Staff Picks: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from their weekly playlist. Tune in on Friday, July 14 to hear these pieces and plenty of other new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre!

Trimpin: Above, Below, and In Between (Seattle Symphony Media)
Seattle Symphony; Ludovic Morlot, conductor

To say sound-sculptor Trimpin likes to think big would be an understatement—installations like a six-story-high xylophone, a tower of approximately 500 guitars (housed at Seattle’s Museum of Pop Culture), and an 80-foot installation that responds musically to the motions of passersby are just a few of his musical inventions.

In 2015 he was the composer in residence at the Seattle Symphony, during which time he created a site-specific installation and original composition for the Benaroya Hall lobby that was given its world premiere by the Symphony with Ludovic Morlot. Above, Below, and In Between was the name of his creation—and its centerpiece was a piano that can be conducted and played without being touched.

The resulting piece is a surround-sound fantasia of motion-controlled robotic piano, electronically activated chimes and horns, live orchestra musicians, and wandering soprano—a colorful kaleidoscope of sound and invention. – Maggie Molloy

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


Mamoru Fujieda: Patterns of Plants: The Fifteenth Collection (Pinna Records)
Sarah Cahill, piano

Mamoru Fujieda’s Patterns of Plants series is born of a fascinating, elegant creation process: an exquisite combination of nature and technology. The composer worked with the “Plantron,” a device created by botanist and artist Yuuji Dogane that measures electrical fluctuations on the surfaces of leaves of plants, and converted the resulting data into sound using computer programming. Through a process he has likened to searching “in a deep forest” for “beautiful flowers and rare butterflies,” Fujieda listened for musical patterns, and used them as the basis for composing short pieces, which he then grouped into collections reminiscent of Baroque dance suites.

The result is music that has a beautiful symmetry to it, is uniquely expressive in its own way, and is ultimately peaceful to the utmost. Other collections feature a variety of different instrumental combinations, but this Fifteenth Collection is performed on solo piano. It’s given highly sensitive consideration by pianist Sarah Cahill.
 Geoffrey Larson

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


Quentin Sirjacq: “Far Islands” (Schole Records)

“Far Islands” is the perfect song for stress relief.  Quentin Sirjacq’s enchanting minimalism gives one room to breathe and contemplate the spaces in between the sparse piano plucks and fuzzy synthesizer.  Sirjacq once stated that his music “is neither nostalgic nor romantic, but ‘reminiscent’”—this is a perfect description.  His delicate composition here is reminiscent, to use his word, of peacefully floating in a warm lake; it loosens the tension in your muscles and readies your mind for leisure.  Listening with a glass of wine in hand would be perfection. – Rachele Hales

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 8pm hour today to hear this piece.


Philip Glass: “Floe” from Glassworks (Sony Classical)
Michael Riesman and the Philip Glass Ensemble

As the second movement in Glass’ famed six-part chamber work, Glassworks, “Floe” holds a place of esteem in its own right, featured in the 1989 Italian horror film, The ChurchThroughout the movement, Glass layers contrasting timbres in the signature fashion that boosted the entire Glassworks album into popularity with a large audience, giving him widespread name recognition.

This recording by Michael Riesman and the Philip Glass Ensemble creates a beautiful, mystical trance from the outset and maintains a sense of timelessness throughout. Scored for two flutes, two soprano saxophones, tenor saxophone, bass clarinet, two horns, viola, cello, and synthesizer, Glass taps into this particular group of instruments’ blending abilities in such a way that the combined parts create an entirely new and greater texture for the whole. – Brendan Howe

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

Music of Mother Nature: 5 Works Inspired by the Great Outdoors

Photo by Erin Anderson.

by Maggie Molloy

The Emerald City is famously green—and not just in terms of plant life. Last year Seattle was rated among the top 15 most environmentally sustainable cities in the U.S., and by 2050 we aim to be completely carbon neutral.

Last Saturday was Earth Day: a worldwide event dedicated to education and awareness around issues of environmental protection and sustainability. But here in Seattle, every day is Earth Day; every day, we strive to take care of our planet and work toward a sustainable future.

Photo by Erin Anderson.

So in celebration of our beautiful planet—both last weekend and every day—we’re sharing some of our favorite pieces inspired by plants, animals, and the overwhelming magnificence of Mother Nature:

Mamoru Fujieda: Patterns of Plants

We experience plant life through a variety of senses: sight, taste, touch, smell. But have you ever wondered what plants sound like? Japanese post-minimalist composer Mamoru Fujieda decided to find out.

He spent 15 years of his career creating music based on the electrical activity in living plants. Using a device called a “Plantron,” he measured electrical fluctuations on the surface of plant leaves and converted that data into sound. Fujieda then foraged through the resulting sonic forest for pleasing musical patterns, which he used as the basis for his magnum opus: a bouquet of piano miniatures blooming with ornamented melodies and delicate details.


Meredith Monk: On Behalf of Nature

Meredith Monk likes to think outside the box—the voice box, that is. Famous for her groundbreaking exploration of the voice as an instrument and a language in and of itself, her music speaks volumes without ever using words.

Monk’s multidisciplinary performance piece On Behalf of Nature is a wordless poetic meditation on the environment; an exploration of the delicate space where humans coexist with the natural and spiritual world. The result is an almost ritualistic soundscape of extended vocal techniques dancing above a hypnotic and at times eerie instrumental accompaniment.


