Sneak Peek Audio Leak: Donnacha Dennehy’s ‘The Hunger’

by Peter Tracy

Donnacha Dennehy is an Irish composer who is intensely interested in the music and culture of his homeland. Whether it be setting Irish poets like William Butler Yeats or incorporating Irish folk traditions into his music, Dennehy frequently celebrates his roots while retaining his colorful, vibrant, and forward-thinking musical style.

This is certainly the case on his upcoming album The Hunger, a collaboration with the always inventive Alarm Will Sound featuring soprano Katherine Manley and Iarla Ó Lionáird, a singer specializing in sean-nós (“old style”) singing—a typically melismatic and highly ornamented style sung in the Gaelic language. The album consists of a stirring cantata remembering Ireland’s Great Famine (1845-1849) by setting first-hand accounts from American humanitarian Asenath Nicholson and utilizing material from a sean-nós style song of the period titled “Na Prátaí Dubha” (Black Potatoes).

One of the most emotionally powerful moments on the album is the movement “I Feared He Would Die,” which depicts a starving old man (represented by Iarla Ó Lionáird) who is continually denied the food he needs for himself and the children under his care to survive. Asenath Nicholson, as represented by Katherine Manley, tells of the callousness of the English officers and the harsh reality of the famine over fluttering strings and undulating harmonies.

Hear it here first ahead of the album’s August 23 release date.


Donnacha Dennehy’s The Hunger is out August 23 on Nonesuch Records. For more information, click here.

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.

Sneak Peek Audio Leak: Ken Thomson’s Sextet

by Maggie Molloy

Photo by Naomi White.

Ken Thomson’s music dances at the crossroads of contemporary classical and jazz—filled with boundless verve, blistering improvisations, and contrapuntal complexity. When he’s performing, his energy shines onstage—and when he’s writing music, it leaps off the page.

Though the clarinetist and saxophonist is perhaps best known as one of the Bang on a Can All-Stars, Thomson’s new album of original compositions, titled Sextet, features him performing alongside a hand-picked cast of jazz all-stars: saxophonist Anna Webber, trumpeter Russ Johnson, trombonist Alan Ferber, bassist Adam Armstrong, and drummer Daniel Dor.

The album begins with Thomson’s own arrangement of György Ligeti’s melancholic Passacaglia Ungherese before spiraling through a collection of six original groove-driven compositions that float freely between the rigor of through-composed music and the spontaneity of improvised solos.

We’re excited to premiere a track from the brand new album ahead of its September 7 release date. Click below to hear Thomson’s “Phantom Vibration Syndrome.”

Learn more about the music from the performers themselves in the trailer below!


Ken Thomson’s Sextet comes out September 7 on New Focus Recordings. Click here to pre-order the digital album.

Sneak Peek Audio Leak: ‘Endeavour’ by Tristan Eckerson

by Gabriela Tedeschi

Photo by Damian Lemański & Ulka Dzikiewicz.

Tristan Eckerson is a pianist, composer, and DIY musician in every sense of the term. He writes, mixes, and masters his own music, creates his own album art, and arranges his own international tours. After working with 1631 Recordings on two previous albums, Eckerson is releasing his newest work, Dream Variations, independently on July 6.

The twelve short piano solos on the album draw inspiration from music as wide-ranging as Beethoven, Sigur Rós, Ryuichi Sakamoto, and Tigran Hamasyan. With a passion for film scores and soundscapes, Eckerson strives to create music that is as accessible and relaxing as it is complex.

This describes his piece “Endeavour” perfectly. Starting with a bittersweet and beautifully simple melody layered over rich, percussive chords, “Endeavour” evolves into a multi-textured piece that juxtaposes mournful moments with flashes of hope. 

We’re thrilled to premiere “Endeavor” right here on Second Inversion. Plus, learn more about the album in our interview with the composer below.

Second Inversion: What was the inspiration behind “Endeavour”?

Tristan Eckerson: It’s hard to say what the inspiration behind this particular piece was, because I really approached this entire album as a succession of pieces that were all strung together in a stream of consciousness type fashion—hence the album title.

I was really inspired by listening to some piano pieces by Ryuichi Sakamoto—how simple, elegant, but harmonically rich they were, and how they were so minimal, but not at all boring or simple musically. I also liked the idea of Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories, and just having a lot of shorter, succinct pieces that kind of flowed into one another and were variations of one another. And so “Endeavour” just ended up being one of those pieces.

SI: Dream Variations works to stretch the boundaries of solo piano composition. What elements have you employed to subvert listeners’ expectations?

