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.

STAFF PICKS: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from their playlist. Tune in during the indicated hours below on Friday, January 20 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!

David P. Jones: Music for South Africa (Caballito Negro)

For many living in the United States, this past week has felt like a lit fuse. Today, protests & rallies will explode all over the country as marginalized groups and their allies rebuke violence, advocate for social justice, and work together from every corner of the nation to make a statement of unity. Seems like a good time for some “music of hope,” which is how David P. Jones describes Music for South Africa. In this piece, Jones took inspiration from the struggle against apartheid and drew from traditional South African music to create a percussion-heavy composition akin to the sounds of Johannesburg night-club jazz. Whether or not you participate in a mass movement, let Music for South Africa encourage thoughts of hope and expressions of your limitless potential. – Rachele Hales

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


Joseph Byrd: Prelude to “The Mystery Cheese Ball” American Contemporary Music Ensemble (New World)

ACME’s album exploring Joseph Byrd’s work in NYC from 1960-1963 has some interesting sounds, not least of which is the final track. This experimental work for balloon ensemble serves as the prelude to a chamber opera that was performed at Yoko Ono’s loft in the spring of 1961 (with Ono as one of the performers). There is no score, rather only a sort of oral history of the event to follow: each performer is instructed to allow air to escape their balloon, creating different pitches by stretching the neck in different ways. It results in an improvised crowd of squeaks and whines, and it goes for some time – maybe the balloons are pretty big in this recording. Some combine together to almost form a melody, but not quite. It’s a good bit nose-thumbing anti-music, with a hilariously abrupt ending as the last bit of air escapes. – Geoffrey Larson

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


Madeleine Cocolas: If Wisdom Fails (Futuresequence) 

A distillation of her “track-a-week-for-52-weeks” composition project, Cocolas’s album Cascadia was written after the composer relocated from Australia to Seattle.  Lately, my ever-deepening connections to the Seattle area have been an indispensable source of solace, and those feeling were brought back to the surface by If Wisdom Fails.  Seattle’s The Stranger newspaper called this album “cathartic;” I wholeheartedly agree. – Seth Tompkins

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 5pm hour today to hear this piece.


Matt Marks: The Little Death, Vol. 1 (New Amsterdam Records)

Matt Marks’ The Little Death, Vol. 1 is a classic tale of boy meets girl—except for instead of the familiar happily-ever-after ending, the boy and girl take a romantic ride through the world of Fundamentalist Evangelism, struggling to cope with their religion-prescribed repressed sexuality in the 21st century.

Performed by Marks and Mellissa Hughes, the post-Christian nihilist pop opera features 11 provocatively-titled chapters which detail the extraordinarily convoluted relationship between religion and sexuality using surprisingly modest means: Marks self-produced the album using only a couple microphones and a laptop running Ableton Live.

The ambitious two-character theatrical work draws on sampled material from Marks’ own collection of 1970s gospel, hip-hop, and soul albums, crafting surprisingly catchy tunes that fuse hypnotic pop hooks with satirical lyrics and apocalyptic Christian imagery. It’s definitely not your traditional church service—but it’s a surprisingly spiritual experience.
Maggie Molloy

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 7pm hour today to hear an excerpt from this recording.

Cocolas in Cascadia: Q&A with Madeleine Cocolas

by Maggie Molloy

It was 2012 when the Australian composer and sound artist Madeleine Cocolas first moved away from the warm, sunshiny beaches of Australia and onto the cold, rainy waterfronts of Seattle. After settling into her new home in South Lake Union, Cocolas challenged herself to write a new piece of music every week for 52 weeks—and thus was born the “Fifty-Two Weeks” project.
Madeleine_Cocolas

Over the course of one year, Cocolas composed a series of 52 pieces wrapped up into a year-long blog chronicling her artwork, her travels, her successes, her struggles, and above all, her music. In the process, not only did she discover a lot about herself and her artwork, but she also discovered a lot about the beauty and mystical splendor of the Pacific Northwest.

download (24)Cocolas recently revisited her “Fifty-Two Weeks” project with a new debut album aptly titled “Cascadia,” which was released through the experimental music label Futuresequence this past December. A clear vinyl of the album comes out this Monday, January 11—and trust me, you’ll want to hear it on vinyl.

