ALBUM REVIEW: ‘Teenages’ by Qasim Naqvi

by Peter Tracy

Photo by Smriti Keshari.

The mellow buzzing of synthesizers and electric organs has been used in popular music for decades now, but some of the first people to experiment with these instruments were classical and avant-garde composers. The mid-20th century saw a wide range of composers creating new works that mined the expressive potential of electronic instruments—a trend that is continually unfolding today.

On his new album Teenages, composer Qasim Naqvi shows us that a synthesizer can change and respond to its player just like any other more traditional instrument, creating a surprising and one-of-a-kind journey of an album in the process.

Teenages is played entirely on an analog modular synthesizer, which is a synthesizer made up of multiple synth units connected together without a playable interface like a keyboard. Essentially, the machine generates tones while the player guides it, turning knobs to change frequency, create rhythms, or add timbre filters. What makes Naqvi’s machine so special is that he built it himself over the course of two years, and the process of the instrument’s evolution is catalogued on the album. Reflecting on the process of learning his machine’s quirks, Naqvi found that it seemed to react to his impulses in surprising ways and to mature over time, which inspired the album’s title.

The first five tracks of the album were created in the year leading up to the title track. They give us a sense of the machine’s evolution, beginning with “Intermission,” an atmospheric and ambient track that starts from almost a single tone, expanding slowly to include pulsing sounds of different timbres and pitches.

“Mrs 2E” brings in some more recognizable material, with stuttering beeps and blips fluttering around the steadier rhythms of something resembling a melody and bassline. “Palace Workers” continues this progression, with a quirky but danceable percussion section keeping a steady beat. This is joined by a bouncy, repetitive synth line that starts to give a sense of harmony. By “No Tongue,” Naqvi and his machine have learned to work together to form what sounds like an ensemble of electronics featuring a bright, melodic hook, lively textured rhythms, and scattered beeps and clicks.

While “No Tongue” is animated and restless, “Artilect” takes us into deeper waters with a low, pulsing drone that makes you wonder what could be around the corner. This leads us finally into the main event, “Teenages,” an almost 20-minute track which brings together everything that came before. Multiple synth lines build steadily upward into rich harmonies to form what sounds like an electronic orchestra playing an oddly off-kilter sort of anthem. These chords are then warped and spun through different filters, with fluttering synths imitating and reacting to each other over time to create what feels like a journey through the mind of Naqvi’s machine.

For Naqvi, modular synthesizers feel almost alive in a way that he wanted to capture by treating Teenages like a live album: the title track, for instance, was recorded in a single take, with no edits or overdubs. Showcasing the sometimes-unpredictable behavior of the machine was a priority for the composer, and this makes for an album that is always evolving and transforming into something new.

In the end, it is both Naqvi turning the knobs and the machine interpreting his actions that come together to create something of a collaborative album between a man and his machine.

The Science of Sound: An Interview with Alvin Lucier

by Maggie Molloy

Alvin Lucier has spent the past six decades exploring sound—its physical properties, how it moves and morphs in space, and the ways in which we can manipulate our own auditory perception.

His music makes you listen differently. Instead of traditional notions of melody and harmony, his music plays with the very wavelengths of sound itself, placing you in the center of the acoustic phenomena and inviting you to hear the sound as it shifts and unfolds within the space.

We caught up with Lucier at the 2019 Big Ears Festival, which featured performances of his music by Joan La Barbara, the Ever Present Orchestra, and the composer himself—including his most iconic work, I Am Sitting in a Room.

In this interview, Lucier talks with us about the science of sound, the hallmarks of experimental composition, and what it takes to play his music.

Audio editing by Nikhil Sarma.


Music in this interview from Alvin Lucier’s Ever Present and I Am Sitting in a Room, both available on Mode Records.

‘Become Desert’ Concert Broadcast: June 7, 9pm PT

by Maggie Molloy

John Luther Adams is known for crafting vast sonic landscapes that echo with the textures and timbres of the natural world. Most famous among them is Become Ocean, his Pulitzer Prize and Grammy-winning orchestral work commissioned and recorded by the Seattle Symphony in 2013.

Last year, our orchestra premiered the highly-anticipated sequel, Become Desert—and you can hear it this weekend on Classical KING FM.

Tune in on Friday, June 7 at 9pm to hear Adams’ expansive desert sound world in its original concert performance by the Seattle Symphony and Chorale, conducted by Ludovic Morlot. (And as if an immersive new John Luther Adams premiere wasn’t enough on its own, the piece is paired with another musical mammoth: Beethoven’s Emperor Piano Concerto featuring pianist Jeremy Denk.)

Written specifically for Benaroya Hall, Adam’s Become Desert features members of the Seattle Symphony and Chorale divided into five different ensembles which surround the audience, immersing them in sound, space, and “the singing of the light” (a quote Adams borrows from the great Mexican poet Octavio Paz). The piece was composed at a pivotal moment in Adams’ life: after living for most of his career in Alaska, he moved to the Mexican desert.

In this interview conducted before the piece’s world premiere, John Luther Adams speaks with KING FM’s Dave Beck about moving from tundra to desert, his fascination with immense spaces, and the importance of using the right tools—in his case, the perfect number 2 pencil.



Want to hear it again?

A studio recording of Become Desert will be released on June 14 as an album available on Cantaloupe Music. The two-disc set includes a DVD featuring a surround sound mix of the recording, as well as a slideshow of desert images shot by Adams himself.

Click here for more information, and here for NPR Music’s First Listen.

VIDEO PREMIERE: Majel Connery’s ‘Rebeam Me’

by Maggie Molloy

Majel Connery had a rather unusual path to the world of pop music.

Originally trained as a pianist, opera singer, and eventual musicologist, she went on to collaborate with a number of wide-ranging artists both within and beyond the genre of “new music.” Among them are the art pop duo Hae Voces, the book-club-band Oracle Hysterical, and the radically experimental Opera Cabal, to name just a few.

Presently, she’s set her ears on exploring her own voice as a solo artist. Her new EP Anything Chartreuse features four original songs that layer her translucent voice over shimmering electronics. The result is dreamy art pop with the sensitivity and nuance of classical music—but none of the inhibitions.

We’re thrilled to premiere the music video for her new song “Rebeam Me.”


Majel Connery’s Anything Chartreuse is out now. Click here to listen.

The Sound of One Man Cooking: Nat Evans’ Music for Daily Life

by Dacia Clay

Composer Nat Evans makes music with practical applications—music you can use in your daily life and music inspired by his own. As a practitioner of Zen Buddhism, this is to be expected: Zen is all about being with what is, allowing life to unfold as it will. And what unfolds in Evan’s latest work is music to cook by.

Evans grows much of his own food (he started a community garden this past year), and he loves cooking to music. His latest work, Two Functions in Three Dimensions, is a soundtrack for others to cook by—a meditative, atmospheric audio framework to aid in being present in the kitchen. In this interview, he talks about Zen, about his own meditation practice, and about why the quotidian is his creative inspiration.

Interview and audio production by Dacia Clay.