STAFF PICKS: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from their weekly playlist. Tune in on Friday, April 20 to hear these pieces and plenty of other new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre!

Hildegard Westerkamp: Fantasie for Horns II (Empreintes Digitales)
Brian G’Froerer, horn; Hildegard Westerkamp, electronics

Let it be known upfront that this is not your average horn solo. Composed by sound ecologist Hildegard Westerkamp, Fantasie for Horns II explores the sound of horns we hear in our everyday lives: trainhorns, foghorns, factory and boathorns. This piece is about how those sounds often give a place its character—foghorns echoing across a charming coastal village, trainhorns ringing amid a bustling metropolis, or factory horns blasting in a gritty industrial town.

But this piece is also an exploration of how horns are shaped by their surroundings: how the horn reverberates across the ocean waves, or how it changes pitch slightly as the train approaches. Fantasie for Horns II laces together field recordings of all of these different horns, creating a whole city of sounds with one single live French horn echoing across it. – Maggie Molloy

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 1pm hour today to hear this piece.


itsnotyouitsme: “Lost Nation Municipal Airport” (New Amsterdam)
Grey McMurray and Caleb Burhans

“Lost Nation Municipal Airport” is the aural version of how the world looks when your vision is readjusting after waking up from a deep sleep that you fell into while waiting for your plane at an airport gate—it’s the music of the strangers and planes and signage slowly taking shape around you. The longer and more closely you listen to this piece, the more you find in it, much like staring at one of the giant paintings in the Rothko Chapel.

There’s something about airports that’s hopeful and optimistic—maybe leftover from the Jet Age of the 1950’s and ‘60’s—with their diverse and ever-fluctuating populations, their busy purposefulness, and their technology. I like that this song slows down that perpetual motion of humanity. The album that this is from, fallen monuments, was recorded from live performances because Caleb Burhans and Grey McMurray—the members of itsnotyouitsme—wanted to capture the fleeting nature of the improvisations that they tend to play at live shows. That spirit is beautifully captured in this piece, with—I’m guessing—a little nod to Brian Eno. – Dacia Clay


Pauline Oliveros and the Deep Listening Band: Suiren (New Albion)
Deep Listening Band

As the weather in Pacific Northwest proceeds at its typically leisurely pace toward its version of summer, I’m thinking a great deal about the pleasures of time spent outdoors. I was struck by The Deep Listening Band’s Suiren this week because it replicates a special atmosphere often found in the solitude of nature.  This specific and rare character of  the environment, often found in the amoral companionship of an empty and quiet sky at a high altitude, is present in this piece. That’s ironic, considering this piece was literally recorded underground. – Seth Tompkins

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 8pm hour today to hear this piece.


Nils Frahm: Kaleidoscope (Erased Tapes)
Nils Frahm, keyboards; Shards, voices

“Kaleidoscope” is one of my top three songs from Nils Frahm’s latest album All Melody.  The album itself features a wider instrumental palette compared to Frahm’s earlier work, which focused mainly on piano, yet he maintains the same exploratory spirit and continues to give his works space to evolve.  “Kaleidoscope” is a great example of that as it features the human voice, lots of plinky synth, and a pipe organ (which Frahm himself helped build!) among other instruments. The textures combine slowly and create a warm and gratifying listen, making “Kaleidoscope” a great starting point for anyone unfamiliar with Frahm’s repertoire. – Rachele Hales

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 10pm hour today to hear this piece.

The Essential John Luther Adams

by Michael Schell

Did you miss Second Inversion’s John Luther Adams Marathon on March 28? Are you interested in exploring the music of America’s most famous ecologist-composer by sampling a few key pieces? If so, check out this selection of JLA’s most indispensable albums to date.

Earth and the Great Weather

If you’re ever remanded to a desert island where you can take along a single John Luther Adams album, this is the one to pick. Subtitled A Sonic Geography of the Arctic, this ten-movement composition from 1993 was Adams’ breakout piece. It’s both an ecological oratorio of the far North and a compendium of the techniques that Adams would hone over the next 25 years: haunting drones and trills, ritualistic taiko-like drumming, and overtone-based textures inspired by his teacher James Tenney (compare the latter’s Shimmer to this album’s track Pointed Mountains Scattered All Around). It even has some things you don’t find in other Adams pieces, such as Alaska nature recordings and texts from Native Alaskan languages


The Far Country

This is another fine sampler album from 1993 that features three medium-length pieces for large ensemble. Dream in White on White is a plaintive work for strings and harp reminiscent of Stravinsky’s Orpheus. The early choral composition Night Peace openly displays its debt to Feldman’s Rothko Chapel. The Far Country of Sleep begins with a solo trumpet motif that’s almost identical to Strauss’ Also sprach Zarathustra, but as this orchestral piece progresses, it makes clear that its philosophical affinity is with Rachel Carson rather than Nietzsche.


