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.

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.

LIVE CONCERT SPOTLIGHT: April 23-26

by Maggie Molloy

This week’s eclectic concert calendar is overflowing with river music, graphic scores, marimba music, and more!

Nick Norton, Nat Evans, and John Teske

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Most contemporary composers are not afraid to sprinkle a few unusual sonorities here and there—but few choose to use “wrong notes” as liberally as Los Angeles-based composer Nick Norton. This week, you can hear his piano piece “All the Wrong Notes” in all its erratic glory, performed by pianist Cristina Valdes.

The performance is part of an evening of new music featuring the works of composers John Teske, Nick Norton, and Nat Evans. The program includes performances of composed works for piano and graphic scores for small ensembles—including Teske’s “topographies,” a series of graphic scores which require the musicians to perform using contour maps composed of musical symbols.

As if that’s not adventurous enough, the performance will be preceded by a site-specific listening and tea event created by Seattle-based sound artist and composer Nat Evans. The piece, titled “New Forest,” is created from numerous field recordings of the second growth forests clear cut in the 1940s and 50s, accompanied by records pressed during the same era. Audience members can sip tea as they sit inside of an environment of Chinese ink calligraphic drawings listening to the sounds of the 1940s and 50s.

The performance is this Thursday, April 23 at 7:30 p.m. at the Chapel Performance Space at the Good Shepherd Center in Wallingford.

Joshua Roman Bellingham Recital

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Cellist Joshua Roman is a Seattle star who needs no introduction. He first made music headlines when he became the youngest principal player in Seattle Symphony history at age 22, and since then he has cultivated a remarkably diverse solo career. Most recently, he’s been working as Artistic Director of Seattle Town Hall’s Town Music series, as well as Artistic Advisor for yours truly, Second Inversion.

But this weekend, you can see Roman back on the stage for a special Festival of Music recital performance in Bellingham. He’ll be performing a wide range of virtuosic works, including Henri Dutilleux’s colorful “Trois Strophes sur le nom de Sacher,” Alberto Ginastera’s captivating Puneña No. 2 “Hommage a Paul Sacher,” and J.S. Bach’s classic Cello Suite No. 6 in D Major. Roman will also be performing an original work titled “Riding Light.”

The performance is this Friday, April 24 at 7:30 p.m. at the Western Washington University Performing Arts Center.

Longhouse Media and NW Film Forum Present: “Yakona” Film Screening and Live Performance

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It’s no wonder the sounds of the sea inspired so many Impressionist composers—the lull of rushing water can be inherently musical. And this weekend, you can experience the sights and sounds of the crystal clear waters of the San Marcos River in Texas, all from the comfort of a Seattle movie theatre.

Longhouse Media in partnership with Northwest Film Forum will present a film titled “Yakona” accompanied by a live performance of its musical score by Justin Sherburn. The word “yakona” means “rising water” in the language of the indigenous people of the San Marcos River, and the impressionistic film is a visual (and aural) journey through the waters of the river from prehistoric times through the modern era—all from the perspective of the river itself.

Performances are this Friday, April 24 and Saturday, April 25 at Northwest Film Forum on Capitol Hill at 7 p.m. Both the filmmaker and composer will be present, and there will be a free public reception both evenings at 6 p.m. in the lobby.

Inverted Space Presents Washington Composer’s Forum Commission Concert

11169760_936145579771368_8303959025926708823_oThe cream of the musical crop are coming together this weekend at the Washington Composer’s Forum Commission Concert. The University of Washington’s contemporary music ensemble Inverted Space will be performing works by the five winners of the recent Washington Composer’s Forum call for scores competition.

The program includes the methodical music of composer Scott Rubin, the eclectic soundscapes of composer and sound designer Nick Vasallo, the instrumental and electroacoustic creations of composer Onur Dülger, the melodic musings of composer Michal Raymond Massoud, and the mixed-media melodrama of composer and conductor Whitney George.

The performance is this Friday, April 24 at 7:30 p.m. at Brechemin Auditorium at the University of Washington School of Music.

Washington State Percussive Arts Society’s Day of Percussion

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Sometimes you get stuck in the rhythm of the daily work grind and forget to take time to experience new and exciting music. This weekend, escape the humdrum of your sluggish Sunday with a trip to Washington State Percussive Arts Society’s Day of Percussion.

 

The all-day event features masterclasses, clinics, performances, prizes, and play-alongs with a pretty impressive collection of percussion pros. They’ll teach you everything you need to know about pit and theater percussion, marching drumlines, marimba music, Ghanaian drumming, graphic scores, and even timpani mallet-wrapping. Among the festival’s many performers are the Seattle Seahawks Blue Thunder Drumline, for the 12th Man among you.

Day of Percussion is this Sunday, April 26 at University of Washington’s Meany Hall from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. For a full schedule of events, check out the Washington State Percussive Arts Society website.