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.

Women in (New) Music: 10 Feminist Works by Women Composers

by Maggie Molloy

The Womxn’s March made history on January 21, bringing together over 4.9 million activists across all seven continents in an unprecedented show of solidarity, strength, and resistance.

The march was the largest single-day protest in U.S. history—but it extended far beyond U.S. borders. A total of 673 marches took place in 82 countries across the globe, and in Seattle alone an estimated 175,000 people showed up and marched for women’s rights.

January 21 was an uplifting and empowering day: a palpable reminder that we are, quite literally, surrounded by strong, capable, inspiring, and unapologetically forward-thinking womxn and allies.

Photo by Shaya Lyon.

But the work is only just beginning.

As we press forward into a challenging new era, we’re going to need to fight every day for justice, for human rights, for dignity, respect, and peace—and we’re going to need some pretty extraordinary music to keep us inspired.

We can’t have Womxn’s Marches every day, but we can make a conscious effort each day to seek out and support artists, musicians, and activists who engage our hearts, minds, and ears with thought-provoking and empowering art.

Allow us to give you a head start on your 2017 resistance playlist with these 10 feminist anthems by female composers:

1. Ethel Smyth – The March of the Women

Equal parts classical hymn and battle cry, a century ago Ethel Smyth’s March of the Women became the anthem of the Women’s Social and Political Union and, more broadly, the women’s suffrage movement in the U.K. and beyond.


2. Ruth Crawford Seeger: String Quartet

Being a woman writing music in the early 20th century was an act of feminism in itself. In the 1920s, a critic at one performances remarked with surprise that Ruth Crawford Seeger could “sling dissonances like a man”—because, you know, what could a woman possibly know about discord?


3. Pauline Oliveros – Bye Bye Butterfly

Pauline Oliveros puts a radically feminist spin on Puccini’s politically problematic Madama Butterfly in this 20th century tape delay reconstruction. The resulting mix bids farewell, as Oliveros wrote, “not only to the music of the 19th century but also to the system of polite morality of that age and its attendant institutionalized oppression of the female sex.”


4. Meredith Monk – Education of the Girlchild

Benjamin Button meets feminist deconstruction in this interdisciplinary (and unapologetically avant-garde) one-woman opera which traces the life of a woman in reverse from old age to childhood.


5. Joan Tower – Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman

A cheeky response to Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, Joan Tower’s fanfare is a bolder, brassier celebration of the women who are risk-takers and adventurers—women, for instance, with the courage to create music and fight for change in a male-dominated fields.


6. Laura Kaminsky – As One

Composed for two voices, As One tells the immensely powerful tale of one transgender woman’s journey to self-discovery—celebrating trans and queer voices that are far too often silenced in the classical music sphere.


7. Matana Roberts – Coin Coin

Massive in scope, Matana Roberts’ multi-chapter one-woman masterwork stands the intersection of feminism and African-American identity, exploring the diverse trajectories of the African diaspora through a panoramic sound quilt of wailing saxophones, spoken word, field recordings, loop and effects pedals, and more.


8. My Brightest Diamond – This is My Hand

Chamber pop powerhouse Shara Nova sings an anthem of self-love and bodily autonomy— because hand, heart, mind, and voice: our bodies are our choice.


9. Miya Masaoka – Survival

Written as a reaction against the U.S. internment of her own mother (along with 120,000 other Japanese immigrants) during World War II, second generation Japanese-American composer Miya Masaoka weaves a tale of resistance and resilience through angular strings, furious rhythms, and fearless resolve.


10. Angelique Poteat – Listen to the Girls

In a world where young women are constantly being told how to act, dress, and live, Angelique Poteat had a novel idea: what if we ask the girls what they want? The resulting piece for girlchoir and orchestra offers teenage girls a chance to sing their own words—and reminds us, as audience members, to listen.

WEST COAST SPOTLIGHT: Carlsbad Music Festival

by Maggie Stapleton

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

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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

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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

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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.