Mutable Depths: Remembering Matt Shoemaker

by Michael Schell

Second Inversion bids a reluctant farewell to Matt Shoemaker (1974–2017), an admired member of Seattle’s vibrant electronic music scene. A native of the Pacific Northwest whose sensibilities were also formed by extended stays in the Bay Area and Indonesia, Shoemaker plied his craft here for many years, performing with Gamelan Pacifica, presenting “electroacoustic soundscapes” using a laptop and amplified objects, and releasing several solo albums in various formats. His most characteristic music falls under the dark ambient genre: extended pieces built from natural and synthetic sounds woven into a complex and slowly-changing timbral environment.

 

Mutable Depths, available from Bandcamp or as an EP from Ferns Recordings, is my favorite Shoemaker concoction. It begins with the sounds of water and wind, joined by a diverse poltergeist of thumps and creaks. There’s an odd premonition to this combination, as though we’re watching the opening scene of a horror movie. At 3:45 the texture (plot?) thickens to include a continuous crackle that’s soon joined by a squeaky “melody” that seems to be narrating a saga in some sort of extraterrestrial pseudo-avian language. (Shoemaker, like Messiaen, liked to use musical lines that imitate bird calls, and he once spent several weeks in the Amazon recording the songs of tropical birds.)

At 6:00 we start to hear an irregular pounding sound, but it and the squeaky obbligato soon give way to a rich composite texture that’s so typical of dark ambient: static overall, but constantly changing and evolving at the micro level. Whatever strange world has been dialed up is now fully upon us. Feedback sounds begin to come in from various directions, and the crackling sound returns more animated than before. But what might have seemed ominous at first passes over us peacefully. After a while, the feedback drifts away, and by 19:00 most of the bottom has dropped out of the soundscape, leaving the crackle to dissipate alone into the distance.

I enjoy listening to this music at bedtime—beautiful, relaxing, with no distracting drumbeat or isolated loud sounds, it’s a thinking person’s modern lullaby. What sets it apart from most ambient and drone music is the skill and complexity of the sonic layering, and the sense that a narrative is unfolding that’s open-ended enough to accommodate the projections of our own imagination.

You can read more about Shoemaker in memoirs published by The Stranger and Tiny Mix Tapes. And in the deal of the century, one of his record labels, Helen Scarsdale Agency, is offering two of his CDs (Spots in the Sun and Erosion of the Analogous Eye) for only the cost of shipping. Take advantage of this while their stock lasts, and listen to his music with both regret for a career prematurely silenced and gratitude for its highlights that remain available for us to enjoy.

October Concerts You Can’t Miss

by Maggie Molloy

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Second Inversion and the Live Music Project create a monthly calendar featuring contemporary classical, cross-genre, and experimental performances in Seattle, the Eastside, Tacoma, and places in between! 

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Keep an eye out for our this flyer in concert programs and coffee shops around town. Feel free to download, print, and distribute it yourself! If you’d like to be included on this list, submit your event to the Live Music Project at least 6 weeks prior to the event and tag it with “new music.”

October 2017 Concert Flyer

 

Racer Sessions
A weekly showcase of original music with a jam session based on the concepts in the opening presentation.
Every Sunday, 8-10pm, Cafe Racer | FREE

Wayward Music Series
Concerts of contemporary composition, free improvisation, electronic/electroacoustic music, and sonic experiments. This month: saxophone sextets, prepared guitar improvisations, music for speaking pianist, and more.
Various days, 7:30/8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-$15

Philharmonia Northwest: At the Japanese Garden
East meets West in this concert featuring Toru Takemitsu’s Three Film Scores for string orchestra and Kosaku Yamada’s Symphony in F Major, the first symphony ever written by a Japanese composer.
Sun, 10/1, 2:30pm, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church | $15-$20

Tom Baker Quartet: Reunion Show
From 2004-2011 the Tom Baker Quartet performed unusual and avant-garde music across the Northwest and in New York City. Now they reunite for a one-night-only show at the Royal Room in Seattle.
Mon, 10/2, 7:30pm, The Royal Room | Donations

The Esoterics: GRAVITAS
Exploring themes of gravity in music, the Esoterics perform works by Robert Paterson and Steven Stucky alongside three world premieres by the winners of this year’s POLYPHONOS competition.
Fri, 10/6, 8pm, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Laurelhurst| $15-$22
Sat, 10/7, 8pm, Holy Rosary Catholic Church, West Seattle | $15-$22
Sun, 10/8, 7pm, Christ Episcopal Church, Tacoma | $15-$22

