ALBUM REVIEW: Sound from the Bench by Ted Hearne

by Maggie Molloy

If U.S. politics is all just a puppet show, then who’s pulling the strings?

The Crossing. Photo by Becky Oehler.

That’s the big question behind Ted Hearne’s probing new choral work, “Sound from the Bench.” The sprawling 40-minute political cantata casts corporations as the grand puppeteers: after the Supreme Court’s controversial Citizens United decision back in 2010, businesses and the multimillionaires who run them were free to funnel their corporate money into politics—and to directly influence the course of history.

But of course, the answer is not so simple. In fact, court decisions like this one merely raise a myriad of other questions—questions of power, privilege, politics, and perspective.

Ted Hearne. Photo by Nathan Lee Bush.

“Sound from the Bench” is the title track and centerpiece of Hearne’s new album, a collection of four choral works which examine many of those unanswerable questions. Performed (and co-commissioned) by Philadelphia’s contemporary chamber choir the Crossing under the artistic direction of Donald Nally, the four featured works delve into the depths of our current political climate, stitching together historical political texts and haunting literature in gripping musical settings.

The title track, for instance, combines text from landmark Supreme Court cases with words from ventriloquism textbooks and poetry from Jena Osman’s Corporate Relations, a collection which explores the history of corporate personhood in the U.S.

Scored for choir with two electric guitars and percussion, the five-movement work is a kaleidoscope of influences: ethereal choral polyphony, infectious rock grooves, dense harmonies, and dramatic utterances color the dry legal language of Citizens United—reminding us of the humanity at stake in these formal and detached court documents. The manic fantasia boomerangs between conventional choral settings and heavily distorted rock riffs in a fiery exploration of opposites: individual vs. corporation, man vs. machine, and puppet vs. puppeteer.

“Guitars are loud and they can growl menacingly,” Donald Nally said of the work. “Machines can always speak louder than individuals—even louder than a whole lot of individuals combined into a unified voice. Drums keep beats, but the beat that you hear may not be trusted. And harmony tells stories.”

Donald Nally. Photo by Becky Oehlers.

Another story is at stake in the album’s opening track, “Consent” for 16 unaccompanied voices. The haunting motet takes its text from love letters, religious wedding rites, and text messages used as evidence in the 2013 Steubenville Rape Trial. The piece begins with tense breathing in the soprano and alto parts, deeply contrasted against obsessive advances in the tenor and bass. But as the work progresses, the women begin to sing—and yet the men still do not listen. The drama climaxes in a chaotic clash of voices and ends with sweet choral harmonies singing the Catholic wedding phrase, “Who gives this woman?”, leaving us to reflect on how, even in the 21st century, our society still conditions us to treat women as property.

“Ripple” for unaccompanied choir uses simple, sweet harmonies to underscore another type of discord: America’s blissful ignorance. The piece ruminates on a single, haunting sentence of the Iraq War Logs across eight short, continuous movements—each becoming progressively more introspective with the quiet and overwhelming realization of the tragedy at hand.

The album closes with “Privilege,” a collection of five short pieces exploring generational privilege, the deep class divide, and the unjust erasure of the poor.  The movements shift between clashing perspectives: Hearne’s own personal reflections, Bill Moyer’s 2009 interview with The Wire creator David Simon, and an English translation of an anti-Apartheid song from South Africa. Hearne spins the listener through a dizzying maze of musical styles, sporadically shifting between densely harmonized, mechanical rhythms and airy, organic melodic lines: a musical representation of our search for meaning in an ever-shifting media landscape.

Photo by Becky Oehlers.

“Hearne’s work is fundamentally about asking questions—questions about the world we live in, about art, and about language and music,” Nally said. “He asks questions that don’t have easy answers, and his art makes artistic demands that are not easily reached.”

Yet the Crossing reaches every single note on this album, shifting effortlessly from warm, immersive harmonies to disembodied and detached percussive textures when the music and libretto call for it. Each court case, war log, letter, and poem comes alive through the choir’s stunning vocal precision, balance, and depth—and the result is a visceral and deeply moving mosaic of the horrors of modern America.

