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.

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.

This Saturday is 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 this 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: Recurrence by Iceland Symphony Orchestra with Daníel Bjarnason

by Maggie Molloy

Iceland is the most sparsely populated country in all of Europe—with a population just half the size of Seattle’s—and yet somehow, it has cultivated one of the biggest, boldest, and most iconic new music scenes of the 21st century.

Exhibit A: the Iceland Symphony Orchestra’s newest album.

Recurrence is a collection of five utterly ethereal works written by a handful of emerging and established Icelandic artists: Anna Thorvaldsdottir, Thurídur Jónsdóttir, Hlynur A. Vilmarsson, María Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir, and Daníel Bjarnason, who also serves as the orchestra’s conductor and Artist-in-Residence on the album.

It’s a lineup that is emblematic of Iceland’s radiant new music scene, known for its massive, slow-moving sound sculptures illuminated with delicate instrumental details. Each piece on the album is a gorgeously abstracted soundscape in itself, showcasing the small Nordic island’s all but unparalleled explorations of texture, timbre, and immersive, atmospheric colors in music.

The album begins with Thurídur Jónsdóttir’s surging “Flow & Fusion,” a sparkling sound mass for orchestra and electronics—but here’s the twist: the electronics are all derived from recordings of the actual instruments of the orchestra, creating a kaleidoscopic aural effect that plays off the concert hall’s acoustics. The sonic seascape ebbs and flows across the entire orchestra, swelling in glorious waves of sound and evaporating back into near-silence.

It’s followed by Hlynur A. Vilmarsson’s sprawling “BD,” which gradually transforms from an amorphous blur of low-pitched vibrations into a rhythmic, tightly-constructed sound off of nearly every distinctive timbre and extended playing technique in the orchestra. Muliphonics, glissandos, prepared piano, vertical bowing, harmonic overtones, and nontraditional percussion instruments all make an appearance in this playfully orchestrated exploration of the symphonic outer limits.

An entire ocean of sound comes alive in María Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir’s “Aequora,” which takes its name from the Latin word for the calm surface of the sea. Sigfúsdóttir takes the image a step further, emulating the majestic beauty of the sea both under softly glistening sunlight but also under the exquisite lightning of an ominous storm: soft strings and whispering winds evoke the sustained surface of the sea amidst swelling percussion motives and brilliantly colored washes of deep brass.

The theatrical climax of the album comes with Daníel Bjarnason’s cinematic three-movement “Emergence,” an aurally arresting exploration of darkness and light. The piece traces the arc of existence from the vast expanse of total darkness to the life-giving warmth of breath, touch, and worldly textures—and all the way out into the luminous, incandescent light of outer space.

The album closes with Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s “Dreaming,” an icy and ethereal illumination of the beauty of utter stillness. Enormous sound masses sparkle with delicate orchestrational nuance in a sound world so stunning that it almost seems to halt time itself.

It’s a reminder, like so many of the works on this album, to be still, to listen—and to dream in shimmering detail.

STAFF PICKS: Friday Faves

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

Valgeir Sigurðsson: “Architecture of Loss: The Crumbling” (Bedroom Community)

Valgeir Sigurðsson’s “Architecture of Loss: The Crumbling” is five minutes of bold, emotive, string-heavy resonance sweetened with silvery piano and sharpened by nearly subliminal scratches and creaks. The music is drawn from the concept of “formation and disintegration,” so the sparse notes and lingering strings serve the theme well. It’s a piece evocative of splintering glaciers: beautiful yet uneasy.
Rachele Hales

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 11m hour today to hear this piece.


Danny Clay: “Two and Six” (Ignition Duo)

Unlike some stuff we play on Second Inversion, Danny Clay’s “Two and Six” is an example of music best experienced in headphones. The interplay of harmonics between the two guitars is more engrossing and intimate in stereo, especially if the audio is piped straight to your brain. So, I advise you to put your cans on and chill out to this introspective conversation between twin electric guitars. Whether you need to focus or relax, this track is an excellent choice. – Seth Tompkins

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


Terry Riley: “Venus in ’94″
Performed by Gloria Cheng (Telarc Records)

He’s one of the world’s foremost boundary-bursting minimalists; she’s a Grammy-winning pianist known for championing new music—it’s a match made in musical heaven. The world premiere recording of Terry Riley’s “Venus in ’94” sparkles under Gloria Cheng’s free-spirited fingers, which gracefully soar up, down, and around an utter obstacle course of intricate voicings and rhythms.

Half waltz, half scherzo, the piece is a delicate but deftly virtuosic lesson in extravagant romanticism—or as Riley himself describes it: “A tip of the hat to early Schoenberg, Chopin, and Brazil.”
Maggie Molloy

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 7pm hour today to hear this piece.

