VIDEO PREMIERE: Pascal Le Boeuf’s ‘Into the Anthropocene: I. Cognitive Awakening’

by Gabriela Tedeschi

The cover of Into the Anthropocene, Grammy-nominated composer Pascal Le Boeuf’s new video EP,  is a photo from the Trinity nuclear test of 1945. That’s because the Manhattan project’s successful test of the atomic bomb is widely considered to be the start of the Anthropocene epoch, an ecological era characterized by significant changes in the earth’s ecology and biodiversity as a result of human activity.

Into the Anthropocene tells the story of humanity’s impact on the earth in three movements: “Cognitive Awakening”, “Requiem for the Extinct”, and “Amid the Apocalypse.” With the use of electronic layering, “Cognitive Awakening” features Gina Izzo on the flute, bass flute, and piccolosometimes all at once.

As a somber, legato melody unfolds over long, sustained chords, the piece is augmented by birdlike twittering from the piccolo, key clattering, electronic sounds, and muffled dialogue that can’t quite be made out. “Cognitive Awakening” is a beautiful evocation of nature, but at the same time, a sobering reminder of what has been lostand what might still be lost.

We’re thrilled to premiere the video for Le Boeuf’s “Cognitive Awakening,” performed by Gina Izzo.


Learn more about Le Boeuf’s new piece in our interview with the composer below:

Second Inversion: Into the Anthropocene features three movements scored for the flute family, viola, and cello, respectively. What was the inspiration behind this form and how do the individual movements relate to one another?

Pascal Le Boeuf: Into the Anthropocene is scored like a lead sheet to be inclusive of any instrument. The score specifies only the most essential elements to dictate structure, basic ideas, and guide improvisation. Beyond the conservation ecology concept, my intention was to create a series of simple pieces to invite classically trained musicians to experiment with improvisation and hardware electronics (guitar pedals). I generally engage with improvisation as a compositional device to provide performers with a platform for self-expression. This allows for a different interpretation with each performance (as opposed to a ridged set of directions to translate the composer’s singular intended expression). 

Commissioned by choreographer Kristin Draucker for the Periapsis Open Series, Into the Anthropocene was written for violinist Todd Reynolds whom I met at the Bang on a Can Summer Music Festival in 2015. I worked with Todd as well as violinist Maya Bennardo while at Bang on a Can, and later completed the piece with the help of violinist Sabina Torosjan while in residence at the I-Park Foundation’s 2015 Composers + Musicians Collaborative Residency Program. In addition to performing with electronics and improvising in his own music, Todd occasionally works as an educator, specializing in improvisation and electronic music. He has always been kind to me, offering advice and artistic input, especially when I was first began working with “contemporary classical” identifying musicians. I wanted to return his kindness with a piece of music, so when choreographer Kristin Draucker commissioned me to compose a piece, I thought of Todd immediately.

Unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances, Todd was suddenly unable to attend the recording session, so the same day, Todd and I called the best musicians we knew who were uniquely qualified to perform the music (i.e. musicians with experience in classical, improvisation, and electronic music). I thought it best to split the responsibility between multiple performers, and assigned the movements based upon the musical personalities of the performers: Mvt 1 – flutist Gina Izzo, Mvt 2 – violist Jessica Meyer, and Mvt 3 – cellist Dave Eggar. In retrospect, I see this outcome as a happy accident, which not only benefited the music by introducing a variety of timbres and musical personalities, but led to numerous collaborative projects with these wonderful musicians.

The formal structure of the three movements, and the conservation ecology concept in general, were initially inspired by author Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind and were further developed through conversations with notable conservation biologist Claudio Campagna and ecological/behavioral biologist Bernard Le Boeuf (my father). 

In Sapiens, Harari recounts our history as a species through a lens of evolutionary biology, postulating that biology sets the limits for global human activities, and that culture shapes what happens within those limits. I became particularly interested in prehistoric sapiens, their initial diaspora, the cognitive revolution, and the resulting extinctions of other species as a result of human impact. Following the cognitive revolution, humans developed the skills necessary to expand beyond the Afro-Asian landmass into Australia, the Americas, and various remote islands. Before humans intervened, these hosted an array of unique and flourishing species ranging from two-and-a-half ton wombats in Australia, to giant ground sloths and saber-toothed cats in the Americas. But without exception, within a few thousand years of setting foot on these territories, humans managed to kill off tremendous collections of diverse species. As Harari puts it, “Homo sapiens drove to extinction about half of the planet’s large mammals long before humans invented the wheel, writing, or iron tools,” including other human species with whom we once coexisted and even interbred. 

