STAFF PICKS: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from their playlist. Tune in during the indicated hours below on Friday, January 20 to hear these pieces. In the meantime, you’ll hear other great new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre 24/7!

David P. Jones: Music for South Africa (Caballito Negro)

For many living in the United States, this past week has felt like a lit fuse. Today, protests & rallies will explode all over the country as marginalized groups and their allies rebuke violence, advocate for social justice, and work together from every corner of the nation to make a statement of unity. Seems like a good time for some “music of hope,” which is how David P. Jones describes Music for South Africa. In this piece, Jones took inspiration from the struggle against apartheid and drew from traditional South African music to create a percussion-heavy composition akin to the sounds of Johannesburg night-club jazz. Whether or not you participate in a mass movement, let Music for South Africa encourage thoughts of hope and expressions of your limitless potential. – Rachele Hales

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 2pm hour today to hear this piece.


Joseph Byrd: Prelude to “The Mystery Cheese Ball” American Contemporary Music Ensemble (New World)

ACME’s album exploring Joseph Byrd’s work in NYC from 1960-1963 has some interesting sounds, not least of which is the final track. This experimental work for balloon ensemble serves as the prelude to a chamber opera that was performed at Yoko Ono’s loft in the spring of 1961 (with Ono as one of the performers). There is no score, rather only a sort of oral history of the event to follow: each performer is instructed to allow air to escape their balloon, creating different pitches by stretching the neck in different ways. It results in an improvised crowd of squeaks and whines, and it goes for some time – maybe the balloons are pretty big in this recording. Some combine together to almost form a melody, but not quite. It’s a good bit nose-thumbing anti-music, with a hilariously abrupt ending as the last bit of air escapes. – Geoffrey Larson

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 2pm hour today to hear this piece.


Madeleine Cocolas: If Wisdom Fails (Futuresequence) 

A distillation of her “track-a-week-for-52-weeks” composition project, Cocolas’s album Cascadia was written after the composer relocated from Australia to Seattle.  Lately, my ever-deepening connections to the Seattle area have been an indispensable source of solace, and those feeling were brought back to the surface by If Wisdom Fails.  Seattle’s The Stranger newspaper called this album “cathartic;” I wholeheartedly agree. – Seth Tompkins

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 5pm hour today to hear this piece.


Matt Marks: The Little Death, Vol. 1 (New Amsterdam Records)

Matt Marks’ The Little Death, Vol. 1 is a classic tale of boy meets girl—except for instead of the familiar happily-ever-after ending, the boy and girl take a romantic ride through the world of Fundamentalist Evangelism, struggling to cope with their religion-prescribed repressed sexuality in the 21st century.

Performed by Marks and Mellissa Hughes, the post-Christian nihilist pop opera features 11 provocatively-titled chapters which detail the extraordinarily convoluted relationship between religion and sexuality using surprisingly modest means: Marks self-produced the album using only a couple microphones and a laptop running Ableton Live.

The ambitious two-character theatrical work draws on sampled material from Marks’ own collection of 1970s gospel, hip-hop, and soul albums, crafting surprisingly catchy tunes that fuse hypnotic pop hooks with satirical lyrics and apocalyptic Christian imagery. It’s definitely not your traditional church service—but it’s a surprisingly spiritual experience.
Maggie Molloy

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 7pm hour today to hear an excerpt from this recording.

ALBUM REVIEW: The Debussy Effect from Kathleen Supové

by Maggie Molloy

Debussy’s music has a certain effect on people—a quiet way of enveloping the listener in its chromatic waves and cloudy washes of color. It’s a captivation that is difficult to put into words exactly; it’s almost as though his music softens the surrounding world and transports its listener into a hazy memory.

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New York-based pianist and performance artist Kathleen Supové explores our collective fascination with Debussy in her newest album, The Debussy Effect. No stranger to new music, Supové has carved out a name for herself in New York and far beyond as an artist who is continuously pushing the boundaries of creation, composition, and even costume in classical music.

Perhaps best known for her performing enterprise the Exploding Piano, Supové’s performances consistently feature cutting-edge new music paired with electronics, video, costumes and theatrical elements, visuals, speaking, and even choreography. The Debussy Effect, though perhaps more introspective and impressionistic in nature, boasts every bit as much personality.

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For this two-disc album Supové enlisted the talents of six composers to create brand new works inspired by Debussy and written for solo piano or piano with electronics. The resulting music spans the gamut from Gamelan to ragtime, bowed piano to ambient atmospheres, musique concrète to sound paintings, a sprinkle of stride piano—and a whole lot of sparkling virtuosity.