Inuksuit

This outdoor piece for multiple percussionists has been performed all over North America (including here in Seattle in 2015). Adams considers this recording, three years in the making and captured on location in rural Vermont, to be a definitive representation.


Become Ocean

And here it is: Seattle Symphony’s Grammy Award-winning recording of Adams’ Pulitzer Prize-winning piece. Released in 2014, it’s the first recording of Adams’ music by a major orchestra. Although the sound world of Become Ocean isn’t all that far from Ravel’s daybreak scene in Daphnis et Chloé, Adams’ instinct as an ecologist is to let his textural soundscape unfold on its own terms and at its own pace, with a minimum of intervention. Indeed, this work is so well proportioned that it seems much shorter than its 42-minute duration. Become Ocean is both a fulfillment of the trajectory of Adams’ work since Earth and the Great Weather and a searchlight illuminating the wonders yet to come from this imaginative composer.


The Seattle Symphony presents the world premiere of John Luther Adams’ Become Desert on Thursday, March 29 and Saturday, March 31. For tickets and additional information, please click here.

A Spotify version of our Essential JLA playlist is available below:

STAFF PICKS: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from their weekly playlist. Tune in on Friday, March 23 to hear these pieces and plenty of other new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre!

Max Richter: Shadow 4 (Deutsche Grammophon)
Max Richter, electronics

I’m listening to this piece again as I write. It sounds like spring in a meadow on a parallel planet—one that’s a lot like ours, with all of the sweetness of plants and animals waking up from long winter’s naps, but with none of the Rite of Spring madness. It’s bright and peaceful and hopeful, and also brief, like having a flash of realization that the world is amazing when it wants to be. The piece comes and goes that quickly. I like this piece even more knowing that Max Richter’s impetus for writing the album was that he was trying to regain the appreciation he’d once had for Vivaldi’s Four Seasons by digging into the work, recomposing it, and interpreting what he found at its heart. The idea that you can breathe life into things in your world which have become familiar and dull by reframing your own point of view is a powerful one. Plus, I’m a sucker for music with bird calls. – Dacia Clay

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 12pm hour today to hear this piece.


Christopher Cerrone: South Catalina (Cedille Records)
Eighth Blackbird

It’s always a joy when you encounter an instance of an artist putting forth a very specific idea with which you connect, especially if that idea is one that has made you feel isolated in the past. I had this perpetually rare and delightful experience as I discovered Christopher Cerrone’s South Catalina this week. Specifically, I have a long-running and deep personal connection with a feeling Cerrone outlines as an inspiration for this piece: the strange mix of enchantment and oppression that a consistently sunny climate can catalyze in people unfamiliar with that type of environment. – Seth Tompkins

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 1pm hour today to hear this piece.


Joan La Barbara: Cathing (Lovely Music Records)
Joan La Barbara, voice

Joan La Barbara spoke up for experimental vocalists everywhere with her witty response to mezzo-soprano Cathy Berberian’s scathing critique of avant-garde vocal music. Berberian, who interviewed La Barbara during the intermission of one of her concerts, dismissed extended vocal techniques as at best “research” and at worse the work of “freaks” who can’t actually sing.

In response, La Barbara composed “Cathing,” a piece which takes electronically manipulated samples from the interview and weaves them into a scintillating sound-off of vocal techniques: shrieks, squeaks, whispers, wails, moans, drones, and a slew of sounds you didn’t know humans could even make. The result is eight minutes of pure vocal virtuosity—with a bite. – Maggie Molloy

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


Valgeir Sigurðsson: 1875 (Bedroom Community)
Reykjavik Sinfonia

Valgeir Sigurðsson’s 2017 album is titled Dissonance, something that as a musical device can have many purposes and characteristics. Dissonance can be harsh and clashing in a way that is shocking and uncomfortable, or it can be soft and subtle, adding a strange beauty to the music it colors. It can be short and punctuated, or it can be long and sustained.

