Second Inversion Spooktacular: 48-Hour Spooky Music Marathon

by Maggie Molloy

IT’S BACK FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE… Second Inversion’s annual 48-Hour Spooky Music Marathon!

Let us provide the soundtrack for your Halloween haunts! On October 30 and 31, tune in to Second Inversion for a 48-hour marathon of new and experimental music inspired by monsters, witches, ghosts, goblins, and things that go bump in the night.

Click here to tune in to the scream—er, stream of Halloween music from anywhere in the world, or tune in on the go using the free KING FM mobile appTo give you a sneak peek of the spooky music that’s in store, our Second Inversion skeleton crew shares our favorite selections from the Halloween playlist:

Vincent Raikhel: Cirques (New Focus Recordings)
Red Light New Music

As an avid hiker, I couldn’t resist Vincent Raikhel’s Cirques. A reflection of the glacial geological formations so often encountered in the Cascade Mountains, this piece immediately transported me to a faraway corner of the imposing mountain range in Seattle’s backyard. In the context of the Spooky Music Marathon, this piece made me think of the creeping claustrophobia that one might feel in a cirque, especially as the sun sets, as it does so quickly in the mountains. It’s curious, how something so open to the sky, so large and static, can suddenly feel as if it is closing in on you in the waning light… – Seth Tompkins


Arnold Schoenberg: Pierrot Lunaire (Hungaroton Records)
Erika Sziklay, soprano; 
András Mihály, conductor; Budapest Chamber Ensemble

It just wouldn’t be a Halloween marathon without a spooky clown—and Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire is nothing if not haunting. A masterpiece of melodrama, the 35-minute work tells the chilling tale of a moonstruck clown and his descent into madness (a powerful metaphor for the modern alienated artist). The spooky story comes alive through three groups of seven poems (a result of Schoenberg’s peculiar obsession with numerology), each one recited using Sprechstimme: an expressionist vocal technique that hovers eerily between song and speech. Combine this with Schoenberg’s free atonality and macabre storytelling, and it’s enough to transport you to into an intoxicating moonlight. – Maggie Molloy


Harry Partch: Delusion of the Fury (Innova Recordings)

Likely written as an attempt to reconcile his own anger, Harry Partch’s stage play Delusion of the Fury is (superficially, at least) well-suited to Halloween. Containing killing, a ghost, body horror, futility, and absurdism, this piece not only touches on the more classic campy elements of spookiness, but is oriented around some of the darker elements of horror—existentialism, futility, and powerlessness to name a few. Plus, for my money, few musical things conjure the uneasy feelings associated with horror and dread like microtonal scales. – Seth Tompkins


Bernard Herrmann: Psycho Suite (Stylotone Records)

This piece is so timelessly cool and undeniably scary. Like John Williams’ Star Wars score borrowed the dark side of the Force from the dojo-dominating “Mars, the Bringer of War” in Holst’s The Planets, Herrmann borrows the creepy suspenseful stringiness of Norman Bates from the dancing skeletons in Camille Saint-Saens’ Danse Macabre (and maybe from Mussorgsky’s Bald Mountain witches).

I’m a sucker for a good film score. That blend of music and movie can be so powerful. Consider the fact that thousands of people were scared to take a shower after Psycho—and that’s in large part because of Herrmann’s music. I love, too, that Hitchcock gave Herrmann license to do as he pleased with the score—except for the shower scene, for which Hitchcock asked Herrmann to write no music. Herrmann nodded and smiled at the director, and then did as he pleased instead. Thanks to Herrmann’s creative insubordination, we have one of the most iconic, cover-your-eyes scenes in film history. – Dacia Clay

ALBUM REVIEW: Darcy James Argue’s Real Enemies 

by Maggie Molloy

Tangled up amidst the drama of yet another scandal-soaked presidential election, this season we find ourselves perhaps a little more willing than usual to engage in discussions of a clandestine and conspiratorial nature.

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But whether you’re a conspiracy theory junkie or a sideline skeptic, even the most patriotic of us loves a good old-fashioned conspiracy. Whether it’s the Watergate scandal or the inner-workings of the Illuminati, alien sightings or the mysterious murder of JonBenét Ramsey, we just can’t help but turn up our ears when we hear a juicy top-secret scheme.

