Six Living Legends Playing This Year’s Big Ears Festival

by Maggie Molloy

For the past 10 years the Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, Tennessee has been bringing together composers, performers, and curious listeners from around the globe for an annual weekend of exhilarating and ear-expanding music. From ambient to electric, eclectic, experimental, and avant-garde, the festival showcases over 100 genre-bending artists each year in a celebration of the sheer delight and diversity of new music.

Second Inversion is thrilled to be attending this year’s festival. Keep an eye out for our very own Maggie Molloy at the event, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for updates! In the meantime, check out our list of six can’t-miss living legends performing at this year’s festival.

Meredith Monk:

For nearly six decades, Meredith Monk has redefined and revolutionized contemporary vocal music and performance, weaving in elements of theatre and dance to create visceral musical experiences. At this year’s festival, catch her with her vocal ensemble performing Cellular Songs, a multimedia work exploring biological processes, genetic mutation, and the ways in which millions of tiny little cells can come together to form something extraordinary.

Friday, March 22, 9:15pm, Bijou Theatre
Saturday, March 23, 12pm, Bijou Theatre

Art Ensemble of Chicago:

Over the past half-century the Art Ensemble of Chicago has grown beyond a mere band and into a way of life—a collective musical ethos that transcends the individual members of the group. Founded with the motto “Great Black Music: Ancient to Future,” the group draws from musical traditions across history and around the globe. Their live performances are a revelation: their wildly experimental brand of avant-jazz further amplified by loudly colored costumes and face paint. Catch them live this Sunday.

Sunday, March 24, 8:15pm, Tennessee Theatre

Kayhan Kalhor:

Kayhan Kalhor is a modern master of an ancient instrument: the kamancheh, an upright Iranian fiddle with a melancholic tone and a rich musical history. As a soloist and a member of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble, he has spent his career traversing international borders and transcending musical boundaries. This Saturday, hear him in an intimate solo performance that takes traditional Persian music in new directions—and Sunday, catch him in a cross-genre collaboration with Brooklyn Rider.

Saturday, March 23, 6pm, Church Street United Methodist Church (solo)
Sunday, March 24, 5pm, Bijou Theatre (with Brooklyn Rider)

Joan La Barbara:

Joan La Barbara has spent the past 50 years exploring the furthest reaches of the human voice. A pioneer of extended vocal techniques, her acrobatic vocal stylings range from multiphonics to shrieks, squeaks, whispers, wails, moans, drones, and a whole slew of sounds you didn’t even know humans could make. Hear her singular voice live when she performs her own original works on Thursday, and come back Friday to hear her sing music of Alvin Lucier with the Ever Present Orchestra.

Thursday, March 21, 8pm, St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral (solo)
Friday, March 22, 1pm, Bijou Theatre (music of Alvin Lucier)

Alvin Lucier:

Alvin Lucier has spent his 60-year career exploring not only music but the ways in which we experience sound itself. His historic compositions experiment with the resonance of spaces, the physical properties of sound, and the manipulation of auditory perception. This Friday, Joan La Barbara and the Ever Present Orchestra perform music from across his career—and on Sunday Lucier performs some of his own original works (including his landmark 1969 sonic exploration I am Sitting in a Room).

Friday, March 22, 1pm, Bijou Theatre (with Joan La Barbara)
Sunday, March 24, 1pm, Ann & Steve Baily Hall at the KMA (solo)

Wadada Leo Smith:

“Creative music” is the descriptor Wadada Leo Smith has given to his expansive body of works. Over the past five decades, the trumpeter has cultivated his own inimitable musical language (and notation) informed by jazz and world music histories but deeply rooted in the present moment. This Saturday, he performs solo meditations on the music of Thelonious Monk—and on Sunday he teams up with two former bandmates to play Divine Love, an ethereal and immersive trumpet and percussion suite first released in 1978.

Saturday, March 23, 2pm, The Standard (solo)
Sunday, March 24, 6:15pm, Tennessee Theatre (“Divine Love”)

The Big Earts Festival is March 21-24 in Knoxville, Tennessee. For tickets and more information, click here.

Second Inversion’s 24-Hour Marathon of Women Composers

by Maggie Molloy

In celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8, we’re featuring a 24-hour marathon of women composers on Second Inversion. Tune in all day long to hear works by over 200 women who have helped shape, inspire, and expand the world of classical music.