1875, the three-part final work on the album, actually uses dissonance sparingly, but to dramatic effect. Its long, lingering textures have the atmospheric sounds that are typical of Sigurðsson’s palette: deep, sometimes electronically-augmented chords; twinkling string tremolo and scattered Pollock-esque pizzicato; and long, slowly-unfolding string melodies. However, the opening of 1875, a piece that details the first arrival of Icelanders in the frozen landscape of Winnipeg, Manitoba in the late 19th century, uses dissonance in a way that immediately makes a stunning impression. The grandeur of the dissonance in that first orchestral introduction with its imposing wall of sound makes the work worth hearing all on its own. Other interesting ideas are realized throughout the three movements (Waterborne, In Dead of Winter, Displaced), including bell tones that ring out not through the use of percussion instruments, but the use of orchestral strings and brass.
– Geoffrey Larson

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 7pm hour today to hear this piece.

ALBUM REVIEW: ‘No Answer’ by Steve Layton

by Michael Schell

Steve Layton is a noted creator, producer and journalist of new music. He edits the Sequenza 21 website, and stands as one of the foremost figures in Seattle’s busy electronic music scene. His proficient studio chops are showcased on No Answer, a new collection of 17 short solo tracks available on Bandcamp.

The general tone for the album is set right at the outset with “Bullfrog,” an uptempo, beat-driven affair, quirky enough with its polyrhythms that it comes “with no guarantee you’ll be able to dance to it.” Other pieces, like “The Moment of Equinox,” contrast this with a darker, more drony feel. And for novelty value there’s the title track, whose source material comes from the telephone answering machine of Charlotte Moorman (1933–1991): cellist, producer, and frequently risqué collaborator of Nam June Paik and other avant-gardists. Altogether, the set makes a worthy introduction to Layton’s prolific output.

For Lenny: Lara Downes Plays Leonard Bernstein

by Dacia Clay

This year, Leonard Bernstein would have been 100 years old. To celebrate, pianist Lara Downes took on a massive project called For Lenny that involves arrangements of Bernstein’s songs, new works dedicated to him, collaborations with artists from diverse genres, and an online component that includes extensive videos, podcasts and more.

As an artist whose work also moves between genres, traditions, and other boundaries, Downes feels a kinship with Bernstein. For example, of her time in the studio with beatboxer Kevin “K.O.” Olusola of Pentatonix she said, “You know, when I was in the studio with him and we were working on this beatbox version of ‘Something’s Coming,’ I just felt this freedom to try different things—both of us working together coming from vastly different ends of the American music spectrum and just having fun with it, and I thought, you know, we wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for Leonard Bernstein.”

In this interview, Downes talks more about who Bernstein was, about her love of American music, and about the experience of working with artists from such different corners of the musical world on one project.

STAFF PICKS: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from their weekly playlist. Tune in on Friday, February 16 to hear these pieces and plenty of other new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre!

Anna Thorvaldsdottir: In the Light of Air (Sono Luminus)
ICE (International Contemporary Ensemble)

If I had to describe this piece in one word, it would be ice. Not only is it an icy, ethereal soundscape sculpted by an Icelandic composer, but it’s even performed by ICE (the International Contemporary Ensemble). Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s In the Light of Air is an iridescent sound world scored for viola, cello, harp, piano, percussion, and electronics. Infinitely varied in its timbres and textures, the piece evokes the translucent calm and quiet sparkle of an icy landscape, with gorgeous harp details, gentle piano echoes, and whispering melodies glittering above the rumbling earth below.
 Maggie Molloy

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 1pm hour today to hear a movement from this piece.


Florent Ghys: “An Open Cage” (Cantaloupe Music)
Bang on a Can All-Stars

If you don’t have five hours to listen to John Cage’s sprawling, narrated sound art piece Diary: How to Improve the World (You Will Only Make Matters Worse), Florent Ghys’s “An Open Cage” offers a compelling (and surprisingly catchy) four-minute summary. In Ghys’s version, a solo pizzicato bass line dances within the rhythms of Cage’s calm and serene narration, painting his deadpan delivery with a funky groove and a distinctly contemporary color. The unconventional duet expands as the piece grows in musical force, gradually adding more and more instruments until finally a small chorus of voices appears, echoing Cage’s words:

“The avant-garde is flexibility of mind and it follows like day the night from not falling prey to government and education. Without avant-garde, nothing would get invented.”
 – Maggie Molloy

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


John Adams: Lollapalooza (Nonesuch Records)
Hallé Orchestra; Kent Nagano, conductor

I first encountered this piece over 10 years ago in my college wind ensemble. Although this version is for orchestra, the band version is an excellent example of quality writing for winds. And beyond that, this piece is one of the best examples of onomatopoeic music anywhere; once you hear it, you can never un-hear it.  Loll-a-pa-loo-za!
– Seth Tompkins

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 4pm hour today to hear this piece.