STG Presents: Ludovico Einaudi
Known around the world for his chart-topping albums, famous film scores, and genre-crossing live performances, Italian composer and pianist Ludovico Einaudi brings his inimitable piano music to Seattle for an evening at the Moore Theatre.
Sat, 10/7, 8pm, The Moore Theatre | $39-$94

BetaSounds: A First Exploration
Dedicated to bridging the gap between modern audiences and classical music, BetaSounds presents an inaugural coffee shop concert featuring works by Britten, Barber, Bartók, Dvořák, and Ravel.
Mon, 10/9, 6pm, The Conservatory Coffee Shop | $15

SMCO: Music, Poetry, and the Influence of Communities of Color
Seattle Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra examines the search for an American musical identity, exploring the lasting influence of Black music in the classical world. Featuring music by Jessie Montgomery, George Walker, Silvestre Revueltas, and Aaron Copland, plus poetry by Claudia Castro Luna.
Wed, 10/11, 7:30pm, Fremont Abbey | $15-$25
Sun, 10/15, 2pm, Langston Hughs Performing Arts Institute | $15-$25

Seattle Modern Orchestra: In Time of War
Seattle Modern Orchestra presents historic works penned by George Crumb and Julius Eastman in response to the cultural and political turmoil of the 1970s.
Thurs, 10/12, 7:30pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $10-$25

Jesse Myers: The Minimal Piano
Jesse Myers premieres his new piece for solo piano and six-channel soundtrack. Also on the program are minimalist masterpieces by John Adams, Philip Glass, and Steve Reich, plus new works for piano and electronics by Missy Mazzoli and Christopher Cerrone.
Fri, 10/13, 8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-$15

Seattle Symphony: [untitled] 1
This late-night, no-intermission concert brings to life the the dramatically shifting soundscapes of John Adams’ Road Movies paired with the restless momentum and searing imagery of Steve Reich’s Different Trains. All aboard!
Fri, 10/13, 10pm, Benaroya Hall | $16

The Sound Ensemble: Kammermusik
Paul Hindemith’s Kammermusik (German for “chamber music”) is performed alongside eclectic chamber works by Darius Milhaud, Michael Djupstrom, Judd Greenstein, and Seattle-based composer James Falzone.
Sat, 10/14, 7pm, Good Shepherd Center | $5-$15

Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror
F.W. Murnau’s 1922 classic Nosferatu is beloved by horror fans and film buffs alike for its creepy story and stark images. Pianist Rick Friend and members of the Seattle Symphony bring this spine-tingling vampire tale to life as they perform the live score alongside the film.
Tues, 10/17, 7:30pm, Benaroya Hall | $35-$90

NOCCO: Echoes & Dances
The North Corner Chamber Orchestra opens its season with Roupen Shakarian’s Violin Concerto featuring concertmaster Victoria Parker. Works by Prokofiev and Poulenc round out the program.
Sat, 10/21, 2pm, University Christian Church | $25

Music of Today: Intercontinental Experimental Music Ensemble
This rare convergence of world-renowned musicians from four continents features visiting artists collaborating with University of Washington School of Music faculty members in a program of strings, percussion, keyboard, đàn tranh, guzheng, and live electronics.
Wed, 10/25, 7:30pm, Meany Theater | $10-$15

Emerald City Music: Andy Akiho
Brooklyn-based composer and steel pan player Andy Akiho takes over the Emerald City Music stage to curate an exclusive evening of his own compositions alongside the works of Arvo Pärt and Philip Glass.
Fri, 10/27, 8pm, 415 Westlake Ave, Seattle | $45
Sat, 10/28, 7:30pm, The Minnaert Center, Olympia | $10-$43

Sound of Late: Steelworks
Sound of Late presents the West Coast premiere of Anna Clyne’s Steelworks, written for flute, bass clarinet, percussion, and tape recordings from the last steelworks factory in Brooklyn. Plus, works by Sarah Kirkland Snider, Somei Satoh, and more.
Sat, 10/28, 8pm, Flutter Studios | $15

Seattle New Music Happy Hour: Tuesday, September 19 at 5:30pm

by Maggie Molloy

There’s nothing like a cold beer and a crowd of new music enthusiasts to keep you company while you wait out the rush hour traffic.

Join us Tuesday, September 19 at 5:30pm at Queen Anne Beerhall for our favorite after-work pick-me-up: New Music 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.

