Musical Chairs: Leanna Keith on Classical KING FM

by Maggie Molloy

Leanna Keith is not your average flutist.

Sure, she can breathe beautiful, delicate melodies through her instrument—but she can also speak into it, sing, hum, or beatbox through it, clatter its keys, bend its pitches, make its melodies vibrate, flutter, shimmer, and soar.

Keith is a flutist and composer specializing in contemporary classical and experimental sounds. She explores the furthest reaches of her instrument’s range, both in music and in performance. On any given evening in Seattle you might catch her performing in new music ensembles ranging from the experimental chamber troupe Kin of the Moon to the Japanese drumming collective Dekoboko Taiko. Next Friday, she’s performing Nicole Lizée’s etudes for glitch film on a concert with pianist Jesse Myers.

And this Friday, Oct. 19 at 7pm PT, she’s in the Classical KING FM studios as the special guest on Musical Chairs with Mike Brooks, where she will share a handful of her favorite recordings from across her musical career, plus details about her upcoming performances.

Tune in at 98.1 FM, listen through our free mobile app, or click here to stream the interview online from anywhere in the world!

Seattle New Music Happy Hour: Friday, Oct. 19 at 5:30pm

by Maggie Molloy

Cruise into your weekend with a cold beer and warm company at our next Seattle New Music Happy Hour!

Join us Friday, October 19 at 5:30pm at T.S. McHugh’s for a happy hour co-hosted by Second Inversion and the Live Music Project. 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.

Musical Chairs: Maggie Molloy on Classical KING FM

Maggie Molloy likes listening to strange music. Lucky for her, she gets to do it for a living.

Since joining the Second Inversion team in 2014, Maggie has written over 300 articles on new, experimental, avant-garde, and otherwise unconventional music. In her current role as Second Inversion Editor, she curates our music library and programs all of the music you hear on our 24/7 online stream—and she also serves as an on-air host.

This Friday, Maggie is the guest on Classical KING FM’s Musical Chairs with Mike Brooks, where she will share just a handful of her favorite recordings from across her musical career. She’ll share memories from her week as a journalist covering the Bang on a Can Summer Festival, her summer spent studying experimental music composition at the IRCAM in Paris, her performances at the John Cage Musicircus and the Harry Partch Festival, her big break into the world of radio, and the composers who left her starstruck.

Musical Chairs airs this Friday, Oct. 12 at 7pm PT on Classical KING FM. Tune in at 98.1 FM, listen through our free mobile app, or click here to stream the interview online from anywhere in the world!

Late Nights in the Lobby: Seattle Symphony’s [untitled] Season

by Maggie Molloy

On just a handful of Friday nights each year, an intimate crowd of curious listeners gathers in the Grand Lobby of Benaroya Hall for concerts that are not confined by time period or tradition—or even titles, for that matter.

Now in its seventh season, the Seattle Symphony’s [untitled] series presents contemporary and experimental chamber works in a late-night, no intermission concert setting. Performances are held in the lobby, the musicians and audiences framed by floor-to-ceiling windows that look out across the sparkling lights of the city.

On any given [untitled] evening, you might hear music ranging from an Andy Warhol “popera” to Russian avant-folk songs, immersive arctic soundscapes, or even a piano that plays itself. This season, you can hear the icy windstorms of Hans Abrahamsen, the modernist masterworks of Pierre Boulez and Luciano Berio, and the reorchestrated love songs of Reinbert de Leeuw.

[untitled] 1: Hans Abrahamsen
Friday, October 19, 2017 | 10pm

The sparse sound world of Hans Abrahamsen’s Schnee builds and melts like a haunting snowfall. Whispering winds, ghostly canons, and shifting timbres coalesce into a meditation on time itself, the music moving at once forward and backward, swirling through chilling storms before evaporating into an eerie and unsettling silence. Thomas Dausgaard conducts.


[untitled] 2: Pierre Boulez and Luciano Berio
Friday, March 22, 2018 | 10pm

Three pianos, three harps, three percussionists, and approximately three zillion notes comprise Pierre Boulez’s restlessly virtuosic Sur Incises. The chaotic colors of his 40-minute musical frenzy are balanced against the haunting dreamland of Luciano Berio’s Circles, a dramatic setting of three poems by E. E. Cummings. Soprano Maria Männistö sings the tempestuous role originally written for Berio’s wife, Cathy Berberian, with Ludovic Morlot conducting.


[untitled] 3: Reinbert de Leeuw
Friday, June 7, 2018 | 10pm

The elegant songs of Schubert and Schumann are reimagined with the rawness of early 20th century cabaret in Reinbert de Leeuw’s pastiche song cycle Im wunderschönen Monat Mai. Its title taken from the opening line of Schumann’s beloved Dichterliebe, the piece transforms Romantic lieder into 20th century melodrama—passionate, theatrical, and uninhibited. Sarah Ioannides conducts this riveting cabaret starring soprano Maria Männistö.