It’s a story that couldn’t be told quite so compellingly in any other musical medium: choral music in itself represents community, harmony, and humanity. In this album, the Crossing’s voices become all of our voices, blending together to tell both individual and universal stories of our humanity.

Because for all the probing questions Hearne asks with this album, this is perhaps the most central one:

Who has a voice in the U.S.—and more specifically: how do they use it?

ALBUM REVIEW: Unbound by the Jasper String Quartet

by Maggie Molloy

Photo by Dario Acosta.

Over the course of their decade-long career, the Jasper String Quartet has become pretty familiar with the famous quartets of historic masters like Haydn, Beethoven, and even Bartók—so when it came time to record a new album, they decided to look for new musical inspiration a little closer to home.

Unbound is a collection of 21st century works that burst through the boundaries of traditional Western musical styles and forms. The Jaspers—comprised of violinists J Freivogel and Sae Chonabayashi, violist Sam Quintal, and cellist Rachel Henderson Freivogel—explore the furthest reaches of the string quartet repertoire with new works by seven of today’s most dynamic composers.

Featuring compositions by Caroline Shaw, Missy Mazzoli, Annie Gosfield, Judd Greenstein, David Lang, Donnacha Dennehy, and Ted Hearne, the album unfolds as a survey of today’s spectacularly diverse and dynamic string music landscape, each piece stretching the string quartet tradition in new and inventive ways.

The album begins with Caroline Shaw’s tangy and succulent “Valencia,” the video for which we premiered just last week on Second Inversion. The Jaspers bring precision and playfulness to Shaw’s billowing harmonics and bold bow strokes, evoking the brilliant colors and juicy texture of the fresh, flavorful fruit.

Missy Mazzoli’s contribution to the album, by contrast, is a bit more narrative-driven. “Death Valley Junction” is inspired by a small American town of the same name, where a woman named Marta Becket resurrected a crumbling opera house in the late 1960s and went on to perform weekly one-woman shows there for over 40 years. An airy, sparse, desert-inspired soundscape gradually gives way to a wild and exuberant dance, evoking Becket’s colorful imagination and unshakable optimism.

It’s followed by Annie Gosfield’s “The Blue Horse Walks on the Horizon,” a piece she wrote specifically for the Jaspers. Inspired by the surreal radio broadcasts and codes used by European resistance groups during World War II, the piece unfolds through shifting, repetitive figures that evoke the abstract coded messages.

Group dynamics are the key theme behind Judd Greenstein’s contribution to the album. “Four on the Floor” is an energetic, fast-paced work which explores different instrument pairings working with and against one another in constantly changing teams.

Photo by Dario Acosta.

David Lang’s “almost all the time” explores a different type of evolution. The piece begins with a simple cell of a musical idea—what he calls “a little 10 note strand of musical DNA”—but across 18 minutes expands and evolves into a beautiful genetic mutation, each detail carefully crafted under the Jaspers’ fingers.

Donnacha Dennehy’s “Pushpulling” is more elastic in its movements. Frenetic bow strokes speed ever-forward, but are slowly and patiently pulled back to silence each time—pushing and pulling the listener along for the ride.

The album closes with Ted Hearne’s circular “Excerpts from the middle of something,” the first movement of his Law of Mosaics. Unusual in its form, the piece consists of a climactic build-up that, instead of resolving, is simply repeated and revised several times. And yet, each time it is convincing: the Jaspers play each rendition with the explosive energy and enthusiasm of a grand finale.

It’s an exclamation point at the end of the album but also a metaphor, perhaps, for the album’s overarching theme: the string quartet repertoire did not die with Haydn or Beethoven, but is still alive and still evolving to this day.