Why women composers?

For much of classical music history, socially-prescribed gender roles excluded women from participating in composition. Women were denied access to musical resources, financial patronage, art and music networks, and performance and publication opportunities.

It had far reaching effects: what we now consider the Western classical music canon solidified around the music of white men, and even in the 21st century concert programs are still overwhelmingly dominated by the music of male composers. According to a survey of 89 American symphony orchestras, women composers accounted for only 1.7 percent of the total pieces performed in the 2015-2016 concert season. 

Research conducted by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Infographic by Rachel Upton and Ricky O’Bannon.

Second Inversion is working to help balance the scales. We’re proud to feature music by women composers today and every day on our 24/7 online stream and web publication.

Click here to stream our 24-Hour Marathon of Women Composers from anywhere in the world, and check out our hosts’ top music picks below. For more resources (including 50+ pieces of advice from women composers), visit our Women in (New) Music series.

Franghiz Ali-Zadeh: Music for Piano (Nonesuch Records)

Azerbaijani composer Franghiz Ali-Zadeh performs this solo piano piece, but with some prepared piano sorcery she manages to create the illusion of a duet.  Just before sitting down to record, she draped her necklace over the middle range of the piano strings, making it sound like a string instrument called a tar (similar to a lute) that her father played. Music for Piano is a bold fusion of the traditional music of her homeland and adventurous experimental music of the present.  The way she draws from her culture adds a philosophical and mysterious tinge to this lovely piano composition.
– Rachele Hales

Pauline Oliveros: Suiren (New Albion Records)

“Listen to everything all the time and remind yourself when you are not listening,” Pauline Oliveros said in her 1998 keynote address at the ArtSci98 symposium. Over 20 years later, those words have come to encapsulate the astonishing legacy left behind by this pioneer of experimental and electronic art music.

During today’s marathon I’m excited to share Suiren, a piece of hers that was created and recorded in a massive cistern on the northeastern tip of the Olympic Peninsula here in Washington. Using nothing but their voices, a garden hose, and the cistern’s famous 45-second reverb, Oliveros and her Deep Listening Band craft a quiet, meditative soundscape that lulls you straight into sonic hypnosis. – Maggie Molloy

Madeleine Cocolas: Rothko, No. 16 (Bigo & Twigetti Music)

I lived in Houston for most of my life, and one of my favorite places there was the Rothko Chapel. The peace of the Chapel is thick and indifferent—an atmosphere created in large part by the giant Rothko paintings on all of the walls. For lots of reasons, it’s a place a I love and return to.

When Madeleine Cocolas moved to New York City, the Metropolitan Museum of Art was that kind of place for her—a place she loved and found herself returning to. Her album Metropolitan is a tribute to the museum. She took her nine favorite pieces from the Met and used software to analyze those visual works and turn them into sound. She then incorporated the sounds generated by the software into her compositions. For Rothko, No. 16, she represents the four major colors in Rothko’s piece with four chords, and the pitch of each note in her piece is determined by the intensity of the color.

Cocolas’s Rothko, No. 16 is happy and bright and weird and full of life. I love it and plan to return to it often. – Dacia Clay

Second Inversion’s 24-Hour Marathon of Women Composers is streaming worldwide all day on Friday, March 8. Click here to listen.

New Music Happy Hour: Friday, March 15 at 5pm

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, March 15 at 5pm 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.

From Octave 9 to Nils Frahm: Your March Concert Guide

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, and sonic experiments. This month: analog synths, amorphous sounds, and Indonesian gamelan.
Various days, 7:30/8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-$15

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 about the intersections of technology, spirituality, and ambition.
2/23-3/9, Various times, McCaw Hall | $25-$335

Cornish Percussion Ensemble
John Cage’s original percussion ensemble, founded at Cornish in 1938, is relaunched by co-directors Kerry O’Brien and Greg Campbell. Learn more in our Q&A with the directors.
Sat, 3/2, 6pm, Jack Straw Cultural Center | FREE

Video by Daniel Husser.

Seattle Symphony: Octave 9 Grand Opening
Be among the first to see Seattle Symphony’s brand new immersive performance space dedicated to experimental music and education. Plus, check out a wide variety of concerts at the venue throughout the month.
Sun, 3/3, Various times, Octave 9 | FREE

Octave 9 at Benaroya Hall. Photo by James Holt.