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Photo Credit: Lindsay Beyerstein

And since we’re already listening, Brooklyn-based composer and bandleader Darcy James Argue decided to take our eavesdropping ears to the next level: his new album Real Enemies is a 13-chapter exploration into America’s unshakable fascination with conspiracy theories. Performed with his 18-piece big band Secret Society and released on New Amsterdam Records, the album traverses the full range of postwar paranoia, from the Red Scare to the surveillance state, mind control to fake moon landings, COINTELPRO to the CIA-contra cocaine trafficking ring—and everything in between.

 

“Belief in conspiracies is one of the defining aspects of modern culture,” Argue said. “It transcends political, economic, and other divides. Conservative or liberal, rich or poor, across all races and backgrounds there exists a conspiratorial strain of thought that believes there are forces secretly plotting against us.”

The product of extensive research into a broad range of conspiratorial lore, Real Enemies traces the historical roots, iconography, literature, and language of conspiracies, offering a compelling glimpse into the secrets, scandals, and suspicious sneakings-around of the American government.

“Conspiracies theories often take hold because they provide an explanation for disturbing realities,” Argue said. “They tell a story about why the world is the way it is. Paradoxically, it’s often more comforting to believe that bad things happen because they are part of a hidden agenda than it is to believe that they came about as a result of mistakes, ineptitude, or random chance.”

Like any good conspiracy theorist, Argue’s composition pulls from a variety of sources, both historical and sociopolitical (and in this case, musical). Real Enemies draws heavily on the 12-tone techniques devised by Arnold Schoenberg in the aftermath of World War I, but cleverly disguises them under sprawling layers of brassy big band jazz licks and insatiably funky bass grooves.

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Photo Credit: James Matthew Daniel

With cheeky titles like “Trust No One,” “Never a Straight Answer,” “Silent Weapons for Quiet Wars,” and my personal favorite, “Apocalypse is a Process,” the expansive album unfolds like an evening-length jam session. The stage-worthy solos pour over from instrument to instrument above a musical backdrop which oscillates between atonal classical, 80s toe-tapping funk, psychedelic space jazz, and sleuthy 60s-era detective film scores. Samples of infamous speeches from figures like John F. Kennedy, Frank Church, George H. W. Bush, and Dick Cheney are expertly sprinkled in among the musical chaos.

And those are just a few of the major overarching musical influences—the album also includes pockets of minimalism, Latin-American salsa, Afro-Cuban jazz, synth-laden electro, and more. A staticky spew of TV news headlines and a couple motives borrowed from the famously paranoia-inducing film scores of Michael Small’s The Parallax View and David Shire’s All the President’s Men also make an appearance.

And in the final chapters of the album, that spiraling web of musical influences becomes a theatrical backdrop for a monologue voiced by actor James Urbaniak. A spiraling conclusion explores the paranoid mind head-on, blurring the line between fact and fantasy, truth and conspiracy—and begging the ultimate question: Who is the real enemy?

Diary: How to Read John Cage – Part VIII

Cage_Diaryby Maggie Molloy

This post is the final installment of a series on John Cage’s “Diary: How to Improve the World (You Will Only Make Matters Worse).” For earlier installments of the series, please visit: Introduction, Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, and Part VII.

If John Cage composed music for exploded keyboards, silent stages, tape recordings, traffic, temple gongs, and toy pianos during his waking life, just imagine what the music of his dreams must have sounded like.

“Dreamt I’d composed a piece all notes of which were to be prepared and eaten,” he says gently in Part VIII of his “Diary.” “Lemon’n’oil, salt’n’pepper. Some raw.”

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. We already know Cage was a fabulous cook, plus his penchant for unprepared dissonances was basically unmatched. And even in his dreams, Cage attacked the cherished beliefs of the Western classical music tradition—the very notion of a “prepared dissonance” is just as silly as a note being prepared for dinner.

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But dreaming or not, Cage was an avant-garde iconoclast in all aspects of his life. Throughout his music, writings, and artwork, he took a profound interest in reform—and not just musical reform, but social, political, and cultural reforms as well. I mean, the man titled his diary “Diary: How to Improve the World (You Will Only Make Matters Worse),” for goodness’ sake.