ALBUM REVIEW: Wild Cities (Francesca Anderegg, violin; Brent Funderburk, piano)

by Brendan Howe

wild citiesAfter Dead Souls
Where O America are you
going in your glorious
automobile, careening
down the highway
toward what crash
in the deep canyon
of the Western Rockies,
or racing the sunset
over the Golden Gate
toward what wild city
jumping with jazz
on the Pacific Ocean! 
-Allen Ginsberg
 

As a sense of disarray and fragmentation mounts in the world of contemporary music, Francesca Anderegg’s Wild Cities delivers a refreshingly optimistic sense of the future, full of adventure and possibility. Anderegg chose the title after reading John Adams’ autobiography, in which the iconic composer reproduced Allen Ginsberg’s words as the epigraph, Beatnik love for the open road blazing through strong and clear. She chose the works of five young American composers, in whom Adams’ minimalism shows significant influence, and who take that minimalist heritage and carry it in their own direction.

francesca aderegg cred dario acosta

Anderegg was fascinated by the way in which all five composers picked up the same musical legacy and drove off into the great unknown, toward those “wild cities” of the future, while maintaining a sense of unity. This unity is reaffirmed through Anderegg’s technically precise yet stirring performance, and by pianist Brent Funderburk’s conscientious accompaniment throughout the album. (Listen along to samples of each track, courtesy of New Focus Recordings)


ryan francis credit umi francisAnderegg and Funderburk open with Ryan Francis’ Remix, a piece that combines elements of various EDM subgenres with classical forms to create a pulsing, hectic relationship between the two instruments. Several times, the violin and piano suddenly shift into much brighter, more expansive landscapes, like a driver suddenly breaking through the edge of a shadowy wood and into the rolling, sun-soaked bluffs beyond. Francis notes that the structure of Remix is “labyrinthine”, and while it is based loosely on the opening violin motif, it just as often takes a life of its own and goes where it pleases – as often happens on a good road trip.

13-108 YSM - SOM - Hannah LashAdjoining, by Hannah Lash, comes from a much more tonally structured framework. Less fraught and more conceptual, the violin and piano beautifully weave around each other and gradually build expectations for what is to come into view – only they are never realized, and the violin simply and quietly ascends into the clouds, leaving adjustment and adaptation up to the listener.

clint needham credit chris robinsonFollowing this ascension into the ether comes Clint Needham’s On the Road: Nothing Behind Me, the first of two movements about the eponymous book’s stylized beauty of the nomadic lifestyle. Funderburk opens the piece with four arpeggiated octaves of F sharp, a theme that continues throughout the first movement and links the piece to the waif-like atmosphere left by Anderegg’s violin in Adjoining. The transition is well executed and seamless, as though Needham is reflecting upon the road taken by Lash as his own.

The transition into Needham’s second movement, On the Road: Everything Ahead of Me, however, is intentionally jarring and chaotic. It effectively contrasts its apparent disorder and excited optimism for the mysteries of the future with the nostalgia and hindsight expressed in the first movement.


ted hearneShifting dreamlike into a new scenario, Ted Hearne’s Nobody’s takes Adams’ minimalism to the backroads of Appalachia, incorporating rhythms and double stop fiddle techniques of the region into his work. Anderegg plays the piece selflessly, paying an esteemed homage to the unique patterns and tones described by Hearne and allowing the listener to fully access the music’s human side.

reinaldo moya cred arthur moellerThe violin and piano duo enters finally into Reinaldo Moya’s Imagined Archipelagos. This five-movement piece begins with themes inspired by Mayan culture and moves, by the closing movement, to a rousing Venezuelan joropo played in unaligned, sparring sketches – sometimes obstinate and commanding, other times buoyant and whimsical.

Moya chose the title Imagined Archipelagos because of the idea that although each island appears separate, they are all connected beneath the water. This concept applies not only to Moya’s work, but also to Anderegg’s album as a whole. With Wild Cities, Anderegg has completed an admirable survey of contemporary American composition, revealing these composers’ stylistic influence by Adams with great skill and panache.

ALBUM REVIEW: Eighth Blackbird’s Hand Eye

by Maggie Molloy

Six composers. Six instrumentalists. Six works of art. Six brand new musical compositions. One evening-length adventure into the exquisite power of art and music.