The album is a beautifully amorphous blend of ambient, experimental, electronic, and contemporary classical sound worlds with plenty of Pacific Northwest whimsy. In the span of just under 45 minutes, Cocolas explores new sonic lands, shimmering seascapes, twinkling piano melodies, textured lullabies, toy accordions, tape cassettes, and so much more.

We recently featured it as our Album of the Week on Second Inversion—but since we just can’t get enough of Cocolas’s ethereal and ambient dreamscapes, we invited her back to the station to talk about art, music, creativity, and all things “Cascadia.”

Second Inversion: What is the inspiration for the album’s title?

Madeleine Cocolas: The album’s title was directly influenced by Seattle and our beautiful surroundings, including the Cascades.  Living in Seattle and the Pacific Northwest for the past 3.5 years has influenced my music immeasurably, and I feel like the music on “Cascadia” and my “Fifty-Two Weeks” project is a direct response and reaction to my surroundings here.  It is impossible for me to listen to “Cascadia” and for it not to evoke feelings of my time here in Seattle.

SI: How would you describe the sound of “Cascadia”? What composers, artists, or styles of music most influenced your compositions?

MC: In terms of a genre, I would describe “Cascadia” as a bit of a mixture between ambient, experimental, electronic and modern classical. Whilst there are a range of styles and instrumentation on the album, I think the overall aesthetic falls under the ‘ambient’ umbrella.  Artists that I have been influenced by would include Jóhann Jóhannsson, Julianna Barwick, Nils Frahm, The Dirty Three, Tim Hecker and Ben Frost amongst others.

SI: How is “Cascadia” similar to and/or different from your “Fifty-Two Weeks” project?

MC: “Cascadia” is essentially a refinement of my “Fifty-Two Weeks” project, with the exception of “The Sea Beneath Me” and “Moments of Distraction,” which were written after “Fifty-Two Weeks” had been completed.  A big part of “Fifty-Two Weeks” was to explore and better define my compositional style, and to me, “Cascadia” best represents my “Fifty-Two Weeks” project and current compositional style.

On the other hand, “Cascadia” differs from “Fifty-Two Weeks” in that I was able to obsess over the details of this album in a way that I wasn’t able to when I was writing a piece of music a week.  Even though much of “Cascadia” is based on “Fifty-Two Weeks,” I spent a lot of time reworking and rearranging the tracks, and I had it mastered by Rafael Anton Irisarri, so in that respect “Cascadia” is much more polished and refined than “Fifty-Two Weeks.”

SI: After writing music for 52 weeks and looking back at this large body of work, did you learn anything unexpected or interesting about your compositional style, musical taste, or creative process?

MC: When I started “Fifty-Two Weeks” I had no real expectations from the project apart from setting myself the challenge of writing 52 pieces.  Looking back, the project achieved so much more than I anticipated and I did learn some incredible lessons.

In terms of creative process, I had previously been very stifled when it came to actually ‘completing’ compositions, and I didn’t really have many completed pieces that represented what I wanted to convey.  Having weekly deadlines was an incredibly liberating way of being forced to finish a piece and move on to the next without overthinking things and obsessing over small, unimportant details, and I was really able to hone in on my creative process and unblock a lot of restrictions that I had unconsciously placed on myself.

In terms of my compositional style and musical taste, prior to “Fifty-Two Weeks” I had written a lot of piano and small chamber-based music without too much experimentation.  During the project, I really challenged myself to listen to a much wider range of music, and found that I absolutely loved experimenting with found sounds, noise and electronic elements, and these have since become an integral part of my compositional style.

SI: How did you keep each week’s composition fresh, new, and exciting?

MC: Because” Fifty-Two Weeks” was such a long-running project, I knew the only way I was going to get through would be to try different things each week, otherwise I would get bored. I set myself certain challenges each week (e.g. using vocals, incorporating found sounds or collaborating with other artists) so that I wouldn’t fall into a rut.  There were definitely some phases in the project where I did feel that I was lacking in inspiration (and I was honest about it in my accompanying blog), but I was generally able to think of new and interesting ways in which to challenge myself.