TE: I think in the contemporary classical genre right now there seems to be an aversion to using jazz influences of any kind. And since I love a lot of jazz music and jazz harmony, but don’t really have any interest in writing straight ahead “jazz” music, I’ve been very drawn to incorporating jazz harmony and modal harmony into a contemporary classical setting. Again, going back to the influences of Ryuichi Sakamoto, and also Ravel and Debussy—I just want to give listeners something that they aren’t used to in terms of the depth of harmony I’m using and the types of moods that it’s creating.

SI: This July you are releasing Dream Variations independently. What are the challenges and rewards of working within a DIY framework?

TE: The challenges are that you’re doing everything yourself—so if you aren’t putting in 100% in a particular category, then no one else is going to pick up the slack. I’ve had to learn a lot of things that I really would have rather left to someone else—non musical things. But the reward is that because I’m doing everything independently, I retain much more control when it comes to how to do things and of course intellectual property rights, royalties, and everything concerning the business side. And also when you do everything yourself, even if you aren’t an expert in every area, it’s very rewarding when you actually start seeing results, because all those results feel like very personal achievements.


Dream Variations comes out July 6. To pre-order the album, click here.

Video Premiere: Oracle Hysterical’s ‘Helen’

by Gabriela Tedeschi

Euripides’ tragedy Hecuba tells the story of the queen of Troy’s descent to vengeful violence after her city is destroyed and her children are killed during the Trojan War. This ancient Greek play is the inspiration for Oracle Hysterical’s new album Hecuba, the latest in a series of projects by the group that seek to breathe new life into classic literature with contemporary music.

Oracle Hysterical is comprised of five composer-performers: twins Doug (double bass, viola de gamba) and Brad Balliett (bassoons), Dylan Greene (percussion), Elliot Cole (keyboards, guitars, vocals), and Majel Connery (keyboards, vocals). Hecuba also features guest percussionist Jason Treuting on drum kit.

The first song on the new album, “Helen” gives the perspective of the woman who is said to have started the Trojan war: Helen, the wife of King Menelaus of Sparta, who eloped with Prince Paris of Troy. Connery’s smooth, sultry vocals flow in long, legato lines over subdued, mournful chords and melancholy ostinatos from the bassoon, guitar, piano, and double bass. The percussion stands out in the gentle, continuous flow of sound, adding texture and intensity.

The result is a work that is quiet and subtle, but dramatic, with a beautifully bittersweet indie-rock sound. “Helen” translates the power and pain of a very old story into something that feels new and universal.

We’re thrilled to premiere the video for Oracle Hysterical’s new single “Helen,” created by Four/Ten Media.

Learn more about the new album in our interview with bassoonist Brad Balliett.

Second Inversion: What drew you and the group to Euripides’ Hecuba as an inspiration for the album?

Brad Balliett: We describe Oracle Hysterical as ‘part band, part book club’ because we are constantly turning to literature for inspiration. One member of the group will read something that they feel would make a great musical project, and the other members take up the suggestion and get to work on some music! In this case, Doug Balliett, who is a major fan of Greek drama, brought a passage from the Euripides play to a summer work session and we developed the song Helen together. We had such fun creating that song, and were so pleased with the results, that we embarked on a journey to set an album’s worth of passages from or inspired by the play. The incredible drama and pathos of the play, along with the beauty of the language, kept us continuously engaged and inspired.

SI: “Helen” and the rest of the album prominently feature talented vocalist Majel Connery. Were the vocal lines tailored to suit her unique sound? How did the source material shape the vocal lines?

BB: Like a large portion of the music Oracle Hysterical creates, all of the songs on Hecuba were written collaboratively. For most of the songs, Majel devised her own vocal lines in working sessions with the rest of the band. A lot of times she would improvise several versions and we would decide together on the most compelling line. Sometimes we all worked together to craft a specific line based on the harmony. The timbre of Majel’s voice is almost impossible to describe—something otherworldly. We are lucky to have her unique sound in our ensemble.

I think that the source material inspired us to attempt to wed an archaic, monumental sound (one that reflects the enormous distance between us and the original text) and a contemporary style (one that shows that the immediacy of the emotions of the play are still as visceral now as they were back then). This is a fine line to walk, but it was a joy to balance these feelings.

SI: Between the unique combination of instruments, the literary source material, and your rock-leaning sound, Oracle Hysterical’s music can be hard to classify. How would you describe your music in general? How would you describe “Helen”?

BB: We draw from an enormous range of influences: Baroque music, Romantic music, various current pop and rock groups, the Beatles, certain kinds of world music, and so on. The result is a kind of music that is difficult to put into a single genre, which suits us just fine. Among the various titles we’ve heard applied to our sound, I’m a fan of ‘Baroque Indie Pop.’ “Helen” occupies a world that variously turns towards rock, minimalism, art song, and hyper-produced pop. Hopefully, for the listener, the genre titles fall away and the song is left as a single musical object.


Hecuba will be released May 11 on the National Sawdust label.