As a musician, I find it interesting to explore the extensions of patterns in sound, but when we consider the extensions of the destructive behavioral patterns we exhibit as a species, it is difficult to imagine a positive outcome. The three sub-movements (I: Cognitive Awakening / II: Requiem for the Extinct / III: Amid the Apocalypse) outline the past, present, and future of our ecological history. Through Harari’s lens, conversations with Campagna and my father, and subsequent research, I learned about the extent to which our planet is currently experiencing a crisis of mass extinction. We are losing species, whole ecosystems, and genes at an ever-increasingly rapid rate. Today, species disappear each year at a rate hundreds of times faster than when humans arrived on the scene. As a species known for 100,000 years to bury our dead, it is amazing we have such little respect for the deaths of other species, dozens of which are disappearing daily as a result of human activities—activities sufficient to mark a new epoch based upon human impact on the Earth’s geology and ecosystems: the Anthropocene.

SI: How does “Cognitive Awakening” relate to the beginning of the Anthropocene and human impact on the Earth?

PLB:
The cognitive revolution is a precursor to our dominance as a species and thus a precursor to the Anthropocene. According to Harari, humans became a dominant species through our ability to cooperate flexibly in large numbers—an ability derived from our unique capacity to believe in things existing purely in the imagination. The evolution of this ability is referred to as the Cognitive Revolution (c. 70,000 BCE). The first movement represents this cognitive awakening musically through an additive progression of increasingly complex elements. Something like this:

  • Static noise
  • Static droning 
  • Melody
  • Harmony
  • Call and Response
  • Speech
  • Improvisation
  • Electronic Manipulation

I like to imagine that the evolutionary progression that resulted in language, expression, and cognitive awareness has an analog in the development of music. This is how I chose to represent such a progression based upon my personal understanding of music (and perhaps based on the order in which many learn/teach music). 

SI: Into the Anthropocene features a lot of electronic layering and manipulating sounds. How does this compositional choice tie in with the overarching themes of the piece? What were some of the unique challenges or rewards of composing in this way?

My intention was to create a series of simple pieces to invite classically trained musicians to experiment with improvisation and hardware electronics (in this case, guitar pedals). Though I have a background in electronic music and enjoy complex approaches, I made a special effort to keep the electronic elements simple and accessible to performers without prior experience in electronic music.

Guitar pedals can be acquired easily at various prices at nearly any music store and are much easier to use than complex software programs like Max MSP, Protools, Logic, etc. (and are easier to understand). Each pedal represents a sound effect (in order from input to output): loop, reverb, vibrato, and delay. Each sound effect has basic parameters that are uniform across most brands. I hope that more classically trained musicians will be encouraged by this project to experiment in a similar fashion, as a gateway into composition, independent artistic development, and interdisciplinary collaborations with artists from backgrounds that transcend traditional classical environments. Every musician involved in this project is a wonderful role model for unconventional approaches to a career that began in classical music.**

**(Dave Eggar, a founding member of the FLUX Quartet, can also be heard on the opening of Coldplay’s Viva La Vida or Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange; Gina Izzo frequently performs with pedals in various contexts, and co-founded the flute and piano duo RighteousGIRLS; and Jessica Meyer, in addition to performing a one-woman show with loop pedal and viola, is a fantastic composer with recent premieres by A Far Cry, PUBLIQuartet, and Roomful of Teeth.)

The compositional choice to include electronic elements preceded the conceptual development of the piece. I view these electronic elements as raw materials for expression, and worked with them to articulate the conservation ecology concepts I described earlier. Most of the compositional challenges I faced were related to the strict parameters imposed by the loop pedal. Using a basic loop pedal means the form of each movement is additive, and will inevitably look something like this:

1
1+2
1+2+3
1+2+3+4
1+2+3+4+5

…with elements of improvisation and knob turning interspersed between stages. 

More complex loop pedals offer more structural options, but I wanted to keep this simple. Fortunately, placing the loop pedal at the beginning of the signal path allowed the subsequent effects pedals to sculpt/develop the existing looped material. Additional challenges included working with each performer to translate the score for their instrument. Since the composition doesn’t specify a particular instrument, I had the pleasure of working with each performer to find extended techniques that produced the desired effects. For example, Dave imitates a rhythmic shaker at the beginning of Mvt III by swiping his hand back and forth along the body of his cello, but if Gina were to imitate a shaker, she would blast air into her mouth piece with consonant sounds like this: [T k t k, T k t k].

The most rewarding aspect of this process is seeing how different performers interpret the music, and how rewarding the process of interpretation can be. Frequently, especially when performing standards, jazz musicians will prioritize the creative expressions of the performer over the composer. One might say the composition is not what makes the music work, but the way it’s played. When John Coltrane plays “My Favorite Things,” it sounds good because of the way he and the band play it—it’s not about the composition. The composition it just a guide. This freedom allows performers a chance to put themselves in the music, self-expression, a cathartic release. Audiences can feel it when it’s happening. I want to bring this aesthetic to classically-trained musicians. These movements are only a guide to highlight the individuals performing them. The performers and what they think about when they interpret this music… they make it work. I only provide a platform.