CONCERT BROADCAST: Gabriel Kahane with Northwest Sinfonietta

by Maggie Molloy

The immortal melodies of Mozart share the stage with the modern musical musings of Gabriel Kahane in tonight’s concert broadcast on Classical KING FM.

Tune in to KING FM online or at 98.1 tonight at 9pm to hear Northwest Sinfonietta perform Mozart’s ethereal Requiem in D Minor alongside Gabriel Kahane’s sprawling Crane Palimpsest, with the singer-songwriter himself center stage. Both performances are conducted by Eric Jacobsen.

Kahane’s eclectic musical language merges with the modernist poetry of Hart Crane in this grooving, musing, pop-meets-classical meditation on New York City.

In the composer’s own words:

Crane Palimpsest is a love letter to New York, in the form of a meditation on the Brooklyn Bridge, juxtaposing settings of stanzas from Hart Crane’s Proem: To Brooklyn Bridge with songs set to my own lyrics in response to Crane’s poem. I’ve literalized the idea of “the bridge” in the sense that two distinct musical vocabularies are in play and cross paths; the first being the more formal language heard in the introduction and first several stanzas of the Crane, the second being the vernacular or pop-based harmonic language in the songs with my own words.

As the piece reaches a kind of peripeteia around the line “O Harp and Altar”, it is as if the two languages, crudely speaking, meet on the bridge and are exchanged: the final song with my own lyrics begins in a dense and dissonant setting before giving way to the final stanzas of the Crane poem which are set in an unapologetically open harmonic atmosphere. 

Want a sneak preview? Check out our in-studio video of Gabriel Kahane performing his Los Angeles-inspired piece “Bradbury (304 Broadway)” with Brooklyn Rider:

 

Seattle New Music Happy Hour: Tuesday, August 15 at 5:30pm

by Maggie Molloy

There’s nothing like a cold beer and a crowd of new music enthusiasts to keep you company while you wait out the rush hour traffic.

Join us Tuesday, August 15 at 5:30pm at Queen Anne Beerhall for our favorite after-work pick-me-up: New Music 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.

Expanding the Piano Keyboard: Jesse Myers on Experimenting with Electronics

by Maggie Molloy

Pianist Jesse Myers. Photo by Lee Goldman.

When it comes to the piano, Jesse Myers likes to think outside the standard keyboard.

Last year, he created an entire percussion orchestra inside his piano for his performances of John Cage’s prepared piano masterpiece, the Sonatas and Interludes. This year, he’s forgoing the screws and bolts in favor of something a little more electric.

On Wednesday, July 12 at the Royal Room, Myers presents Living in America: a concert of solo piano works by living American composers. Urban, adventurous, and uniquely American, the program highlights the groundbreaking work of iconic minimalist composers, as well as brand new 21st century works for acoustic piano and electronics.

The first half of the program features John Adams’ misty and modal China Gates alongside Philip Glass’ half-hypnotic, half-neurotic Mad Rush and a selection of his virtuosic Piano Etudes. The second half showcases music for piano and electronics, including Christopher Cerrone’s 21st century urban nocturne Hoyt-Schermerhorn, Missy Mazzoli’s ethereal Orizzonte, and her swirling fantasia Isabelle Eberhardt Dreams of Pianos. Steve Reich’s pulsing, palindromic Piano Counterpoint finishes the program.

The evening also features a set of rarely-performed music for solo voice with electronics and piano, performed by soprano Stacey Mastrian. She lends her voice to two generations of American composers, ranging from Earle Brown and Morton Feldman to Kristian Twombly and Steve Wanna.

In anticipation of the concert, we sat down with Myers to talk about urban sounds, electronics, and expanding the sonic possibilities of the piano:

Second Inversion: What inspires you most about exploring the expanded possibilities of the piano?

Jesse Myers: Discovery. It’s not that I’m tired of the piano in the traditional sense—it’s really about the two words you just used: exploring and expanding. The Steinway grand is the benchmark of great American craftsmanship, and it has stopped evolving.

While new music is, of course, still being written for the piano, new music that involves electronics is a way for composers to personally contribute to a new sort of evolution of the piano.  I am not sure composers are thinking of their work in that way, but as a pianist and a curator of the repertoire, I can’t help but see their work in that light. 

The great thing about electronics, prepared piano, and extended piano techniques, is that at the end of the day, the good old acoustic grand piano is still there. Akin to the way Cage first prepared the piano with bolts and weather-stripping, the electronics drastically change the sound and our impression of the piano—but in the end it is easily returned to its original form.  

SI: What are some of the unique challenges and rewards of performing music that uses electronics?