Eighth Blackbird - Hand Eye

Hand Eye is a collection inspired by a collection. Recorded by the four-time Grammy Award-winning sextet Eighth Blackbird, the album is comprised of six new pieces, each composed by a member of the Sleeping Giant musical collective—and each based on a work of visual art featured in the Maxine and Stuart Frankel Foundation for Art.

In fact, listening through the album is a lot like walking through a museum: each piece its own extraordinary work of art, each with its own distinct colors, creative spark, and inspiration. Perhaps one work’s use of texture catches your eye—or another work’s subject matter, size, shape, or color palette.

Likewise, for Hand Eye some of the composers chose to recreate their chosen artwork aurally, while others responded more broadly to the work’s subject matter, character, themes, or artistic process. And to help bring to life this incredible variance of color, content, and artistic media, each piece on the album highlights the unique talents and timbre of a single instrument from the ensemble.

 

The album begins with a work by Timo Andres titled “Checkered Shade.” Based on the patterned pen-and-ink abstractions of artist Astrid Bowlby, the piece is a labyrinth of tangled strings and circling woodwinds. Gradually the persistent rhythms and aggressive bowings zoom outward until the lines begin to blur, and the black and white turn to softer, slower, and ever-varied shades of grey.

“9.8.08 (Varigated Spirals)” © Astrid Bowlby

“9.8.08 (Varigated Spirals)” by Astrid Bowlby

Andrew Norman’s “Mine, Mime, Meme” explores a different type of musical maze. It was inspired by rAndom International’s installation piece Audience, a modern-day fun house of sorts in which a field of mirrors rotate to follow the movements of any viewer who walks in their midst. In Norman’s musical interpretation, the cellist becomes the equivalent of that viewer. The other five instruments mimic the cello’s musical gestures, innocently enough at first—but as the music progresses, the followers get better and better at predicting the cellist’s next move, eventually consuming him altogether.

“Audience” by rAndom International

“Audience” by rAndom International

Man and machine is the main theme of the next piece, Robert Honstein’s “Conduit.” The piece takes its cue from an interactive sculpture by digital artists Zigelbaum and Coelho titled Six-Forty by Four-Eighty, in which the human body merges with computational process. Honstein recreates this synthesis sonically through bold waves of sounds and electric bursts of color that transport you straight into the computer itself.

“Six-Forty by Four-Eighty” by Zigelbaum + Coelho

“Six-Forty by Four-Eighty” by Zigelbaum + Coelho

Another interactive light sculpture provides the basis for the next piece on the album: Christopher Cerrone’s “South Catalina.” Inspired by rAndom International’s Swarm, an art installation which responds to sounds with a blast of delicately asynchronous lights, Cerrone’s composition features gentle illuminations of sound which twinkle like wind chimes in response to the piano’s heavy steps.

“Swarm Light” by rAndom International

“Swarm Light” by rAndom International

Ted Hearne’s contribution to the album, “By-By Huey,” takes as its basis Robert Arneson’s chilling painting of the same name. It’s a portrait of Tyrone “Double R” Robinson, a member of the Black Guerilla Family who murdered Huey P. Newton, co-founder of the Black Panther Party, in 1989. Like Arneson’s painting, Hearne’s piece is meant to memorialize the self-destructive: jazzy piano motives snarl and growl restlessly forward as the rest of the instruments are forced to follow or be left behind.

By-by Huey © Estate of Robert Arneson/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

“By-By Huey”  by Robert Arneson

A frenzied interlude transitions into the final piece of the album, Jacob Cooper’s “Cast.” Drawing inspiration from Leonardo Drew’s paper casts of everyday objects, Cooper’s composition creates “sonic casts” of individual instrumental gestures—gradually removing the melodic gestures themselves to leave only the empty casts that surrounded them.

“Number 94” by Leonardo Drew

“Number 94” by Leonardo Drew

True, paper casts are a pretty far way from the pen-and-ink abstractions that began the album (though perhaps even farther from the interactive light installations at the center of it), and yet the album feels wholly unified by the precision, momentum, and bold musicality of Eighth Blackbird. Stylistically, each piece stands confidently on its own—but together as an album, the pieces illuminate the endless possibilities when art and music collide.