Pascal Le Boeuf’s Into the Anthropocene video EP will be released April 20. The album art photo is from the Los Alamos National Laboratory, and was taken 16 milliseconds after the first atomic bomb test.

Click here to pre-order the video EP on Bandcamp.

VIDEO PREMIERE: Kevin Clark’s ‘Eleanor & Hildegard’

by Maggie Molloy

In the 12th century one of the Middle Ages’ greatest patrons and politicians, Eleanor of Aquitaine, wrote a letter to one of the the era’s greatest composers, Hildegard of Bingen, asking for advice. Eleanor’s original letter has since been lost, but Hildegard’s reply remains.

That legendary correspondence was precisely the inspiration behind composer Kevin Clark‘s newest chamber work, Eleanor & Hildegard. Commissioned and premiered by Seattle’s own Sound Ensemble with mezzo-soprano Elspeth Davis this past February, the piece celebrates a regular occurrence that is rarely documented in history books: two influential women, talking to each other as autonomous individuals, independent of men.

Watch our in-studio video of Clark’s Eleanor & Hildegard and read the composer’s program note below.

Eleanor & Hildegard

Eleanor of Aquitaine was the most powerful woman in politics in 12th century Europe. Hildegard of Bingen was the most important woman in religion in the same time and place, as well as being a composer.

History doesn’t give us many stories of powerful women, much less of what they had to say to each other. But these two wrote. It was 1170, and Eleanor’s marriage to Henry II was collapsing. She was on the verge of a new life. The queen wrote to Hildegard of Bingen asking for advice. Hildegard’s reply survives.

This piece fills in the missing pieces. Tania Asnes wrote a poem to take the place of Eleanor’s missing letter, which begins the piece. As the composer, I brought in music Eleanor might have heard throughout her marriage by Bernart de Ventadorn. At the end, we hear Hildegard’s reply to Eleanor, telling her to flee, ‘Fuge’, from her troubles.

Within a few years she wasn’t just free from her marriage, but making war on Henry II with the aid of her son, Richard the Lionheart.

– Kevin Clark, composer


This Saturday, the Sound Ensemble turns from the Middle Ages to something a little more modern: an evening of chamber music penned by some of today’s top rock stars. You Didn’t Know They Composed features the Sound Ensemble performing music by the likes of Björk, Beck, Bryce Dessner, and more, plus a new commission by James McAlister.

You Didn’t Know They Composed is Saturday, April 7 at 7pm at the Good Shepherd Center in Wallingford. For tickets and additional information, please click here.

VIDEO PREMIERE: John Luther Adams’ “there is no one, not even the wind…”

by Maggie Molloy

John Luther Adams’ newest work whispers like the winds of the Sonoran Desert. Inspired by the stillness and light of the American Southwest, “there is no one, not even the wind…” is an immersive desert soundscape scored for two flutes, strings, piano, and percussion.

We are thrilled to premiere our video of Emerald City Music in their sold-out world premiere performance of Adams’ “there is no one, not even the wind…”

The piece takes its title from a poem by the great Mexican poet Octavio Paz titled Piedra Nativa (Native Stone). He writes, “No hay nadie ni siquiera tú mismo.” (“There is no one, not even yourself.”) Adams takes this line one step further, removing even the wind itself.

“there is no one, not even the wind…” was co-commissioned by Emerald City Music, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Camerata Pacifica, the Redlands Symphony Orchestra, and Chamber Music Northwest. Click here to learn more about Emerald City Music’s world premiere performance in our conversation with Artistic Director Kristin Lee and Executive Director Andrew Goldstein.

 

Westerlies Go West: Tonight at the Royal Room!

by Maggie Molloy

Photo by Sasha Arutyunova.

The Westerlies are back in the Northwest this week, coming home with new sounds and brand new music to premiere tonight at the Royal Room in Columbia City.

Far from your typical brass band, the Seattle-bred, New York-based quartet is known on both coasts for their bold artistry, impeccable finesse, eclectic musical interpretations, and remarkable versatility. Together, they’ve cultivated an expansive brass quartet repertoire featuring over 50 original compositions as well as adaptations of composers as diverse and wide-ranging as Ives, Ellington, Bartók, Ligeti, and many more.

Comprised of Riley Mulherkar and Zubin Hensler on trumpet with Andy Clausen and Willem de Koch on trombone, the Westerlies grew up together playing music in Seattle under the mentorship of Wayne Horvitz—making their homecoming performance all the more special, as Horvitz is the co-founder and music programmer of the Royal Room.

The Westerlies performing with Wayne Horvitz at the Royal Room. Photo by Daniel Sheehan.

