora.

jack

It’s a program of 20th and 21st century works by primarily American, New York-based composers—a musical account of the way experimental art has grown, stretched, and changed over the last 100 years.

We sat down with violist John Pickford Richards of the JACK Quartet to find out a little bit more about what audience members can expect at tonight’s performance:

Second Inversion: What does “new music” mean to you?


jrJohn Pickford Richards:
To me, new music is anything written by a living composer. I like to equate new classical music to the kind of art you might see in an art show or a chic gallery, while the classics are safe and sound in museums.


SI: What are some of the unique challenges and rewards of performing contemporary works?

JR: Knowing the composers personally is invaluable. It provides extraordinary insight. Also, composers are constantly pushing performers to reimagine our instruments, which keeps us on our toes.

SI: The contemporary classical “genre” is massive and extraordinarily diverse—how do you go about selecting which pieces to put on your concert programs?

JR: Our programming is a combination of following our raw interests as well as exploring new composers we aren’t familiar with, many of whom are introduced to us through our community. And we aim to seek emerging artists outside our network, which is a fun challenge.


SI: What are some of the things audience members can expect to hear in your Meany Hall concert program?

JR: Our program at Meany focuses on music from NYC written in the past 100 years, highlighting a theme of experimentalism that defines the American vangard. We’re pairing this with a work by Iannis Xenakis, who was one of the most unique and inventive artists in Paris following the Second World War.


SI: What are you most looking forward to with your Meany Hall performance, and what do you hope audience members will gain from it?

JR: We aim to give a high-energy account of the music we think is it today.

The JACK Quartet performs tonight, Jan. 10 at 7:30 p.m. at Meany Hall in the University District. For tickets and information, please click here.

To listen to the live audio broadcast beginning at 7:30 p.m. PST, please click here.

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.

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