And as you exit the gallery in stillness and silence, you begin to listen to art in quite a different way than you ever have before.

NEW CONCERT AUDIO: Cellist Ashley Bathgate & Sleeping Giant’s “Bach Unwound” presented by Metropolis Ensemble

by Maggie Stapleton

BachUnwound_v3

The music of J.S. Bach is often described as timeless, and throughout the twentieth century, composers such as Benjamin Britten, George Crumb, and Iannis Xenakis built upon the form established by Bach, expanding the instrument’s technical and sonic capabilities while paying homage to his legacy.

Cellist Ashley Bathgate created a project that gives his music context and relevance in the twenty-first century in collaboration with the Brooklyn-based composer collective Sleeping Giant – Timo Andres, Chris Cerrone, Jacob Cooper, Ted Hearne, Robert Honstein, and Andrew Norman. Each composer wrote one movement of the new suite, basing it loosely on a corresponding movement of their choice from the original Bach suites, but free to use the music as an inspiration for expressing and expanding his personal compositional voice. The new work (given the eponymous title “ASH”) incorporates extended performance techniques, live electronics, and external media resulting in a radical deconstruction and re-imagination of the original music.

We’re pleased to present the world premiere recording of “ASH” inspired by (and interspersed with excerpts from) the Unaccompanied Cello Suites of J.S. Bach, recorded on January 12, 2016 at (le) Poisson Rouge as part of Metropolis Ensemble’s Resident Artist Series. Q&A with Ashley follows.

Maggie Stapleton: What inspired you to embark upon this project?

Ashley Bathgate: This project began with my desire to rediscover Bach’s Cello Suites. The last time I worked on them was during my days as a student. This was long before I became so heavily immersed in new music. I’ve grown in so many ways since then ,and it just felt like the right time to come back to this repertoire. I wanted to also find a way to link my love of contemporary music to this “re-discovery” process. There is plenty of new music for solo cello out there but not a lot that incorporates amplification/electronics and not a lot on the same scale as Bach’s Six Suites. I wanted something epic, and I wanted it to find some tether to a body of work that has been so loved and respected over the years, these compositional masterpieces that allowed the cello to step out as a solo voice beyond its traditional role as a continuo or basso accompaniment. I wanted the past to meet the present in order to show contrast but also to highlight the evolution of music and of this instrument in particular.

MS: Did you have Sleeping Giant in mind as collaborators from the beginning? Have you worked with them (together or individually) before?

AB: Absolutely. The composers of Sleeping Giant and I have a long history together dating back to our time at the Yale University School of Music. They are dear friends. They also happen to be some of the leading composers out there right now. When I thought up this idea, they were the first people who came to mind. I have played a great deal of their music in the past and even commissioned some of them individually. I appreciate how different each of them are in their compositional styles and also how well they work together as this collective to produce lengthier, collaborative compositions. They were the dream team for this project.

MS: Were you involved in the composition process, too? (The “gargantuan email chains and in Google Hangout sessions lasting hours” (NY Times))

AB: (laughs) For better or worse, yes! I think they spared me a lot of back and forth where the actual music writing was concerned, but we were in close contact from start to finish with this project, almost 3 years! Not only skype, email and phone calls but also meeting in person before and after the music had been written. This is the thing I love most about commissioning new music: it’s a privilege to be able to work with living composers (even better when they are your friends) and to be part of their creative process. As a result, the piece feels tailor made for me in many ways and the overall experience is a much richer one, having been a part of its development in that way.

MS:Who came up with the name of the piece, “ASH”? What’s the full story there?

AB: The Sleeping Giants came up with that one. I sign all of my emails “Ash” because I am too lazy to write my entire name out. It’s become a nick name of sorts as a result. But the Giants also felt that this title suggests the image of ashes, as in the ashes of Bach’s music. In various ways they all worked with fragments and transformations of Bach, thus making something new from the “ashes” of Bach’s music and legacy.