The final chapter of his diary, Part VIII, takes particular interest in the events of the Nixon administration, the Watergate scandal, Western medicine, Puerto Rican politics, and public transportation. Cage also spends a fair percentage of the closing chapter discussing the innumerable ways in which to explore the music of conch shells—go figure.

And although there are no clear connections between any of these topics—except for Nixon and Watergate, of course—there is one distinct similarity between all the mangled memories and musings that make up Cage’s 165-page diary: each entry is in some way a reflection of the world he was living in at the time, whether it be related to the arts, culture, politics, or social issues of that specific period.

And of course, the diary just wouldn’t be Cage if it wasn’t aleatoric: the number of words in each diary entry is chance-determined.

“The result is a mosaic of remarks, the juxtapositions of which are free of intention,” he writes in a short introduction to Part VIII.

Cage with Cigarette

While many people have considered Cage a slave to his chance operations, in truth he felt they actually freed him of his likes and dislikes.

“TV interview: if you were asked to describe yourself in three words, wha’d you say?” he asks earnestly. “An open cage.”

After all, there’s an entire world of music just waiting for you when you step outside the confines of the Western classical music tradition.

“Satie was right,” Cage continues. “Experience is a form of paralysis.”

Ah yes, Erik Satie—one of history’s most beloved classical music iconoclasts. His extensive writings are ripe with wit, whimsy, satire, and parody. Plus Cage took a special interest in his notion furniture music—that is, music played in the background while listeners engaged in other activities.

Another influential and unapologetically avant-garde composer in Cage’s life was Arnold Schoenberg. Cage’s strict adherence to the principle of chance led many critics to associate his music with that of Schoenberg, who was famous for developing the stern and stringent twelve-tone technique in the 1920s. Schoenberg was, in fact, one of Cage’s most radical and influential composition instructors, working with him for two years free of charge, so long as Cage promised to devote his life to music.

“Schoenberg stood in front of the class,” Cage recalls expressionlessly. “He asked those who intended to become professional musicians to raise their hands. I didn’t put mine up.”

Of course, Cage was never much of a musician in the traditional sense, but he was every bit an artist and an innovator—a true pioneer of the avant-garde and one of the most influential composers of the 20th century. In fact, the notoriously harsh Schoenberg famously described Cage not as a composer, but as “an inventor of genius.”

Not only was Cage instrumental (no pun intended) in the development of modern music, but he was also quite influential in the evolution of modern dance. His contributions to the world of contemporary dance came primarily through his collaborations with choreographer Merce Cunningham, who was his artistic and romantic partner for much of their lives.

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Cage and Cunningham in 1965. Photo courtesy of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company.

Together, Cage and Cunningham pioneered a new framework for performance: their methodology allowed music and dance to coexist as separate entities, neither dependent upon the other. The two worked within a series of abstract rhythmic structure points which enabled the music and dance to exist together in the same space and time while still being entirely independent of one another.

The two discussed their artistic process in depth during a 1981interview at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota.


Cage and Cunningham kept the two art forms so separate that in many cases, the dancers did not even hear the music until the public did—during the performance. How’s that for avant-garde? The two collaborated for nearly half a century, turning the world of music and dance upside-down until Cage’s death in 1992—though his influence on Cunningham’s art continued far past his death.

Cage and Cunningham Sitting - 1986

Cage and Cunningham in 1986. Photo courtesy of the Peter Hujar Archive.

To this day, Cage’s works are an affirmation of life—a celebration of the unpredictable and ever-changing world of everyday living. Decades after his death, his influence and his legacy continue to shape the world of music and art.

“I’m gradually learning how to take care of myself,” Cage says softly. “It has taken a long time. It seems to me that when I die I’ll be in perfect condition.”

Cage Smiling

Cage originally intended for his diary to have 10 parts: one for each month of the original Roman calendar year. He was working on the ninth when he died, leaving the piece with a sense of open-endedness and wondrous possibility similar to that which is present in all of his indeterminate works.