JM: It used to be that I could show up and play a concert without any paraphernalia, and that’s nice and all, but I love my ever-expanding bag of tricks. The tinkering that is necessary in the practice of this repertoire, and the ability to perform a wider range of timbres in a solo performance while making use of the venue’s sound system are big payoffs to me. But, yeah, part of the reason I became a musician was so I didn’t have to get a haircut and wake up early—so if I can plug into a sound system and feel like a rock musician for a brief moment, I can feel closer to achieving my lifestyle.

There are certainly a great deal of challenges, and I’m sure that turns some musicians off to exploring music like this for themselves. Technical setups are unique to each piece, with varying arrays of requirements. This means that creating a program takes even more planning and practice to get it right. On top of that, these technical requirements can also make two pieces completely incompatible with each other in a single program.  Electroacoustic music often requires a couple different software applications, an ear piece for click tracks on some fixed electronics, foot pedals for cueing live electronics on more flexible ones, different settings on both hardware and software depending on the piece or venue, etc. 

SI: This program features all American composers—what are some of the overarching themes that connect the music of these composers?

JM: Urban sound.  All of these composers, with the exception of Adams, are living and working in New York right now.  To me, this imprints an unmistakable urban character into their music. There is a relentless activeness in this urban sound which is illustrated most clearly by the minimalist music of Glass and Reich.  The electroacoustic soundscapes of Mazzoli’s music have this wonderful sort of raw grittiness about them, and Cerrone’s work, Hoyt-Schermerhorn, is named after a New York subway station. Cerrone says “…the piece explores the myriad and contradictory feelings that often come to me late at night in my city of choice—nostalgia, anxiety, joy, panic.” There is a beautiful peacefulness among the urban activity in these works.

The electronics are also a theme that connects most of the works. The first half of the program (the Adams and Glass pieces) will have no amplification or use of electronics, while the last half will use an increasing amount of electronics. But there is an electronic connection between the two halves. The program starts with an acoustic piece that references electronic music.  The gates in the title, China Gates, refer to the gating of electronic music.  Adams uses sudden changing modes to mimic gating effects in electronic music. 

Conversely, the end of the program, Reich’s Piano Counterpoint, is an electronic work that references an acoustic one. Reich originally wrote the music for this as a work called Six Pianos in 1973.  In 2011, pianist Vincent Corver adapted the work for one piano and a pre-recorded soundtrack.  Four of the six piano parts are pre-recorded and the last two are combined into a more virtuosic single part, which I’ll play live and amplified.  In 2014, the Bang On a Can All Stars pianist Vicky Chow worked with the composer to further edit the piece and create a new flexible pre-recorded soundtrack that allows the performer to use a foot pedal to trigger the phasing of the other parts. Reich’s original version of Six Pianos asked for each measure to be repeated within a range of times—not a fixed amount of time. Since Corver’s version was backed by a fixed-length soundtrack, the most recent version is a truer realization of the original work’s flexibility. My performance will be the most recent, flexible version of the work. 

SI: How do the minimalist composers’ works differ from the 21st century works on the program?

JM: These 20th century minimalist works lack an extramusical association.  They are really about rhythmic structures and form. China Gates (which isn’t really about China or gates), for instance, is a famous, short minimalist work that uses recurring patterns that slowly change and shift apart over time, while making up a nearly perfect palindrome in its structure.

The music of Cerrone and Mazzoli in this program, which are 21st century works, tell a story or capture a vivid scene. So, the audience should be listening for entirely different things in the two styles. In the first half of the program, listen for minimalist patterns and structures (like palindromes), that ultimately lead the way for the second half to transport you into another scene altogether.

What is interesting, though, is despite the lack of an extramusical association, the works of Glass and Reich often capture the busy energy of a dense urban environment, which somehow creates a beautiful, weightless sense of calm.  In this sense then, the minimalist works do have the ability to move beyond the academic, form, and rhythmic structure that are the hallmarks of its style.

SI: What are you most looking forward to with this performance and what do you hope audience members gain from it?

JM: Playing in a relaxed bar setting should really gel with this music. I’ve always wanted to take music like this out of the standard classical concert venue. As someone who can’t take their instrument with them when they gig, bars and many other non-classical venues are off-limits.  But The Royal Room has a Steinway B, a great sound system, and a reputation for taking good care of local musicians—so I’m really excited to play in that environment.

I hope the audience gains an appreciation for the things I’ve come to realize as a musician. There is amazing music being created by composers who are alive and working in this country right now—it’s innovative, part of us, and who we are. Embrace technology. Accept that electronics and a reverence to the classical music tradition can coexist.