 

The album opens with Joan La Barbara’s “Storefront Diva, A Dreamscape,” inspired not only by Debussy but also by journals of artist and sculptor Joseph Cornell. Scored for piano and sonic atmosphere, the piece unfolds like an oceanfront dream, the hazy piano melodies twinkling amidst a tangle of bells, breath, chirping birds, ocean waves, Tibetan cymbals, and surreal storm clouds. Short flurries of bowed and plucked piano string embellishments blend the raw timbres of the piano right into the natural world around it.

It’s followed by a more cinematic (but no less dreamlike) take on Debussy: Matt Marks’ “Dr. Gradus vs. Rev. Powell.” The piece is a duel, of sorts, between Debussy’s virtuosic “Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum” and the 1955 film noir The Night of the Hunter. Lofty piano melodies dance amidst patches of Debussy’s harmonies and time-stretched clips of Robert Mitchum with Lillian Gish singing “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.”

Eric Kenneth Malcolm Clark’s “Layerings 3” evokes the living, breathing nature of Debussy’s works: the piece layers a number of different recordings of Supové performing and interpreting the piece in full—and never the same way twice. When superimposed on one another, these distinctive recordings blend into an entire kaleidoscope of sound, the piano melodies ringing and reverberating in ever-changing harmonies and rhythmic textures.

Randall Woolf’s “What Remains of a Rembrandt” explores the elusiveness of Debussy’s music—the way it floats dreamily from one idea to the next, drawing from sources as wide-ranging as Indonesian Gamelan, early jazz, and in this case, ambient electronica. Supové’s nimble fingers dance up and down the piano keyboard in gorgeous washes of sound which valiantly defy all traditional Western notions of structure and musical form.

An electroacoustic storm gathers in Annie Gosfield’s four-movement “Shattered Apparitions of the Western Wind,” a piece which combines fragments of Debussy’s dramatic piano prelude “What the West Wind Saw” with musique concrète recordings of Hurricane Sandy, which struck New York while Gosfield was composing the work. The two sound sources are intertwined and electronically morphed, creating an eerie soundscape that oscillates between tumultuous winds and ghostly silences.

Daniel Felsenfeld’s “Cakewalking (Sorry Claude)” takes a more lighthearted approach: in three short movements he deconstructs Debussy’s famous Children’s Corner classic, “Golliwog’s Cakewalk,” and turns it into a brand new swirling, twirling jazz tune with cheeky references to the original.

The album draws to a close with Jacob Cooper’s “La plus que plus que lente,” a twinkling dreamscape which incorporates time-stretched fragments of Debussy’s dazzling waltz “La plus que lente.” Supové’s fingers glide effortlessly across the densely textured piano melodies, each note sparkling like a star amidst a glittering night sky.

In fact, the whole album glistens. Supové brings personality, precision, charisma, and boundless creativity to each work, crafting a distinctly 21st century dialogue with the unforgettable work of Debussy. Equally at home in the soothing, calming color washes as she is amidst the stormy, chromatic chaos, Supové pays tribute to Impressionist master while also exploring the furthest reaches of his musical influence.

The effect Debussy has on listeners is difficult to describe—but this pianist just may have put her finger on it.

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ALBUM REVIEW: Alarm Will Sound’s Modernists

by Geoffrey Larson

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The always-adventurous Alarm Will Sound is an ensemble that seems equally hungry for fun as they are for musical innovation. The music on their latest release seems to benefit from an approach that eschews austerity, focusing on what an incredibly good time it is for a virtuosic ensemble like AWS to perform music of such a level of fascination and complexity.

The album is cleverly bookended by contemporary takes on Varèse modernism, beginning with music that started life as a Beatles track, no less. Musique concrète and the avant-garde influenced John Lennon and Paul McCartney in the creation of their experimental track Revolution 9. McCartney was listening to quite a bit of Varèse and Stockhausen at the time, and Yoko Ono’s modernist aesthetic was also a guiding force on Lennon, who said he was trying to paint a picture of a revolution using sound. Although Matt Marks’ arrangement begins with the basic repeated building blocks of the Beatles track (a looping “Number 9” vocal sample and a piano melody), he quickly moves away from what would become an extremely annoying repetition. We are swiftly thrust into a kaleidoscopic world of similar musique concrète-like materials presented with increasing variety: samples of speech and crowd noise, short fragments of abbreviated melody, and instrumental effects that seem to mimic tapes being played backwards. The dark, noir-like feel of the first half of the track seems to veer towards a more chaotic depiction of revolutionary activity, and the ensemble is brought together at the conclusion with unified, purposeful chanting. Whatever one would call this music, it is a fascinating mix of sounds that not only reminds us of the awesome powers of a small chamber ensemble, but also connect the expressive qualities of conventional instruments with the speaking (and yelling) human voice. It is relentlessly striking, and although I am not always a fan of abrupt swerves in approach throughout a short piece, it absolutely is successful here.