It seems oddly serendipitous that this series should come to a close as we enter into the end of December, the final month of the Roman calendar. And while we are left to wonder at what was left unsaid—what insights into world improvement that might have been hidden in those final two unfinished chapters—there is comfort in knowing that Cage’s music is still alive and existing all around us, if only we open our eyes and ears to it.

“People ask what the avant-garde is and whether it’s finished,” Cage says with slow sincerity. “It isn’t. There will always be one. 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.”

Photo courtesy of Kathan Brown at Crown Point Press

Photo courtesy of Kathan Brown at Crown Point Press.

LIVE CONCERT SPOTLIGHT: November 7, 8, 9

by Maggie Molloy

Club Shostakovich Celebrates 50th Anniversary of String Quartets No. 9 and 10

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Come lift a glass to Dmitri Shostakovich this weekend as Trio Pardalote celebrates the 50th anniversary his 9th and 10th String Quartets. Though the pieces originally premiered in Moscow in 1964, Trio Pardalote is recreating this historic event a little closer to home.

The trio—composed of violinist Victoria Parker, violist Heather Bentley, and cellist Rowena Hammill—will be joined by violinists Blayne Barnes, Natasha Bazhanov, Artur Girsky, and Mikhail Shmidt to present Shostakovich’s 8th, 9th, and 10th String Quartets. Guests are invited to enjoy the drama and passion of some of Shostakovich’s most exciting string compositions, which were written during a time of great political unrest in the Soviet Union.

The performance will be followed by a late night jazz set with Quartet Royale featuring pianist Wayne Horvitz, vocalist Jimmie Herrod, bassist Geoff Harper, and drummer Eric Eagle.

The performance will take place at the Royal Room this Friday, Nov. 7 at 8 p.m.

 

Seattle Rock Orchestra Presents a Police Tribute

2012.02.18: Zach Davidson (w/ Seattle Rock Orchestra) @ The Moor

It’s been nearly 30 years since the critically acclaimed British rock band the Police broke up, but none of us could ever forget classics like “Roxanne” and “Every Breath You Take.” Instead of early awaiting another sold-out reunion tour, you can catch some of your favorite Police tunes this weekend when Seattle Rock Orchestra presents a Police tribute night at the Moore Theatre.

It’s everything you love about the punky 80s power quartet, except for expanded into a 50+ piece orchestra featuring vocalists David Terry, Erin Austin, Andrew Vait, and Annie Janzter. Come witness as some of Seattle’s top classically-trained musicians pay tribute to one of the greatest punk, reggae, jazz-infused rock bands the 80s had to offer.

Renowned Seattle folk artist Naomi Wachira is the opening act. A Kenyan-born musician who grew up singing gospel in a traveling family band, her music is deeply influenced by both her African roots as well as her experience living in the Pacific Northwest.

The performance will take place this Saturday, Nov. 8 at the Moore Theatre. Doors open at 7 p.m. and the performance begins at 8 p.m.

 

Music of Remembrance Presents Schoenberg’s “Verklärte Nacht”

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This weekend marks the 76th anniversary of the tragic Kristallnacht, a massacre against Jews throughout Germany and Austria carried out by Nazi military forces. In honor of the those innocent civilians who lost their lives in these devastating attacks, Music of Remembrance is presenting a performance of Arnold Schoenberg’s “Verklärte Nacht” (“Transfigured Night”), a tender and romantic string sextet.The performance will also be the world premiere of Spectrum Dance Theater choreographer Donald Byrd’s new dances for the enchanting piece.

“Verklärte Nacht” was inspired by Richard Dehmel’s poem of the same name, which tells the story of a woman and her lover walking through a shadowy forest on a moonlit night. The woman confesses to her lover that she is pregnant with another man’s baby, and her lover accepts and forgives her. Schoenberg’s composition captures the grave sorrow of the woman’s confession, the calm and thoughtful reflection of her lover, and the bright, hopeful acceptance of her secret.

The concert will also feature works by Dutch composers under Nazi occupation as well as a medley of songs from cabaret shows staged by prisoners at Terezin, a ghetto and concentration camp in the Czech Republic during World War II.

The performance will take place at Benaroya Hall this Sunday, Nov. 9 at 4 p.m.