MS: We are thrilled to share the audio from this performance with our audience. Do you have other plans to keep the life of this piece going beyond the premiere? More performances? Video productions?

AB: For sure. This is only the beginning. I am touring it a bunch this spring and next season. I’ll be giving the West Coast premiere at Santa Ana Sites on March 12th. I anticipate it will evolve a bit between now and then. There’s a lot of feedback flying around at the moment. The composers have already started making some small changes and I am also tweaking various aspects of the show from the order to the electronic components and how they are executed. It’s exciting actually, now that we have an idea what it all looks and sounds like, to see where we can take it from here. Next step will be a commercial recording and no doubt there will be some music video action on the near horizon!

Sleeping Giant

sleeping_giant_sphere

Sleeping Giant is a collective of six young American composers (clockwise: Timo Andres, Andrew Norman, Jacob Cooper, Christopher Cerrone, Robert Honstein, and Ted Hearne). These “talented guys” (The New Yorker), who are “rapidly gaining notice for their daring innovations, stylistic range and acute attention to instrumental nuance” (WQXR) have composed a diverse body of music that prizes vitality and diversity over a rigid aesthetic. Their works have appeared in concert halls and clubs throughout the US and Europe, from Carnegie Hall and Kennedy Center to Wigmore Hall and the Concertgebouw in performances by the Berlin Philharmonic Foundation, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, the Minnesota Orchestra, the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, New York City Opera, the Jack Quartet, and the New York Youth Symphony.

Current projects include a new evening-length work for eighth blackbird, a two-year Music Alive residency with the Albany Symphony, and a collaborative work for cellist Ashley Bathgate. They have presented sold-out concerts at New York’s (Le) Poisson Rouge, Brooklyn’s Littlefield, and at John Zorn’s The Stone. In 2011, they collaborated on Histories, a Stravinsky-inspired work for Ensemble ACJW and the Deviant Septet commissioned by Carnegie Hall.

Ashley Bathgate

abathgate1
American cellist Ashley Bathgate has been described as an “eloquent new music interpreter”(New York Times) and “a glorious cellist”(The Washington Post) who combines “bittersweet lyricism along with ferocious chops”(New York Magazine). Her “impish ferocity”, “rich tone” and “imaginative phrasing” (New York Times) have made her one of the most sought after performers of her time. The desire to create a dynamic energy exchange with her audience and build upon the ensuing chemistry is a pillar of Bathgate’s philosophy as a performer. Her affinity to dynamism drives Bathgate to venture into previously uncharted areas of ground-breaking sounds and techniques, breaking the mold of a cello’s traditionally perceived voice. Collaborators and fans alike describe her vitality as nothing short of remarkable and magical for all who are involved. Bathgate is a member of the award winning, internationally acclaimed sextet, Bang on a Can All-Stars, and is also a founding member of TwoSense, a duo with pianist Lisa Moore, and Bonjour, a low-strung, percussive quintet with fellow new music mavens Florent Ghys, James Moore, Eleonore Oppenheim and Owen Weaver.

Equally at home in both the concert hall and the rock club, Bathgate focuses on presenting concerts that draw from a wide range of musical genres. Her dedication to performing traditional music is equally matched by her passion to promote new music by today’s composers. That dedication has led her to work with an esteemed list of composers and musicians such as John Adams, Louis Andriessen, Nik Bärtsch, Iva Bittova Martin Bresnick, Don Byron, Jace Clayton, Bryce Dessner (The National), Arnold Dreyblatt, DJ Spooky, Ben Frost, Philip Glass, Michael Gordon, Annie Gosfield, Ann Hamilton, Glenn Kotche (Wilco), David Lang, Lori Lieberman, Meredith Monk, Richard Reed Parry (Arcade Fire), Questlove and The Legendary Roots Crew, Lee Ranaldo (Sonic Youth), Steve Reich, Terry Riley, Trio Mediaeval, Julia Wolfe, Shara Worden (My Brightest Diamond) and Nick Zammuto (The Books).

