The Old New Traditions of Ken Thomson’s ‘Sextet’

by Dacia Clay

Photo by Naomi White.

Clarinetist, saxophonist, and composer Ken Thomson is probably best known for his work in the Bang on a Can All-Stars, an amplified chamber ensemble known for championing contemporary classical and experimental sounds. But his recent album of original compositions, Sextet, brings the jazzier side of Thomson to the fore.

The album gives a respectful nod and handshake to jazz forebears like Davis, Brubeck, and Mingus and to jazz’s improvisational structures —but Thomson’s ear for experimentation takes those things in a new direction. In this interview, he talks about overcoming the duality of classical and jazz worlds, exploring the lineage of Western music, and finding his own voice.

Audio production by Nikhil Sarma with production assistance by Dacia Clay.

Ken Thomson’s Sextet is out now on New Focus/Panoramic Recordings. Click here to listen to the album.

Sneak Peek Audio Leak: Post-Haste Reed Duo

by Maggie Molloy

Post-Haste Reed Duo. Photo by Jason Quigley.

When you think of quiet music, a saxophone and bassoon duo is probably not what first comes to mind. Yet the Post-Haste Reed Duo manages to explore the full range of silence and sound in their sophomore album, playfully titled Donut Robot!

Comprised of saxophonist Sean Fredenburg and bassoonist Javier Rodriguez, the Portland-based duo is dedicated to commissioning and championing new works for their unique instrumentation, building the repertoire while also expanding audiences’ perceptions of what a saxophone-bassoon duo can do.

From fluttering soundscapes to eerie microtones and epic grooves, Donut Robot! features six new and wide-ranging works by Edward J. Hines, Drew Baker, Andrea L. Reinkemeyer, Takuma Itoh, Michael Johanson, and Ruby Fulton.

We’re excited to premiere one of the tracks right here on Second Inversion. In the Speaking Silence, composed by Andrea L. Reinkemeyer, explores a reverent sound world that hovers just above the brink of silence.

Post-Haste Reed Duo’s sophomore album Donut Robot! is out Friday, Feb. 15 on Aerocade Music. Click here for more information.

A Fallen Piano is Resurrected at Jack Straw

by Maggie Molloy

Fifty years ago, an upright piano flew from the sky and crashed loudly upon the ground near Duvall, Washington, smashing into pieces in front of an audience of avant-garde enthusiasts. It was dropped from a helicopter by the Jack Straw Foundation (then in the form of KRAB radio) as a fundraising event for the experimental radio station and their friends at Helix, the hippie newspaper.

Seattle Times clipping, 1968.

This month, that historic piano is being resurrected.

Piano Drop is a historical music installation now on display at the Jack Straw New Media Gallery. The exhibit showcases the remains of the fallen piano for the first time since the helicopter drop, along with archival film footage, historical documents, and new recordings of music composed and performed on the instrument.

And, you can even see the piano performed live. On Febraury 23, Jack Straw presents a special one-night-only live performance of new works composed for the instrument and performed by local musicians, including new works from Amy Denio, James Borchers, Jeffrey Bowen, and Luke Fitzpatrick, among many others.

Though all of the music was written in response to a clamorous piano drop, the concert pays equal tribute to the aleatoric sounds of near-silence; in the spirit of John Cage, each of the featured works is 4’33” or shorter.

Piano Drop is on display at the Jack Straw New Media Gallery through Friday, March 15. The live performance is Saturday, Feb. 23 at 7pm. Click here to learn more.

Kinan Azmeh: Meeting Injustice with Creativity and Collaboration

by Dave Beck

Photo by Connie Tsang.

On our Seattle Symphony Spotlight this week: a conversation with one of Yo Yo Ma’s good friends and collaborators in the Silk Road Ensemble.

Kinan Azmeh is a Syrian-born clarinetist last in Seattle two years ago for the Seattle Symphony’s “Music Beyond Borders” concert. That performance—which featured artists from the seven countries that were part of the Muslim travel ban of early 2017—featured Kinan playing two movements of his Suite for Improviser and Orchestra with Ludovic Morlot and the Seattle Symphony.

At that time Kinan Azmeh made plans to come back and present another new work that defies musical boundaries: a full-length clarinet concerto that blends the spontaneity of improvisation with through-composed music. That concert came to fruition earlier this week in Benaroya Hall when he performed the piece’s world premiere with the Seattle Symphony and members of the Silk Road Ensemble, conducted by Ludovic Morlot.