Living in America is Wednesday, July 12 at 7:30pm at the Royal Room in Columbia City. For details and additional information, click here.

A Singer’s Account of György Ligeti’s Requiem

by David Gary

Last week the Seattle Symphony and Chorale presented the Pacific Northwest’s first ever performance of György Ligeti’s ethereal and rarely performed Requiem (1965), conducted by Music Director Ludovic Morlot. This weekend, they’ll present a portion of it again as part of their live performance of Stanley Kubrick’s sci-fi classic 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Perhaps best remembered for his dense harmonies, tone clusters, and micropolyphonic textures, Ligeti was famous for crafting nearly impossible repertoire—and the fact it has taken half a century to mount a Seattle performance of his Requiem is a testament to its difficulty. This musical undertaking was certainly out of the typical chorale wheelhouse and was an audacious selection for the Symphony to perform. As a member of the chorale, I had the opportunity to learn this requiem and will share my experience in doing so.

Looking at the Score for the First Time

The physical score is bulkier than a standard choral scores, elongated both vertically and horizontally by the 20-part chorus notation. As singers, we are typically accustomed to four-part staffs—so it was immediately evident that this was not our standard choral repertoire.

Much of the Introit movement is written with sustained tones with shifts in tonality over quintuplet figures. The intended effect mimics a large crowd murmuring the Latin text of the Requiem Mass. However, the text throughout this movement remains entirely discernable because it is melismatic over so many different parts. (Ligeti’s own instructions call for a distant sound.) For many of us this piece was well outside our comfort zone, so this movement was a pragmatic place to begin breaking into Ligeti’s musical paradigm.

We quickly realized that pitches would not be our main focus throughout our work on the Requiem. Given the short time we had to learn the piece—only about three or four months with multiple other concerts sprinkled in—and the sheer difficulty of the written pitches, our pitch focus was aimed more at staying within certain range clusters and not wandering too far from the tonal core we were looking to find. Because finding pitches was going to prove so difficult, we put much of our initial energy on learning the rhythmic regime of this piece

Unique Musical Challenges

Like many musical undertakings, this piece presented three large challenges: notes, rhythm, and musicality.

Notes: One of the first things we realized was that we would not be able to learn our pitches as they were written. (This is not to say it is an entirely impossible task, but given our time constraints it would have proven impossible.) During the time of composition, Ligeti himself had to retract and edit some of his harmonies because choirs were unable to learn and perform their parts. There are times in the score where a thick black line appears over a vocal part indicating sections where exact pitches can be jettisoned. This is a challenge for any choir who is accustomed to learning and performing exactly what is on page.

Rhythm: This piece was easy to get lost in, so fighting to stay on track in this score was important. For instance, Ligeti subdivides some of his beats over 7 or 9. These unconventional rhythmic figures create an aural effect of dense clouds of quickly moving harmonies—but they are also incredibly difficult to learn and even harder to execute in context. Another challenge of this piece was remaining on your part’s staff within the score. In rehearsals, there were frequent times where upon flipping a page I would shift to a different line without noticing I was singing the wrong part for several measures.

Musicality: Some of the more important musical gestures in the piece have less to do with notes or rhythms than they do with the shaping of a particular phrase to achieve a human (rather than musical) effect. This sometimes proved a bit of a challenge, since many of us as singers are used to having our phrasing guided by melody and word stresses rather than purely visceral emotion.

Presenting the Performance

We had no idea how this piece would be received. For many of us, a piece like this wasn’t exactly the reason we had joined the chorus. Because it was so easy to get lost in the score, performing was a frantic combination of counting, score following, watching our conductor for the count, and finding first pitches. As any performer knows, one does not get on stage to necessarily listen and enjoy the performance but rather to focus in on one’s task as a musician: to present an audience with entertainment and an unforgettable experience. I believe we achieved this goal and helped evoke emotions in the audience that Ligeti strove to encapsulate in this piece.

Though this was an atypical finale for our regular season, I think many of us ultimately found great satisfaction in how this piece was received and the level of admiration bestowed upon presentation. As we move on to our next challenges, we can all agree that as a group our musicianship has been augmented—and I look forward to bringing what I learned from Ligeti to my next musical projects.


David Gary is the Development Coordinator at Classical KING FM 98.1 and a bass in the Seattle Symphony Chorale. The Seattle Symphony and Chorale perform Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey on June 30 and July 1 at 8pm. For tickets and additional information, click here.