Women in (New) Music: Emissary Quartet Video Premiere and Q&A

by Maggie Molloy

For the Emissary Quartet, new music knows no bounds—geographical or otherwise. Comprised of four flutists living in four different cities around the U.S., the group is dedicated to expanding the flute quartet repertoire by commissioning and performing innovative new works.

Though scattered across the country, flutists Weronika Balewski, Meghan Bennett, Colleen McElroy, and Sarah Shin meet for performances and teaching residencies throughout the year, building a diverse catalogue of new works which explore the dynamic and expressive capabilities of their instrument.

We’re thrilled to premiere their latest project on Second Inversion: a brand new music video for composer Annika Socolofsky’s airy and ethereal “One wish, your honey lips,” shot and edited by Kevin Eikenberg for Four/Ten Media.

The video premiere serves as an exciting preview for the quartet’s upcoming Seattle residency, which takes place April 18-22. Centered around the goal of inspiring young artists to get creative with classical music, the five-day residency features performances and workshops throughout the greater Seattle area.

To find out more, we sat down with Socolofsky and the Emissary Quartet to talk about flutes, feminism, and future projects:

Second Inversion: What was the inspiration behind “One wish, your honey lips”?

Annika Socolofsky: As a vocalist, I have long been obsessed with the nuanced resonance of the human voice, and in particular the timbral variation and inflection inherent to many folk vocal traditions. These highly expressive micro-variations deliver intense pangs of emotion that can be sung in the subtlest of ways. They are distilled, fleeting moments of suffering and joy that fall between the cracks of melody and harmony. This piece is about the music that exists in those cracks between the notes.

SI: What were some of the unique challenges and rewards of writing for this unique instrumentation?

AS: For me, writing for Emissary Quartet was less about the instrumentation, and more about working with four amazing and truly sensitive musicians. I knew I could trust their artistry, so I called for some very demanding and expressive nuance, as well as incessantly delicate shifts in their sound color. That said, the flute quartet repertoire is so heavily based on transcriptions that I wanted to write something that was really, truly for the flute and that explored the instrument’s unique resonance in the same way a singer resides in their own unique voice.

Kristin Kuster, one of my teachers from my days at the University of Michigan, is a huge proponent of the concept of “restrained virtuosity,” a variety of virtuosity that is about detailed and sophisticated artistry, rather than dazzling showmanship. EQ truly understands this sort of musicianship, which made working with them one of the most rewarding experiences of my career thus far.

SI: In what ways (if any) do you feel that being a woman has shaped your experiences as an artist? What advice do you have for other female-identifying artists who are aspiring to creative leadership roles?

AS: I’ve grappled with this question for some time, in large part because I’ve spent my entire life battling with gender norms and expectations. However, that exact fight with gender and sexuality has undeniably shaped my art more than anything else. There are infinite components to an artist’s identity and voice, and every one of them is essential to the process of creation. This is why it’s so important to advocate for oppressed voices in the arts—the more perspectives and stories and voices we can hear from, the better we can understand one another and grow together.

My advice to female-identifying artists who aspire to have a career in the arts is quite simply: you do you. There’s no “right way” to do this stuff, whatever your teachers might say, whoever your textbooks might celebrate. There is only one thing you can do better than anyone else in this world, and that is to be beautifully, unapologetically you.

SI: What do you find most inspiring about this particular piece, and what do you think makes the flute quartet such a compelling genre to explore?

Colleen McElroy (Seattle, WA): This piece feels so natural in many ways, that playing it evokes breathing for me. The beginning comes from nothing, and the combination of multiphonics and soft high notes allow the four of us to blend seamlessly into a single sound. Annika uses so many different flute sounds—traditional tone, harmonics, multiphonics, air sounds— in such an organic way that the flute quartet becomes more like a group of voices expressing a wordless melody rather than four independent instruments.

The flute as a solo instrument has been exploited by countless composers throughout music history. There is substantial literature for the flute in nearly every genre. Solo flute offers vast possibilities in timbre, articulation, dynamics, and many other parameters—and flute quartet offers the same times four! I’d love to see more composers exploring this uncharted territory. There is so much left to discover.

Weronika Balewski (Boston, MA): The complexity of this music manifests itself in subtle tone colors, micro-gestures, and tiny melodic shifts, all in imitation of the human voice. It’s challenging from a technical standpoint, but not in a flashy way. Rather, every note and gesture has nuance and dimension. I also love the simple unison melody, the way we each play it with our own nuances, and how beautiful harmonies and counterpoint emerge as the melody gets repeated and extended.