John Luther Adams: Become Ocean

Just about everything in John Luther Adams’ musical oeuvre qualifies as organic Earth Day ear candy, but we Seattleites are partial to his Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece Become Ocean, commissioned and premiered by our own Seattle Symphony in 2013.

Inspired by the spectacular waters of the Pacific Northwest and composed in reaction to the imminent threats of global warming, Become Ocean is a literal ocean of sound—a sparkling seascape that immerses the listener in beautiful washes of color. Harmonies ebb and flow with the fluidity of the tide, cresting into bold, climactic waves amid misty and melodic winds.

“As a composer, it’s my belief that music can contribute to the awakening of our ecological understanding,” Adams said. “By deepening our awareness of our connections to the earth, music can provide a sounding model for the renewal of human consciousness and culture.”


Nat Evans: Coyoteways

Seattle composer Nat Evans spent many a night listening to the lonely howl of the coyote as he hiked the 2,600-mile Pacific Crest Trail. So many, in fact, that the animal became the inspiration (along with the writings of Beat poet Gary Snyder) for an album that explores the mythological role of the coyote as a cunning trickster and schemer.

Coyoteways evokes the vast and expansive landscapes of the American West by layering field recordings from Evans’ travels brushed with long, sweeping guitar lines and occasional whispers of saxophone and percussion. The result is an ambient soundscape that echoes with the simple splendor of the great outdoors and the stealthy gaze of the coyotes that watch over it.


Whitney George: Extinction Series

Our planet is currently in the midst of its sixth mass extinction of plants and animals—the worst wave of species die-offs since the loss of the dinosaurs over 65 million years ago. Composer Whitney George is fighting to change those numbers.

George’s Extinction Series is an ongoing collection of somber and introspective miniatures for various solo instruments, each one composed as a musical obituary to an extinct animal on the rapidly-growing list. The sheer volume of this indeterminate series serves as commentary on mankind’s careless destruction of our planet—and it also poses a direct challenge to Earth’s inhabitants: in order for the series to ever be completed, we must first fundamentally change how we interact with our environment.

ALBUM REVIEW: Mamoru Fujieda’s “Patterns of Plants”

by Maggie Molloy

img_5518_edited-1

© Susan Scheid

We experience plant life through a variety of senses: sight, taste, touch, smell. In fact, flowers and other plants have long been featured in visual arts, culinary arts, medicines, fragrances, and more. Despite all of the many ways in which we encounter vegetation, though, we have never actually been able to experience plants through sound—until now.

Japanese post-minimalist composer Mamoru Fujieda has spent 15 years of his career creating music based on the electrical activity in living plants. The result is his magnum opus, an ongoing series of compositions appropriately titled “Patterns of Plants.” The pieces have been arranged for a variety of instruments and ensembles.

This past September, Fujieda released a two-disc album featuring a large selection of these works performed by renowned pianist Sarah Cahill. The album, titled “Mamoru Fujieda: Patterns of Plants,” is the first solo piano recording of this music to be sold outside of Japan.

Hop over to Pinna Records to purchase the album!

The compositions, created between 1996 and 2011, were made possible with the help of the “Plantron,” a device created by botanist and artist Yūji Dōgane. The “Plantron” measures electrical fluctuations on the surface of plant leaves and converts that data into sound using Max, a visual programming language for music.

“I understood these data to constitute the ‘voices’ of plants, and tried to make those voices audible as melodic patterns,” Fujieda said.

Fujieda sifted through the sounds in search of pleasing musical patterns, which he then used as the basis for composing a number of short pieces. He then grouped these pieces into collections, sort of like little bouquets full of Baroque dance suites.

The pieces reflect the subtle beauty and uniqueness of each plant, often drawing from a number of vibrant musical influences while still maintaining a consistently calming, gentle theme throughout.

“[The pieces] resonate with Baroque music, but also with the folk music of Ainu and Celtic cultures; with the lyricism of Lou Harrison; with medieval chant; and with a modal language that hints at alternative tunings, even when played in equal temperament, as they are on this recording (with Mamoru’s blessing),” said Cahill, who has been playing many of these works since 1997.

The rich but subtle diversity of each piece makes them quietly captivating both as individual compositions but also as a whole. Part of the album’s charm is the way it flows gently from Pattern to Pattern, immersing the listener in a lush forest full of ornamented melodies and delicate details.

“They embrace the repetitive structures of post-minimalism; but just as the leaves of a tree appear uniform from a distance, and only on closer inspection reveal surprising diversity, so the attentive listener discovers a multitude of variations and transformations within each Pattern,” Cahill said.

The pieces are poignant, sweet, and sincere. It is as though each Pattern is its own gentle flower, one small but infinitely nuanced part of the larger landscape. Just as flowers may be arranged in any combination, the Patterns may be listened to in any order. Cahill chose the order of the pieces in the album, with Fujieda’s approval.

“Sarah’s performance, with its refined phrasings and delicately controlled sonorities, imparts an individual character to each of the pieces,” Fujieda said. “The patterns together create an impression of being interwoven endlessly like a tapestry. It is as if the lives of plants are revived in her piano through this continuous chain of interrelated variations.”

Fujieda may have planted the seed with his first Pattern in 1996, but this album proves that his music has since grown into a beautiful garden full of delicate, charming melodies.