Bathgate studied at Bard College with Luis Garcia-Renart (B.M.) before continuing her education at Yale University with renowned cellist Aldo Parisot (M.M. & A.D). Originally from Saratoga Springs, NY, Bathgate began her cello studies with the late Rudolf Doblin, principal cellist and assistant music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic in the 1950’s. After his passing, she resumed her tutelage with Ann Alton at Skidmore College. A member of the Empire State Youth Orchestra at the time, Bathgate was also the unprecedented two-time winner of the Lois Lyman Concerto Competition, performing the Saint-Saens and Schumann Cello Concertos with the orchestra at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall. While at Bard College, she was invited to perform both the d’Albert and Barber Cello Concertos with the American Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Leon Botstein and then went on to win Yale University’s Concerto Competition in 2008, performing with the Yale Philharmonia in New Haven’s legendary Woolsey Hall. Bathgate resides in New York City.

ALBUM REVIEW: “The Source” by Ted Hearne

by Maggie Molloy

downloadtedhearne

Ted Hearne – photo by Nathan Lee Bush

Some musicians are inspired by history, literature, nature, art, or even philosophy—but American composer and vocalist Ted Hearne prefers to get his inspiration straight from the source.

The primary source, that is. Never one to shy away from the political, Hearne’s compositions tend to favor preexisting, primary-source texts portraying the tragic, troubled, and otherwise politically-turbulent parts of America’s recent history.

His latest album, aptly titled “The Source,” takes as its basis the Iraq War Logs and Afghan War Diary—two of the biggest leaks in U.S. military history. Hearne matches the massive scope and political significance of these documents by creating a likewise chaotic, dense, passionate, and poignant patchwork of musical maximalism.

 

The album is an oratorio of sorts, based on Private Chelsea Manning (formerly Bradley Manning) and her disclosure of hundreds of thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks in 2010. Manning—who was 22 years old at the time and stationed in Iraq—was reported to the authorities by Adrian Lamo, an online acquaintance and former hacker. Manning had spoken to Lamo about a number of taboo topics, both political and personal: the document leaks, life in the Army, U.S. foreign policy—but also about her personal feelings, her gender identity, and her hopes that her actions would create “worldwide discussion, debates, and reform.”

In 2013, Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison for espionage, theft, and computer fraud, as well as numerous military infractions. Shortly afterward, she made public her transgender status and her intent to transition to a woman.

Suffice it to say, there are countless political, social, cultural, and personal threads woven throughout this historic event—and Hearne explores as many as he can in just over one hour. Scored for five vocalists, interactive auto-tune, electronic processing, and small chamber ensemble, the album features the vocals of Hearne himself along with Mellissa Hughes, Samia Mounts, Isaiah Robinson, and Jonathan Woody. Their voices, auto-tuned and processed in real time, take on an eerily mechanical effect, underscoring the technological aspects of the leaked documents in addition to the political.

Ted Hearne sings a sparse, live version of “Criminal Event” 

Mark Doten provides the chilling patchwork libretto, drawn from various primary-source texts dating from 2005-2010—including the leaked documents, the conversations (both political and personal) between Manning and Lamo, and selections of interviews, radio, social media, and popular music of the period.

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Librettist Mark Doten

The result is an abstracted and completely idiosyncratic musical mashup which exists somewhere between the very separate realms of classical collage, fringe theatre, rock opera, and robotic electronic. Bouncing violently back and forth between a thousand different musical worlds, Hearne explores the full range of human emotion through a fragmented recap of both political and personal wars.

Shards of text and melodic fragments are layered, transformed, and repeated again and again, circling into a frenzied tornado of sound and emotion that refuses to settle down for more than a moment at a time. And while it’s difficult to find communicative meaning amidst of the crescendoing chaos and confusion, the emotions behind the music are perfectly tangible and utterly visceral.

Because ultimately, “The Source” does not tell a linear story—it takes a snapshot of our world, in all its political, social, and cultural complexity. It does not offer up a solution or remedy but rather, it leaves the listener with a whirlwind of reflections and questions that echo long after the oratorio has ended.