For most of the flute quartet’s history, people have thought of it as four melodic instruments, or as an ensemble with a very high bass voice. We have a standing invitation to composers to send us radically new ideas about how four flutes could sound together. We have not even begun to exhaust the possibilities. Annika’s piece is a stunning example of one composer’s reimagination of the ensemble—she took a look at the possible sounds we know how to make and put them together in a way that pushed us to the extremes of our playing, creating a new type of sound for the flute quartet.

Meghan Bennett (Austin, TX): I find the intricacy between the parts most unique about this piece. The voices interact in such a way that sometimes it’s hard to pick one voice from another—just when you think one voice is the “melody,” another emerges. 

There is such great diversity in solo flute music, but this diverse range is not often seen in flute quartet repertoire. I think what makes the flute so appealing is that there are so many colors, articulations and extended techniques that serve to really capture audiences’ imaginations. These characteristics haven’t been explored fully in flute quartet music and I think that is what makes it such a compelling genre—there is still so much to discover.

Sarah Shin (New Brunswick, NJ): What I found unique about this piece is how Annika was able to create a homogeneous timbre with the group with the extended techniques. Usually when composers write with extended techniques, it’s for a special effect, but Annika really wrote these techniques in a way that treated them as if they’re normal notes played on the flute. This inspired me to open my mind and think outside of the box with the colors I produce on my instrument.

I think what makes flute quartet so compelling is the textures of sound four flutes can create. Yes, each flutist has their own tone, and flutes can create big and small sounds, but what makes flutes so different is the range of extended techniques they can do. Along with that, when one combines four flute sounds together and they blend well together, it’s a beautiful sound! There’s a richness and shimmer to the flute tone that I believe other woodwinds cannot create, and there is a lush sound to four flutes that is very beautiful.


The Emissary Quartet’s Seattle residency takes place April 18-22 and features collaborations with Seattle Music Partners, the University of Washington Chamber Music Lab and Flute Studios, and more. Click here for a full list of Seattle performances, workshops, and events.

ALBUM REVIEW: The Passionate Pilgrim by Oracle Hysterical and New Vintage Baroque

by Maggie Molloy

The name “W. Shakespeare” reads in bold print on the title page of The Passionate Pilgrim, a poem cycle published right as Shakespeare was beginning to achieve widespread fame in 1599. But there’s a pretty good reason why most people haven’t heard of the anthology: Shakespeare didn’t actually write it.

Or at least, he didn’t write much of it. The 20-poem anthology was compiled and published by a scheming editor named William Jaggard, who got hold of two of Shakespeare’s poems and combined them with 18 other poems by various hands—passing them off as Shakespeare’s to sell more copies.

Suffice it to say, the jig didn’t last long: several of the poems were attributed to other poets during his lifetime, and the anthology was quickly revealed as a desperate marketing ploy.

But now, over four centuries later, that orphaned “Shakespearean” poem cycle finds a new home in a collaborative chamber pop album of the same name by Oracle Hysterical and New Vintage Baroque.

Let’s meet the characters, shall we?

Oracle Hysterical is comprised of four extraordinarily well-read composer-performers: Majel Connery (vocals), Elliot Cole (guitars, vocals, harmonium), and twin brothers Doug Balliett (double bass, viola da gamba) and Brad Balliett (bassoon). “Half band, half book club,” the ensemble combines classical and art-rock musical idioms with exceptional literary breadth, recreating great works of literature through the medium of song.

For this particular project, Oracle Hysterical joins forces with New Vintage Baroque, an adventurous, Julliard-trained period ensemble dedicated to the creation of 21st century repertoire for historical instruments.

Photo by Katrin Albert.

The album unfolds as a song cycle that toes the line between indie rock and Baroque chamber pop, hitting all the major Shakespearean themes of youth, beauty, love, and death along the way.

Tone painting abounds in this collection of modern-day madrigals, which feature Majel Connery and Elliot Cole’s indie vocals floating atop poised, balanced, and beautifully textured Baroque accompaniments. Yet the pieces expand upon the traditional roles of these period instruments, experimenting with low-pitched drones, unexpected instrument pairings, stereo sound, and intricately layered musical textures.

The 14 pieces range from classical chansons to singer-songwriter musical stylings, lilting lullabies to charming folk duets. Witty hooks and buoyant rhythms bring the poetry of Shakespeare’s lesser-known (or in this case, completely unknown) contemporaries clear into the 21st century, drawing connections through the timeless literary themes that have gripped writers for centuries.

But aside from the actual text setting, texture is of paramount concern in these musical arrangements, the counterpoint carefully shaped and articulated with precision, grace, and old world finesse. The result is a song cycle that echoes with the elegant charm of a Baroque dance suite and resonates with historical depth and drama.

It may not be Shakespearebut it’s poetry, through and through.

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.