SI: Outside of composition you are also interested in printmaking, collage, photography, fashion, and street art—do these wide-ranging creative interests come out at all in your music?

MC: I often think that my visual and musical styles and tastes are quite different.  My music is quite introspective and reflective, and when I imagine it in a visual sense, I think that it would be best represented by subtle, muted colors and fine textural details.  On the other hand, I’m often drawn to visual art and fashion that is very bold, bright and loud, and I do wonder how the two relate and how one affects the other.  In both musical and visual contexts though, I appreciate layered textures and unexpected combinations, so perhaps that’s the common underlying theme!

SI: I particularly enjoyed your experiments into found sound, samples, and more ‘collage’ style music (i.e. kitchen sounds in Week 28 and radio clips in Week 50). Have you explored any more of these musical ideas outside of the “Fifty-Two Weeks” project?

MC: I really enjoyed using found sounds during my project, and it is something I have continued with subsequently.  I recently collaborated with Australian textile artist Monique Van Nieuwland on her exhibition “Ocean Forest,” whereby Monique recorded sounds of her weaving and I reworked and processed those sounds to create an oceanscape sound design to accompany her work.  I actually ended up using the oceanscape I created for Monique as the basis of the first track of “Cascadia,” “The Sea Beneath Me.”

SI: What do you hope audiences will gain from listening to “Cascadia” and the “Fifty-Two Weeks” project?

MC: The music I have written for “Cascadia” and “Fifty-Two Weeks” is very personal to me, and evokes very specific feelings and emotions about my time in Seattle.  I’m always interested to hear what feelings my music evokes in other people, which I imagine are different to mine, but I would love if “Cascadia” was able to convey a feeling of connection between my music and the beautiful and ethereal Pacific Northwest as well as feelings of tranquility, isolation and melancholy.

SI: What is next on the horizon for you?

MC: I spent the last half of 2015 re-scoring Alfred Hitchcock’s film “The Birds” as part of the Northwest Film Forum’s ongoing series “Puget Soundtrack,” and I performed the score live in December, which was fantastically fun!  I’m hoping to polish that up a bit and release it as either an album, or a continuous score that can be played alongside the film (interestingly, the original film didn’t have a conventional musical score, so I was able to include all the original dialogue and sound effects when I re-scored it).

Currently I’m collaborating with choreographer Angelica DeLashmette on her evening-length dance performance “Being” which will be performed at Velocity in 2016.  I’m also collaborating with musician Mathias Van Eecloo (Monolyth & Cobalt) on an ongoing 12-part series based on my “Fifty-Two Weeks” which I hope will be released sometime in 2016.  And lastly, I’m looking forward to working on some more solo work and starting to think about my next album!

Week+29+photo

ALBUM REVIEW: Madeleine Cocolas’ Cascadia

by Maggie Molloy

Creating and recording a new musical composition in just one week is no easy feat. But that’s precisely what Seattle-based composer and sound artist Madeleine Cocolas did—every week for an entire year.

Week+29+photo The “Fifty-Two Weeks” project began when the Australian musician first moved to Seattle with her husband a few years ago. After settling into her new home, Cocolas challenged herself to write a new piece of music every week for 52 weeks and post it to her SoundCloud.

The result was a series of 52 pieces wrapped up into a year-long blog chronicling her artwork, her travels, her successes, her struggles, and above all, her music. To call it ambitious would be an understatement—the project is downright massive in scope. It’s got minimalist piano musings, dreamy and ethereal vocal soundscapes, melodicas and found sounds, glitches and glitter. It’s got recorded kitchen clatter, toy accordions, and tape cassettes. It’s got vintage radio clips, Capitol Hill street art, a dash of Christmas whimsy and yes, even a healthy dose of cat photos.

But perhaps what’s most inspiring about Cocolas’s project is the authenticity behind each composition. There are good weeks, bad weeks, silly weeks, serious weeks, and even a few delirious weeks. There are some missed deadlines, a couple of do-overs, and the occasional rut—but that’s what makes the project honest and relatable. Her willingness to experiment, to push herself creatively, and to get outside her comfort zone are what makes the series so candid, authentic, and genuine. Each piece is a part of the journey—warts and all.