Missy Mazzoli: “Tooth and Nail” (Bedroom Community)
Nadia Sirota, viola

Admittedly, I’m a little bit of a fangirl when it comes to Missy Mazzoli and Nadia Sirota, so I may be somewhat biased in my review of this piece. I love how much is going on in it—there are things going on near and far and in between. And Mazzoli brings the electronic textures I’ve heard in some of the music from her band Victoire into this. I hear echoes of Radiohead’s “Pyramid Song” in the chord progressions, and the same kind of desperation in the viola as I heard in Abigail Fischer’s voice in Mazzoli’s Song from the Uproar. This was my introduction to Sirota’s album Baroque, and I can’t wait to dig in to the rest of it! – Dacia Clay

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 7pm hour today to hear this piece.

ALBUM REVIEW: ‘All Melody’ by Nils Frahm

by Maggie Molloy

Photo by Alexander Schneider.

More than perhaps any other aspect of music, melody is what captures our hearts and gets stuck in our heads. Be it classical, jazz, pop, or rock—nearly all styles of Western music hold melody to be paramount.

Simple in theory but endlessly expansive in its possibilities, melody is at the heart of Nils Frahm’s newest album, out now on the Erased Tapes label. It is a collection of 12 songs in which not only all the music but also the entire recording space were created in service of that greatest musical jewel: melody. 

All Melody is Frahm’s ninth solo album, featuring the composer himself on his usual keyboard collection of pianos, synthesizers, and pipe organs—but here expanded to feature an ethereal choir of vocalists along with subtle strings and percussion. The album was recorded in the historical East German Funkhaus, a 1950s recording complex where Frahm spent the past two years renovating a studio with hand-crafted and hand-picked studio gear, including a custom mixing console.

The album itself is an ambient mix of minimalist melodies, mid-tempo dance grooves, and broad, synth-laden washes of sound. Though each song is expertly crafted in iridescent detail, the individual pieces also fit together into a larger whole, the album unified in its wistful melodies and muted colors.

Wordless vocals from the chamber choir Shards sing the first melody of the album in the atmospheric overture “The Whole Universe Wants to Be Touched.” Floating atop the whispering bellows of an organ, the choir intones a circling theme that beckons the listener into musical hypnosis. Pieces like “Sunson” and “A Place” feature more groove-oriented melodies, each its own intricately textured overlay of synth sounds and drum machines embellished with subtle strings, mellow percussion, and ambient vocals.

Other melodies on the album hint toward jazz in their poignant dissonances and wandering discoveries. Tunes like “My Friend the Forest” and “Forever Changeless” are intimate piano lullabies punctuated by the soft stir of the piano hammers and the gentle resonances of a bass marimba. A metallic trumpet melody weaves through an atmospheric trance in “Human Range,” while “Fundamental Values” paints a liquid wash of piano melodies swimming in a whisper of cello and bass marimba.

The album’s title track is an endless melody swirling through ever-transforming musical textures, infectious in its pulse and hypnotic in its repetitions. Equally mesmerizing is the relentless rhythm of “#2,” decorated with clipped choral melodies, synthesizers, and percussion. It’s followed by “Momentum,” a piece which echoes with the solace and solemnity of a church hymn, the choir and organ blending together into an expansive soundscape before eventually giving way to a slow and steady groove.

The aptly titled “Kaleidoscope” layers many, many melodies into dense clouds of sound, the distinctive details of each just waiting to be discovered with each additional listen. It’s contrasted against the album’s closing piece “Harm Hymn,” a gorgeously simple harmonic progression that brings melody back to its most basic form.

It’s a tenderness felt throughout the entire album, wrapped up in the immersive soundscapes and melodic orbits of each and every piece. Yet there’s something so vital and nuanced about that closing track—with each quiet, measured breath of the harmonium we’re reminded of both the simple pleasure and the intimate perfection of a good melody.