For tickets and more information on the Seattle Symphony’s [untitled] series, please click here.

VIDEO PREMIERE: Ethan Boxley’s ‘Fugitive’ ft. Wick Simmons

by Maggie Molloy

Classical music and EDM have more in common than you might think: repetitive structures, contrasting sections, dramatic climaxes—a sense of pulse.

Composer Ethan Boxley explores the shared elements of these two seemingly opposite genres in his new piece Fugitive. Scored for multi-track cello and electronics, the piece is structured like a fugue but breaks free of classical confines to incorporate the visceral energy of electronic music.

We are thrilled to premiere a brand new video of cellist Wick Simmons performing Fugitive, with a special appearance by the Boomshaka drum crew.

Learn more about Fugitive in our interview with Simmons below.

Second Inversion: This piece merges elements of electronic dance music with classical performance. What are some of the unexpected similarities between these two seemingly opposite genres?

Wick Simmons: I would say that both genres are motivic in their melody, rhythm, and groove. They are also both fixed on tension and release. I think that is a super real similarity. After all, what is the logic of functional harmony if there’s no delayed gratification of resolution? Classical music cycles through sections with cadences, and EDM exhibits that same pattern through what is commonly referred to as “the drop.”

SI: Fugitive was originally composed for electronics—what were some of the unique challenges of bringing it to life on cello?

WS: Yes and I should note that the piece was actually written with only an app on Ethan’s mobile phone! This made figuring out what was physically possible on the cello pretty interesting—in combinations of various double stops, interval leaps, or repetitive runs. Of course these are not always the most conventional in practice. 

SI: What is the meaning behind the title and how does it shape your performance?

WS: Ethan describes the piece as “an attempt to combine the musical material of a relatively obscure 17th century ricercar with the formal elements of electronic dance music.” Naming it Fugitive was a play on the word “fugue,” and stands as a nod to the style of a piece that exists between these two worlds. The visual contrasts of the video depict a clash between the old and new. A person playing multi-track cello trying to break out of a cage against a masked army of trash can drummers pumping a dynamic, continually changing electronic beat. The fugitive.

Mark Abel Gains Perspective with ‘Time and Distance’

by Dacia Clay

Composer Mark Abel has been a lot of things in his life: a classical musician, a denizen of the post-punk music scene in New York in the late ’70s and early ’80s, a newspaper journalist, and a classical musician and composer again. All of these things have a home in his creative glossary. As with much of Abel’s music, his latest album, Time and Distance, uses the centuries-old vehicle of art song to engage with contemporary issues—both the global and the personal.

In this interview, I speak with Mark about what art song is, why it’s his musical form of choice, and what he’s doing to bring it into the 21st century. We also talk about the pieces on his new album which deal with everything from Medusa and the #MeToo movement to his own personal “disgruntlements,” and his first go at making a music video.

Plus, check out his music video for “Those Who Loved Medusa” below:

Phill Niblock at 85: Austere, Unpopular, Astounding Minimalism

by Michael Schell

Phill Niblock via Festival Mixtur Barcelona.

As a throng of third generation minimalist composers rides the movement’s most fashionable waves, an intrepid handful of the genre’s pioneers continue to sustain it in its original, unalloyed and uncompromising form. Phill Niblock, who turns 85 today, is one of those pioneers. His austere music and sense-saturating intermedia performances are as powerful today as they were at their inception half a century ago.

Niblock’s path to new music was an unusual one. He studied economics at Indiana University, then worked as a photographer and cinematographer for dancers and jazz musicians. His 1966 film of Sun Ra and his Solar Arkestra is a classic of its kind. As Niblock became more involved in the New York arts scene, he outfitted his loft in downtown Manhattan as a studio and performance space that soon became one of North America’s most important venues for avant-garde music and intermedia—a distinction it still holds today, over 1000 events later.

Niblock contemplating his creation myth (photo JJ Murphy).

While this was going on, Niblock, following a path established by La Monte Young (the father of drone music and godfather of the more rhythmically active minimalism practiced by Reich and Glass), began to develop his own variety of drone minimalism. A formative experience came while riding a motorcycle up a Carolina grade behind a slow-moving diesel truck:

Both of our throttles were very open…Soon, the revolutions of our respective engines came to a nearly harmonic coincidence. But not quite. The strong physical presence of the beats resulting from the two engines running at slightly different frequencies put me in such a trance that I nearly rode off the side of the mountain.