In the middle, we experience a more introspective Augusta Reed Thomas, flanked with good old (new?) contemporary music party time. I saw Charles Wuorinen’s Big Spinoff live in 2014, and found the virtuosity and romping rhythms that drive the work to be intoxicating. It’s a work that unmistakably shares some DNA with John Adams’ two chamber symphonies, in all their banging rhythm and cartoonish runs of notes. The percussive, endlessly riffing texture is pretty non-stop with little variation, however, making us ready for something new by the time we get to Augusta Reed Thomas’ Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour. That next track features two texts, the titular Wallace Stevens poem and The Poem that Took the Place of a Mountain by the same author. The English text is spoken and sung, and explores the godliness of artistic creation and imagination, among other things. Without a doubt, we are in the midst of a theatrical experience here, and staging and lighting effects immediately come to mind when we hear the wispy curtain backdrop of instrumental sound. Alarm Will Sound changes gear again in the following track, where disjunct saxophone melodies introduce Wolfgang Rihm’s Will Sound, a technically challenging work written specifically for AWS (duh). It is atonal nearly to the point of serialism, which makes the surprising major and minor chords at the very end that much more neat and quirky. Alarm Will Sound under the direction of Alan Pierson is tremendously well-organized in its technical outbursts, but those startling chords at the conclusion would have had an even more powerful effect if had they been perfectly in tune. Masterful displays of technique abound on the succeeding track as well, as do moments of unsettled intonation. John Orfe’s Journeyman rounds out the core of this album with music that uses some seriously wacky combinations of instruments, seeming to evoke things like a local carnival ride, a Broadway opening, and a train.

At the end of the collection, we get Evan Hause’s ambitious acoustic re-imagining of Edgar Varèse’s Poème électronique. The original is one of Varèse’s most famous works, conceived to be part of an architectural installation by Le Corbusier at the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair. The swooping, beeping, and thumping electronic sounds have been given to the ensemble here, sort of a Poème analogique. We’ve even got a bit of singing, somehow even creepier in this arrangement than the original. Honestly, it’s an amazing arrangement executed to stunning effect by AWS; listening to Varèse’s original, it’s hard to believe that such an interesting musical feat could possibly be successful. Acoustic instruments seem to bring out more shades of character than the all-electronic sounds of the original: the bizarre, schizoid sounds are now somehow augmented with humor and intimacy.

That’s the triumph of AWS’s latest recording in a nutshell: these composers and this ensemble are able to take modernism, with its strange, confusing soundscape, and make it personable and relatable. This kind of music is probably not something you want in your life every day; but when you need it, it’s there, and it’s an amazingly good time.

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Photo credit: Cory Weaver

Staff & Community Picks: July 29

A weekly rundown of the music our staff and listeners are loving lately! Are you interested in contributing some thoughts on your favorite new music albums? Drop us a line!



the_little_death_album_cover_1-1Religion + hormones + hip hop beats = nihilist pop opera.  The Little Death Vol. 1 is boppy, fun & sentimental.  Strong vocals from Mellissa Hughes and Matt Marks’ twisted take on the traditional “boy meets girl” story make this one of my favorite CDs in our music library.  I dare you not to dance to “I Don’t Have Any Fun.” – by Rachele Hales

 

 

 


71GJwJ+HBtL._SY355_If you enjoy Spanish and Latin American music, you’ll find a lot to love in “Andalusian Fantasy,” a collection of pieces written and performed by pianist Lionel Sainsbury. The compositions embrace the darker, more romantic side of traditional Latin music, incorporating a pleasantly crunchy chord just seldom enough to keep things melodic overall. Imagine if tango, Debussy, and Gershwin all met in one album, and you’ll get a sense for Sainsbury’s music. – by Jill Kimball

 

homepage_large.e22fb394I’ve been a huge Arcade Fire fan for years, and I was completely awestruck when this album came out.  The whole idea behind the works on this album – letting the human body dictate the tempi, is one of the most revolutionary concepts I’ve encountered in new music.  I can’t really think of many albums that represent Second Inversion SO WELL – the composer/genre/artist crossover, the musicians on the album – yMusic, Kronos Quartet, Nadia Sirota, Nico Muhly, Aaron and Bryce Dessner – all are revolutionaries in the new music world and helping to create music that completely breaks the mold of classical, despite the instruments they’re playing. – by Maggie Stapleton