Kinan came by the station to talk about the new concerto, reflect on growing up in Syria, and express what performing in Seattle and at refugee camps around the world has meant to him.

ALBUM REVIEW: Cecilia Lopez’s ‘Red / Machinic Fantasies’

by Michael Schell

My late night listening this week has come courtesy of Cecilia Lopez, whose work draws on the drone and noise music traditions while incorporating techniques from the field of sound installation.

Originally from Argentina, Lopez studied at Bard College and Wesleyan University in the U.S. before joining the cadre of New York artists associated with Phill Niblock’s Experimental Intermedia Foundation. Her new double CD is from the latter’s house label, XI Records, and features two inventive electroacoustic projects.

The first piece, Red, isn’t about colors, but is the Spanish word for web or network—in this case an array of miniature loudspeakers and contact microphones that are suspended by wires, allowing the components to swing toward and away from each other, producing variable feedback. Synthesizer drones reinforce some of the feedback frequencies, while other tones slide up and down or fade in and out. The ambiguity between chance and intention in the sound production is a key part of the listening experience.

The other piece, Machinic Fantasies, features complex synthesized drones played through loudspeakers wrapped in homemade baffles that are then inserted into 55-gallon steel drums. These contraptions are rotated by two performers, creating an effect like a guitarist’s phaser pedal, but less predictable (you can see them in action here). Long tones from a trumpet and a trombone add emphasis to individual pitches, producing a soundscape notable for its simultaneous sense of movement and stasis. It reminds me of Deep Listening Band, including the way that the physical resonance of the performance venue is allowed to shape the overall sound.

Machinic Fantasies, which lasts 73 minutes, has a written score, but like the multiple tracks that comprise Red, it feels less like a determinate composition than a sonic environment whose streams flow languidly along their natural currents. Lopez calls these works “performed installations”, as if to emphasize that her input happens mainly during their design phase. They demonstrate that despite all the portable and inexpensive digital tools available today, one can still make relevant music with such crudities as oscillators, cables, and speakers.

From Chamber Pop to Modern Opera: New Music for February

by Maggie Molloy

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! 

Keep an eye out for our 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, please submit your event to the Live Music Project at least six weeks prior to the event and tag it with “new music.”


Wayward Music Series
Concerts of contemporary composition, free improvisation, electroacoustic music, and sonic experiments. This month: white noise, dark ambient, abstracted songs, and Kurdish rhythms.
Various days, 7:30/8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-$15

Caroline Shaw.

Seattle Symphony: Caroline Shaw’s ‘Watermark’
Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto was the inspiration behind Caroline Shaw’s Watermark, which receives its world premiere at Benaroya Hall. Pianist Jonathan Biss performs both pieces with the Seattle Symphony, conducted by Ludovic Morlot. Take a peek behind the scenes in our interview with the composer.
Fri, 2/1, 12pm, Benaroya Hall | $22-$122
Sat, 2/2, 8pm, Benaroya Hall | $22-$122

SMCO: From Spain to India
The Seattle Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra explores connections between Indian classical music and flamenco in this program featuring music of Manuel de Falla, Ravi Shankar, Anoushka Shankar, and Jason Everett performed with guest soloists.
Sat, 2/2, 8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $15-$25
Sun, 2/3, 4pm, Vashon Center for the Arts | $10-$22

Erin Jorgensen (left) and Rose Bellini (right).

Cheating, Lying, Stealing
New music luminaries Erin Jorgensen and Rose Bellini assemble a cast of Seattle’s top new music movers and shakers for this wide-ranging program of chamber works by David Lang, Anna Clyne, Carla Kihlstedt, Marc Mellits, and Caroline Shaw. Did we mention it takes place amid a dreamy neon light show? The concert’s creators take us behind the scenes.
Sun, 2/3, 8pm, Washington Hall | $20

Amy Denio Ensemble: ‘Varieté’
Seattle avant-gardist Amy Denio and her band perform her original film score alongside this special viewing of the 1925 silent film Varieté: a tale of jealousy, obsession, and murder set against the backdrop of the circus.
Mon, 2/4, 7pm, The Paramount Theatre | $10

Seattle Symphony: Silkroad Ensemble
Syrian clarinetist Kinan Azmeh performs the world premiere of his clarinet concerto with the Seattle Symphony in this concert celebrating cross-cultural collaboration. He’s joined by the musicians of the Silkroad Ensemble for music by Vijay Iyer,Edward Perez, and Chen Yi.
Wed, 2/6, 7:30pm, Benaroya Hall | $22-$122

Clarinetist Kinan Azmeh.

