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.

CONCERT PREVIEW: The Space Between Us: Q&A with David Jaffe

by Jill Kimball

David Jaffe

What happens when a composer is also a programmer? He creates pieces that are at once surprising, mathematical and superhuman.

In almost all of his work, San Francisco composer David A. Jaffe marries music and math. He’s been experimenting with computer music since the late 1970s, years before most of us owned computers or understood what they were. In what has to be one of the greatest life hacks of all time, Jaffe and fellow composer Andrew Schloss used the sensing mechanism inside a three-dimensional mouse developed at Bell Labs to create a computerized instrument. They called it the radiodrum.

On Saturday, March 5 at Seattle’s Good Shepherd Center, audiences will be able to hear strategically-placed instruments created by Seattle artist Trimpin and controlled by the radiodrum in “The Space Between Us,” a landmark work Jaffe premiered in 2011 that also features eight (human) string players. Also on the program is Jaffe’s “Impossible Animals,” where violin riffs come together with computerized birdsong, Jaffe’s bluegrass-inspired “Cluck Old Hen Variations,” English composer Rebecca Clark’s “Poem,” and Shostakovich’s magnificent String Quartet No. 9. Joining Jaffe and Schloss onstage are the members of the Victoria, B.C.-based Lafayette String Quartet.

In advance of the concert, we chatted with Jaffe to find out how he worked with Schloss and Trimpin to create “The Space Between Us,” how he sits down (or doesn’t) to compose, and how he’s beaten the odds to keep on making music.

Jill Kimball: How was “The Space Between Us” born?

David Jaffe: Several different threads came together to make this piece. The first thread was the radiodrum. For years i’ve been collaborating with Andrew Schloss, who saw the musical potential of that 3-D mouse. If you have a pair of snare sticks, say, you can add wires and make them radio transmitters, each with their own frequency, so the device can know the difference between the two sticks. The drum is a radio receiver, and when you hit the drum with the stick or even just move it above the surface, the sound that comes out is completely up to the composer…it reads anything you code and interprets your gestures however you want it to. 

Another thread was my interest in the work of Trimpin. I love his aesthetic, his nuts-and-bolts funky and sophisticated art. I wanted to work with him on a radiodrum piece for the Other Minds Festival in San Francisco. It was all coming together.

And then, in 2008, my mentor [and Pulitzer Prize-winning spatial composer] Henry Brant passed away. He was one of the first American composers to use space as an essential aspect of his composition—it’s just as important as pitch and rhythm and timbre. He left me a bunch of vintage percussion instruments from all over the world in his will. I went down to his home in Santa Barbara to pick up and ship these instruments. Then as I was at UPS, I had an idea. I called Trimpin and said, “Can I just ship these directly to you?” 

I started working with Trimpin on transforming these vintage percussion instruments into a set of robotic orchestral chimes, a robotic xylophone sawed in half and a robotic glockenspiel. I had previously worked with Andrew Schloss on transforming a Yamaha piano and I included that as well. And I also decided to bring in two string quartets.

JK: Why is the piece called “The Space Between Us”?

DJ: Partially because it’s written in homage to Henry Brant, who was so interested in spatial writing. “The Space Between Us” refers to my relationship with Henry and kind of conveys the idea that he’s gone but somehow still present.

There’s also the element of physical space between instruments. I’ve scattered the instruments all around the hall, which means I couldn’t write music where all the instruments play together—the speed of sound is too slow. The piece has a lot to do with making connections across space. The instruments begin together, wander off and converge again. Because of the location of the instruments, everybody in the audience hears their own piece.

I also thought a lot about the concept of six degrees of separation. Whether it’s true or not, I was interested in the ways people bridge distances between each other and connect.

David Jaffe with Trimpin

David Jaffe with Trimpin.

JK: In this piece, you connect the ideas of two very different composers, Henry Brant and Trimpin. How did you find similarities between them?

DJ: Henry and Trimpin were interested in collaborating, but they never got to do so before Henry died. To me, the collaboration would have made a lot of sense. Brant was not at all a straight-laced academic. He broke a lot of rules, but he was also extremely practical. He worked in Hollywood, and back then he could get whatever instruments he wanted–Four contra-bassoons? No problem!–so he was able to experiment with different combinations of instruments. Trimpin is like that, too. He’s his own artist. And like Brant, he has an attraction to old junk. They both inhabit the same funky, artistic, creative, non-academic, imaginative world. I’d like to believe that i also inhabit that world. In reviews about me, people have said things like, “I don’t know what to make of him, but he’s definitely original.”


JK: It sounds like originality is really important to you.

DJ: It’s sort of the only way, as I see it. It’s hard enough to be a composer. The financial rewards are limited…the only reason to do it is because you absolutely believe in what you’re doing. I want to reach people in my music, but I want to make it accessible without compromising…without making it elevator music. I want to be really clear about what I’m expressing, whether it has to do with birdwatching, kung fu, or the craziness of having two kids under 3.

 

JK: Do you have a composition process? What does it look like?

I have a very definite process, and I can credit Henry Brant for that. When I started composing, I tended to start at the beginning of the piece, with the “once upon a time.” But Brant taught me to think of it like being on an airplane. You start at 39,000 feet, where you look down and see the general layout of the world, and as the plane starts to descend, you see a few more details. Then, finally, when you get to the ground you see each blade of grass.