Last year Cocolas took over the Second Inversion airwaves to share a bit more about her 52-week process and some of her favorite pieces—and this year, she’s revisited the project with her new debut album titled “Cascadia.”

“A big part of ‘Fifty-Two Weeks’ was to explore and better define my compositional style,” Cocolas said. “And to me, ‘Cascadia’ best represents my ‘Fifty-Two Weeks’ project and current compositional style.”

The album is a refinement of material produced for her “Fifty-Two Weeks” project, along with a couple of brand new tracks. The result is a beautifully amorphous blend of ambient, experimental, electronic, and contemporary classical sound worlds with plenty of Pacific Northwest whimsy.

“Living in Seattle and the Pacific Northwest for the past three and a half years has influenced my music immeasurably,” Cocolas said, “And I feel like the music on ‘Cascadia’ and my ‘Fifty-Two Weeks’ project is a direct response and reaction to my surroundings here.”

The album begins with an oceanic dream: “The Sea Beneath Me.” Composed after the completion of her “Fifty-Two Weeks” project, this piece was the result of a collaboration with Australian textile artist Monique Van Nieuwland on her exhibition “Ocean Forest.” Van Nieuwland recorded herself weaving, and Cocolas reworked the recordings into an entire oceanscape of sounds which went on to become the basis for “The Sea Beneath Me.” Ethereal vocals float along the waves to create a shimmering seascape, immersing the listener in its vast expanse and its softly pulsing echoes. Nostalgic and melancholy, each wave is a work of art.

“Moments of Distraction” takes the listener out of the ocean and into the clouds with its whimsical and weightless piano melodies circling above a minimalist electronic backdrop. “I Can See You Whisper” layers twinkling piano melodies atop ambient textures and subtle strings, while “Sometimes I Can’t Hear You” crafts its own minimalist sound world out of layered piano motives and textured echoes.

A warm and ethereal new realm comes to life in “When I Knew I Loved You,” with airy vocals floating above ambient piano and toy accordion—it’s like the aural equivalent of having butterflies in your stomach.

Accordian
Cocolas takes her electronic exploration to new sonic spaces in “Echoes,” an ethereal sound sculpture of vibration and reverb. Then her dreamy, washed-out vocals float through “If Wisdom Fails,” a lullaby brimming with tenderness and warmth.

“Static” shifts through dissonant piano melodies atop a textured drone, and the album comes to a close with a sweet and sincere solo piano piece: “If You Hear Me, I Hear You Back.” Cocolas’s tender piano melodies drift gracefully through the surrounding silence, accompanied by nothing but the vintage sounds of a tape recorder.

Simple yet powerfully poignant, it serves as a reminder of the humble beginnings from which this panoramic album was born. After all, with just “Fifty-Two Weeks” and a little imagination, Cocolas was able to create a musical map of Cascadia in all it’s sparkling and mystical splendor.

A PIECE A WEEK WITH MADELEINE COCOLAS

Composer Madeleine Cocolas.

Composer Madeleine Cocolas.

by Maggie Stapleton

Music has always been a passion for Madeleine Cocolas, Australian-born and now Seattle-based. When her husband landed a job in Seattle and they moved here a year and a half ago, she found a great opportunity to focus on composition in a project called “52 Weeks,” in which she’s composing one new piece every week for a whole year.  With only a handful of weeks to go, she is nearly complete and she came here to chat about it with Second Inversion, sharing stories about 12 of the pieces!

 

Madeleine says this music is a reflection of how she feels each week and her response to living in Seattle…. “It’s fun to look back and trace my moods!”  She’s drawn inspiration from a lot of sounds around Seattle (construction noises, for instance!) and the dark grey of colors of winter, represented in some melancholy piano music.  Be sure to follow Madeleine (Blog, Facebook, Twitter, SoundCloud) as her project concludes in the coming weeks.  We can’t wait to see what the next project will bring!