Tonight, you can expect to hear a little jazz, a little classical, some folk, roots, blues, and chamber influences—but no matter what the Westerlies play, the one element that remains constant across all of their music is the warmth, camaraderie, charisma, and humor of four longtime friends.

“Whatever ‘sound’ the Westerlies have stumbled upon is the result of four friends channeling these diverse interests through warm air, buzzing lips and conical brass tubes—with a lot of love and saliva in there too,” said Andy Clausen.

For a sneak preview, check out our in-studio videos of the guys performing works by Charles Ives, Andy Clausen, and Wayne Horvitz:


The Westerlies perform at the Royal Room Thursday, June 15 at 8pm. For tickets and additional information, please click here.

LIVE VIDEO STREAM: A Far Cry on Friday, May 26 at 5pm PT / 8pm ET

A Far Cry and members of Silk Road premiere Vijay Iyer’s “City of Sand.”

by Maggie Molloy

New and familiar works from all corners of the globe come together this Friday night at A Far Cry’s concert collaboration with members from Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble. And although the concert itself is in Boston (and also completely sold out), you can still hear every minute of this musical tour de force right here on Second Inversion during our live video stream of the performance this Friday, May 26 at 5pm PT / 8pm ET.

Joined by Silk Road members Kinan Azmeh (clarinet), Sandeep Das (tabla), Haruka Fujii (percussion), Joseph Gramley (percussion), and Wu Man (pipa), A Far Cry explores music from across the ages and around the world, ranging from Bartók’s famous Romanian Folk Dances to a brand new world premiere of Vijay Iyer’s City of Sand.

The world-ranging program features composers and music from about a dozen different countries, including India, Iran, China, Syria, Hungary, Finland, Sweden, America, Japan, and more. Check out the full program below, and click here for program notes.

Kayhan Kalhor: Gallop of a Thousand Horses
Zhao Jiping: Sacred Cloud Music
Kinan Azmeh: Ibn Arabi Postlude
Béla Bartók, arr. Arthur Willner: Romanian Folk Dances
Kojiro Umezaki: For Zero
Vijay Iyer: City of Sand (World Premiere)
Sandeep Das, arr. Jesse Irons: Tarang
JPP and Marin Marin, arr. Karl Doty & Erik Higgins: Finnish and Swedish Fiddle Tunes
Kinan Azmeh: Bass Duo
Sapo Parapaskero, arr. Ljova & Osvaldo Golijov: Turceasca

Visit our website on Friday, May 26 at 5pm PT / 8pm ET to watch the sold-out performance LIVE. To learn more about our live-streaming video broadcasts of A Far Cry, click here.

NEW VIDEOS: Seattle Marimba Quartet

If you missed Seattle Marimba Quartet’s stellar performance at Resonance at SOMA Towers earlier this month as part of On Stage with Classical KING FM, we captured a couple of videos that will wrap you in a warm embrace of sound. First, their own arrangement of Eric Whitacre’s Sleep and a great “rethink classical” portrayal, reading straight from the pages of Ravel’s String Quartet score.

If you love outside-the-box classical concerts, there are two more on KING FM’s season this year! Saturday, April 15, join the Seattle Rock Orchestra Quintet with Tamara Power-Drutis for a modern take on of art songs and Saturday, May 13, join Edmund Stone, host of The Score and pianist extraordinaire Michael Refvem for a LIVE version of this famous radio program featuring stories, visuals and live music exploring the finest in cinema scoring.

Both performances begin at 7:30pm at Resonance at SOMA Towers in Bellevue. Click here to learn more and buy tickets!

LIVE VIDEO STREAM: A Far Cry on Friday, March 17 at 5pm PT / 8pm ET

On Friday, March 17 at 5pm PT / 8pm ET we continue our media partnership with Boston-based chamber orchestra A Far Cry with a live video stream of their next Jordan Hall performance at New England Conservatory! Join us here for West of the Pecos, a concert inspired by the vast open landscape of the American West. In this program, AFC delves into music from the last two centuries that explores these exciting, harsh, vibrant spaces. Legendary clarinetist David Shifrin joins AFC for Aaron Copland’s Clarinet Concerto.

 

Click here to read the full program notes for the performance, featuring this repertoire:

Diamond: Rounds for String Orchestra
Copland: Clarinet Concerto
Still: Mother and Child
Dvorak: American String Quartet

To learn more about upcoming live-streaming video broadcasts of A Far Cry, visit secondinversion.org/afarcry

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20150929 -- A Far Cry, photographed in South Boston, MA, USA on Tuesday, September 29, 2015. (Photo by Yoon S. Byun)

20150929 — A Far Cry, photographed in South Boston, MA, USA on Tuesday, September 29, 2015. (Photo by Yoon S. Byun)