I usually start by allocating some amount of time for free association, like a week or so. I write everything i have on index cards or a little notebook. It could be inspired by politics, history, looking at books at a bookstore or being in nature. There could also be musical ideas in there, some little riff or motive or orchestration idea or texture. Then—this is the hardest part—I lay all these ideas in front of me and find connections. I throw away things that don’t work. Eventually i start to get the view from 39,000 feet. I can lay out the piece on a single piece of paper. Then I’ll do another version that’s a little more detailed and takes three or four pieces of paper. I look at the part that seems most well defined in my mind and I write the other parts based on that. It’s sort of like Sudoku. 

I don’t know how I’d compose without a structure and schedule like this. I’m usually working on a deadline, and at the same time I have a job doing music software at Universal Audio, so I only have a finite amount of free time.


JK: What’s your biggest musical accomplishment to date?

DJ: That’s like asking me to choose a favorite child, but I do tend to think about my bigger projects when I think about accomplishments. I did a 70-minute concerto for Schloss and his radiodrum, accompanied by an orchestra of plucked strings, where each of the seven movements was about a different wonder of the ancient world. “The Space Between Us,” frankly, is something I’m really proud of.

I think my biggest achievement is that I’m still composing after all these years and following my own musical path. Once I was sitting in a classroom of composers, and Karel Husa told us, “In 20 years, only a fraction of you will still be composing.” I’m happy I’m one of them. Sometimes I think of composing as a curse, because it’s so much work. But if I wasn’t composing, I’d have a huge emptiness in my life. It’s the most rewarding thing I do.

The Space Between Us, for 8 strings, and robotic percussion instruments was supported by New Music USA. To follow the project as it unfolds, visit the project page.

LIVE CONCERT SPOTLIGHT: April 30-May 2

by Maggie Molloy

This week’s sensational concert spotlight has sound sculptures, steelpans, suspended chimes, and oh yeah, a supernatural piano.

Inverted Space Performs Jeff Bowen

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If you like Second Inversion, you’ll love University of Washington’s Inverted Space Ensemble. The local contemporary music group is committed to turning classical music on its head by showcasing diverse new works in adventurous performance spaces and casual concert settings.

This week, you can hear them perform an eclectic collection of new works for chamber ensemble by composer Jeff Bowen. The program includes a variety of pieces featuring imaginative instrumentation, including “what will sound (has already sounded)” for violin and electronics, “Pan, Sinking” for steelpan and 10 instruments, “Stalasso II” for flute, violin, cello, and piano, “Turbulent Field” for bassoon and harp, and a String Quartet.

The performance is this Thursday, April 30 at 7:30 p.m. at the Chapel Performance Space at the Good Shepherd Center in Wallingford.

Seattle Symphony’s [untitled 3]

SSO-Untitled-366

If you think playing piano is impressive, wait until you see international sound sculptor Trimpin’s latest work: a piano that can be played and conducted without even being touched. The Seattle Symphony Music Alive Composer in Residence is being featured in the final indescribable, undefinable [untitled] event of the Seattle Symphony season this weekend.

Like the other events in this casual, late-night series, [untitled 3] will feature musical works by contemporary composers who think outside of the box, off the stage, and beyond the concert hall. This weekend’s event includes the latest premiere from Trimpin, featuring the aforementioned magical piano, suspended chimes, a wandering soprano, and much more!

The event will also celebrate the 100th birthday of the late American composer George Perle by featuring performances of a selection of musical sound worlds from throughout his compositional career.

 

The performance is this Friday, May 1 at 10 p.m. in Benaroya Hall’s Samuel and Althea Stroum Grand Lobby.

Washington Composers Forum: Transport Series

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As 21st century music enthusiasts, we listen to electric guitarists nearly every day. Pop music, rock, jazz—electric guitar is everywhere. But you’ve probably never heard it like this before.

Italian-born guitarist Giacomo Fiore is a contemporary artist with an imaginative sound that reaches far beyond the idiomatic clichés of electric guitar. Currently touring in support of his recent album “iv: american electric guitars,” he is stopping through Seattle this weekend to perform a unique musical program focusing on electric guitar and effects.

The performance, which is put on by the Washington Composers Forum, will also feature Seattle’s own pianist and new music specialist Cristina Valdes performing with composer and pianist Rocco DiPietro. The two will be presenting original works by DiPietro, whose music is often inspired by community issues.

The performance is this Saturday, May 2 at 8 p.m. at the Chapel Performance Space at the Good Shepherd Center in Wallingford.

Portland Cello Project with Rachel Grimes

pcp_up-three

Known for its unique urban culture and diverse arts scene, Portland has no shortage of talented artists—and as it turns out, they have no shortage of talented cellists, either. But you don’t have to travel south to see it; this weekend, you can experience Portland’s rocking cello scene firsthand from the comfort of downtown Seattle.

The Portland Cello Project is a group of cellists with a reputation for mixing musical genres and blurring the lines between classical and popular music. Their wide-ranging musical repertoire has something for everyone, from the cello-loving classical music buffs to the head-nodding indie rockers. They’ll be joined by pianist Rachel Grimes of the minimalist chamber music group Rachel’s.

Performances are this Saturday, May 2 at the Triple Door at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m.