Melia Watras: ‘Schumann Resonances’ Album Release
Fairy tales, folk songs, and the music of Schumann are a few of the major influences behind violist Melia Watras’s new album. She performs new works from Schumann Resonances alongside special guests. Hear our sneak preview of the album.
Wed, 2/6, 7:30pm, UW Brechemin Auditorium | FREE

Seattle Improvised Music Festival
No scores, no plans, no safety net: just a whole bunch of artists from all different musical backgrounds collaborating in an atmosphere of spontaneity, intuition, and discovery.
2/6-2/10, Various times and locations | $5-$20

Harry Partch Ensemble
This concert has been cancelled due to inclement weather.
Experience the handmade microtonal instruments of Harry Partch in this concert featuring new works composed for his instruments paired with rarely-performed works from the composer’s archives. Take a tour of the Harry Partch Instrumentarium.
Sat, 2/9, 7:30pm, Meany Studio Theater | $10

Harry Partch’s Chromelodeon. Photo by Maggie Molloy.

UW School of Music: ‘The Innocents’
Visiting percussionists John Lane and Allen Otte perform music from their performance art piece The Innocents, which uses found sounds, street percussion, thumb pianos, and electronics to explore issues of wrongful imprisonment and exoneration. The concert also features the UW Percussion ensemble performing works for speaking percussionist.
Tues, 2/12, 8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-$15

Kin of the Moon: A New Phase
The composer-performer troupe Kin of the Moon presents the world premiere of Ewa Trębacz’s Winter After Times of Fire, a surround-sound collage of improvisations from a wide range of sonic spaces, including the Fort Worden Cistern. Also on the program are new works exploring graphic scores, forgotten sounds, and film.
Fri, 2/22, 7:30pm, Kerry Hall | $5-$15

The Esoterics: Vulnerability
Openness of heart and mind is the overarching theme of this choral concert featuring wide-ranging works from Reena Esmail, Ted Hearne, David Lang, Jennifer Higdon, Evan Flory-Barnes, and more.
2/22-2/24, Various times and locations | $15-$22

Piano Drop @ Jack Straw
The fractured remains of a piano dropped from a helicopter 50 years ago become the canvas for a concert of brand new works by local composers. Discover the story behind the instrument.
Sat, 2/23, 7pm, Jack Straw Cultural Center | FREE

Emerald Ensemble: ‘the little match girl passion’
David Lang’s Pulitzer Prize-winning the little match girl passion tells the haunting tale of a poor young girl who freezes from the bitter cold of the cruel world around her. The harrowing oratorio sets Hans Christian Andersen’s original story in the format of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion.
Sat, 2/23, 8pm, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church | $30

Shara Nova of My Brightest Diamond.

My Brightest Diamond
Few artists inhabit both pop and classical worlds so freely and convincingly as Shara Nova, the operatically-trained singer and composer behind the art rock band My Brightest Diamond. She performs music from her new album A Million and One.
Sat, 2/23, 9pm, Tractor Tavern | $18

Seattle Opera: The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs
Mason Bates takes you inside the life and legacy of one of the greatest minds of the digital age in this opera exploring the intersections of technology, spirituality,  and ambition. Learn more about the music in our album review.
2/23-3/9, Various times, McCaw Hall | $25-$335

Caroline Shaw and Beethoven: Fanning the Fires of Musical Inspiration

by Dave Beck

On this week’s Seattle Symphony Spotlight, Dave Beck speaks with the youngest composer ever to win a Pulitzer Prize in music: Caroline Shaw.

Caroline is in Seattle this weekend for the world premiere of Watermark, her new orchestral work written in response to Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto. The idea for the piece was suggested to her by pianist Jonathan Biss, who performs both pieces with the Seattle Symphony this weekend, conducted by Ludovic Morlot. The program opens with Shostakovich’s Symphony No.1, a piece that brought the young composer international acclaim at the age of 19.

All of the works on the program represent strikingly original creations by composers in the early years of their careers. In this interview, Caroline talks with us about the inspiration, the writing process, and the meaning behind the title Watermark.

Caroline Shaw’s Watermark premieres at the Seattle Symphony Jan. 31-Feb. 2. Click here for tickets and more information.