In 1968 Niblock unveiled the result of this epiphany, a style of music built from overlapping layers of sustained instrumental tones, usually multitracked recordings of the same instrument playing closely spaced pitches. There’s no melody, no change of dynamics and no pulse—the close, microtonal intervals create their own beats. What distinguishes his music from that of Young, Terry Riley, Pauline Oliveros and all the other minimalist composers of his generation, is his consistent emphasis on tight, dissonant harmonies.

Early Winter, from 1993, is a typical specimen. Its 44 minutes feature the Soldier String Quartet, two flutists and 38 channels of recorded sound. It starts on an E♮ drone in octaves, with microtonal neighbor tones entering on either side. These intervals increase to minor and major seconds, and gradually the central drone shifts down to D♮ by the end of the piece. The bright instrumental timbres coupled with the dense texture create clashing high-frequency overtones, and this music is best heard with large loudspeakers powerful enough to fill the listening space.

Even the album covers are minimalist.

The arc of Niblock’s career has been as relentless as this one piece. He has continued to make new work, along the way transitioning from analog tape to digital recording to laptop-based tools. But each new composition is an additional data point along an unbroken line. His oeuvre shows no discontinuities, no sudden breakthroughs, no abrupt shifts in style or aesthetics. Individual pieces differ in their details and their range of timbres, but they all inhabit a shared space that allows them to be chained or even superimposed.

Thus, choosing a favorite Niblock composition often comes down to instrumentation. For sleep time I enjoy the clear tones and natural breath sounds of Winterbloom Toos multitracked bass flutes: an enveloping aural blanket without sudden sounds or other distractions. For more intensity, there’s the strident soundscape of Niblock’s Hurdy Gurdy piece. In between is Sweet Potato with Carol Robinson playing a variety of clarinets. Sethwork features an acoustic guitar played with an EBow (a handheld gadget that magnetically stimulates metal-wound strings—it’s normally used with electric guitars). This creates auxiliary buzzes, a cloud of insectoid artifacts that in a Niblockian context seems practically melodic. For hard core listeners, there’s the mammoth Pan Fried 70 (the number is the length in minutes), whose sole sound source is the rubbing of nylon threads attached to piano strings.

The full Niblock effect, though, comes only to those lucky enough to attend a live performance. Most legendary are the annual six-hour winter solstice concerts at his loft that were long a Mecca for the Downtown new music cadre (they still take place, but at Roulette). At their core is an uninterrupted stream of music delivered in loud quadraphonic sound, often enhanced by an ambulatory musician who wanders through the space, doubling pitches from the prerecorded tracks while standing alongside individual audience members.

Accompanying this are several channels of silent video and projected film usually featuring long takes of repetitive human manual labor gathered by Niblock during his travels to dozens of countries all over the world. The movies are minimalistic in their own way, focusing on atomized movement—hands reaching into the frame, the camera moving only to follow the subject—and lacking such traditional cinematic devices as cutaways and reaction shots. In effect, they’re as devoid of gesture as the music is. And just as the music’s rhythm is mainly limited to the natural acoustic interactions of the multitracked sounds, the cinematic rhythms are likewise limited to the intrinsic motion in the shots themselves. You can see an excerpt from Niblock’s film China combined with Early Winter above, and a glimpse of a typical live Niblock intermedia presentation can be seen in this performance preview from the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit.

With Joan La Barbara in 1975.

As a concert producer, Niblock has had a personal impact on literally hundreds of musicians. As a composer, his influence is prominent in the music of his contemporary Éliane Radigue, several members of the next generation (including Glenn Branca, Rhys Chatham and Lois V. Vierk), and a multitude of still younger musicians raised on newer digital tools that facilitate the creation of static, multilayered music. Recent examples of the latter include Lea Bertucci’s Sustain and Dissolve (with its multitracked detuned saxophone drones) and Jordan Nobles’ Deep Breath (for multitracked, slowed down flutes).

Today’s conference centers and dance clubs love to tout their “immersive” facilities, equipped with splashy video walls aiming high-tech wallpaper at the attending retinas to the 360° accompaniment of beat-driven consonance. The intent of this encirclement is, ironically, to drive everyone’s attention in the same direction. Meanwhile, in a far less pretentious building on New York’s Centre Street, there remains at least one steadfast practitioner of an art that is likewise immersive but sincere, fueled by an admiration for the complexity of raw sound and a respect for the cycles of shared human experience. Niblock’s art manages to be of our time, but not of our clichés. It invites each of us to foster a personal relationship with its materials, whether abstract or mundane. It proves that you don’t have to be dazzling to be astounding.

Niblock at his loft with Shelley Hirsch (seated) and Katherine Liberovskaya (photo from the Wall Street Journal).