UW Modern Music Ensemble: ‘Pierrot Lunaire’
Schoenberg’s masterpiece of melodrama tells the tale of a moonstruck clown and his descent into madness. Bass baritone Nicholas Isherwood performs with the ensemble.
Thurs, 3/7, 7:30pm, Katharyn Alvord Gerlich Theater | $10

Seattle Modern Orchestra: A Celebration of Robert Aitken
Experimental flutist and composer Robert Aitken performs original works with the Seattle Modern Orchestra, plus music from Toru Takemitsu, Iannis Xenakis, and Brian Cherney.
Sat, 3/9, 8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $15-$20

Seattle Pro Musica: Pacific Voices
Asian and Asian-American voices are celebrated in this concert of choral works from composers representing China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Mongolia, the Philippines, Thailand, and the U.S.
Sat, 3/9, 7:30pm, Seattle First Baptist Church | $21-$38
Sun, 3/10, 7:30pm, Trinity Lutheran Church (Lynnwood) | $21-$38

Seattle Symphony: Brooklyn to Ballard
Composer-in-Residence and clarinetist Derek Bermel curates an evening of jazz-inspired performances featuring cellist Seth Parker Woods, pianist Ethan Iverson, and Seattle Symphony musicians.
Sun, 3/10, 6pm, Octave 9 | $35

Nils Frahm.

STG Presents: Nils Frahm
Hovering above his usual collection of keyboards and synths, German composer Nils Frahm draws out an ambient mix of minimalist melodies and dance grooves.
Tues, 3/12, 8pm, The Moore Theatre | $27-$42

Samantha Boshnack: ‘Seismic Belt’
Seattle-based trumpeter and bandleader Samantha Boshnack takes listeners on a sonic adventure into the Ring of Fire in Seismic Belt, her large-scale work for seven-piece band.
Thurs, 3/14, 7pm, The Royal Room | $12-$15

Samantha Boshnack. Photo by Daniel Sheehan.

Pacific Northwest Ballet: Director’s Choice
Artistic Director Peter Boal’s annual selection promises modern and experimental music paired with bold, beautiful choreography. PNB dancers perform to music by Sufjan Stevens, Oliver Davis, and Kyle Vegter.
3/15-3/24, Various times, McCaw Hall | $37-$189

Mostly Nordic: Iceland – Afterquake
Cellist Sæunn Thorsteinsdóttir and pianist Angelo Rondello collaborate on a program highlighting the immense musical flourishing of Icelandic composers working in the decade following the economic crash of 2008.
Sun, 3/17, 4pm, Nordic Museum | $25-$30

Town Music: Talea Ensemble
Based on the dark sideshows of Coney Island, the Talea Ensemble’s theatrical chamber piece Sideshow styles the performers themselves as characters, exploring the line between entertainment and spectacle, virtuosity and freak show.
Wed, 3/20, 7:30pm, Broadway Performance Hall | $15-$20

The Talea Ensemble.

An Index of Possibility
A hodgepodge of scrap materials, cheap toys, and everyday objects form the instrumentation for Robert Honstein’s An Index of Possibility. See the piece performed live by Storm Benjamin, Rebekah Ko, and Garrett Arney amid a swirling light show.
Thurs, 3/21, 8pm, Fred Wildlife Refuge | $10-$15

Seattle Symphony: [untitled] 2
The chaotic colors of Pierre Boulez’s restlessly virtuosic Sur Incises are balanced against the haunting dreamland of Luciano Berio’s Circles, a dramatic setting of three poems by E. E. Cummings.
Fri, 3/22, 10pm, Benaroya Hall Grand Lobby | $16

Seattle Symphony: Contemporary Music Marathon
Immerse yourself in a nonstop multi-disciplinary showcase with music from over 50 living composers across the span of 24 hours. Choose from one of three 8-hour blocks or stay for the full 24-hour marathon.
3/23-3/24, 5pm, Octave 9 | $75-$200

Inverted Space Ensemble: Twin Peaks a la Partch
Two cult universes collide: Inverted Space presents a reinterpretation of the music from Twin Peaks featuring a handful of Harry Partch’s handmade microtonal instruments.
Fri, 3/29, 8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-$15

Harry Partch’s Chromelodeon. Photo by Maggie Molloy.

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.