STAFF PICKS: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from their weekly playlist. Tune in on Friday, September 7 to hear these pieces and plenty of other new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre!

Dawn of Midi: “Ymir” (Thirsty Ear)

This is one of my new favorite things. As literally every reviewer ever has noted, the ensemble Dawn of Midi is comprised of the same arrangement as any traditional jazz trio (drum kit, grand piano, and upright bass), but the way they use their instruments is more in line with the connotations of the ensemble’s name. This music sounds closer to Tycho, “15 Step” by Radiohead, or the minimal aspects of Aphex Twin than it does to any jazz you’ve ever heard. It’s a tight, taught, surely-not-made-by humans kind of sound, with rhythms set in cool, precise geometric shapes for your ears. And it kinda makes me want to dance. Or at least to try to. – Dacia Clay

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


Meredith Monk: Dolmen Music (ECM Records)
Meredith Monk, Julius Eastman, Andrea Goodman, Robert Een, Monica Solem, & Paul Langland, voices

Meredith Monk has secured a place in history as one of the most singular voices of the 20th and 21st centuries. For nearly six decades, she has redefined and revolutionized contemporary vocal music and performance, seamlessly weaving in elements of theatre and dance to create visceral musical experiences that transcend the confines of the classical tradition.

Her 20-minute masterwork Dolmen Music is an iconic example of her ability to merge ancient and modern musical ideas. In this piece, abstract vocalizations, primal rhythms, hypnotic dances, and ritualistic soundscapes come together in an intimate embrace of the human experience. – Maggie Molloy

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


Caroline Shaw: “Really Craft When You” (Cantaloupe Music)
Bang on a Can All-Stars

Caroline Shaw’s “Really Craft When You” is best described as a sonic quilt. It’s a chamber piece that stitches together vibrantly textured patches of chamber music with recorded interviews of quilters from North Carolina and Virginia in the 1970s. The result is a cheeky and heartfelt patchwork of found sounds and sonic squares expertly colored by the Bang on a Can All-Stars—and as it turns out, the quilters offer some pretty good musical advice too. – Maggie Molloy

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

STAFF PICKS: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from their weekly playlist.  Tune in on Friday, January 26 to hear these pieces and plenty of other new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre!

Adam Maness: “Shibuya” (Self-Released)
Performed by the 442s

The title of this piece grabbed my attention because it’s a name I’ve read in Haruki Murakami’s novels and short stories—most recently 1Q84, where one of the characters, Aomame, climbs down an emergency staircase from a freeway to escape a traffic jam, where she’s been sitting for ages in a taxi. As she leaves, the taxi driver tells her to remember that “things are not what they seem,” and then she begins her decent into Shibuya, Tokyo. While I’ve never been to Shibuya, the 442s (who took their name from the standard orchestral tuning of 442 hertz) and composer Adam Maness have added another layer to my imagination of what the place is like. Plus, that glockenspiel with the plucked strings kills me. Good stuff! – Dacia Clay

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


Dawn of Midi: Io (Thirsty Ear)

I’m starting to think that I will never tire of  Dawn of Midi’s 2013 album Dysnomia. Exemplifying an extremely high standard of acoustic performance, this album is some of the best trance-y music anywhere, for my money. Io, in particular, is a fantastic track. Satisfying grooves give way to complex rhythms and unexpected tones that draw you in as they zone you out. – Seth Tompkins

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


Gabriel Kahane: “Parts of Speech” (StorySound Records)

Kahane’s second album Where are the Arms seems aesthetically drawn to building bridges and blurring boundaries between indie rock and classical musis. His catchy pop song “Parts of Speech” highlights the everlasting theme of unrequited love with rhythmic sophistication and something distinctly Nirvana-meets-the-Killers. Kahane’s drawling voice on the driving melody punctuated by some clever rhyme schemes makes the humanness of his songwriting relatable to the casual listener while simultaneously transfixing to the poetically and musically trained ear. – Micaela Pearson

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


Ben Lukas Boysen: “Golden Times 2” (Erased Tapes)

Soundscaper Ben Lukas Boysen’s “Golden Times 2” is a slow burn with a wistful, pensive core. Sleepy static and repetitious programmed piano are the jumping off point for a piece that builds as cello and drums join in the tremulous, lush unfolding of an arrangement that offers beautiful gestures of emotion rather than a blatant brandish of it. Swathe yourself in the coziest blanket and sink into Boysen’s graceful melodic minimalism. – Rachele Hales

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 9pm hour today to hear this piece.

Second Inversion’s Top 10 Albums of 2017

From Icelandic sound sculptures to pan-global jazz, found sounds and field recordings to sprawling, city-wide operas, 2017 was filled with some pretty incredible new music. As this year draws to a close, our Second Inversion hosts take a look back at our Top 10 Albums of 2017:

The Industry and wild Up: Hopscotch (The Industry Records)
Release Date: January 13, 2017

Hopscotch is by far the most inventive, labor-intensive, and meticulously designed work of the year. Live performances of the opera take place in 24 cars on three distinct routes, stopping at various locations-turned-performance spaces throughout Los Angeles. It involves everything from animated sequences exploring themes of identity and community to hearing star musicians perform in the car with you as you ride to your next unknown destination. The album recording is just as expansive, inviting the listener to experience the musical narrative in a non-chronological order, with multiple singers forming a composite of each character’s identity.

Intentionally disorienting, surprising, and overwhelming, artistic director Yuval Sharon and his team at the Industry have created an absolutely immersive experience—and audiences have been blown away. – Brendan Howe


yMusic and Son Lux: First (Communal Table Records)
Release Date: February 17, 2017

Something I hear frequently said about new classical music, from detractors and fans alike, is that it’s hard to listen to. First is a decidedly “new classical” album that does not fit into that framework at all. It’s—and I say this without irony—a freaking delight to listen to. It’s full of stories; for example, in the titular track, the instruments seem to be vying for first place until this looming bass note kicks in, threatening to take them all down. The titles themselves kickstart the imagination: “Trust in Clocks,” “Memory Wound,” and “I Woke Up in the Forest” are some of my favorites. Composer Ryan “Son Lux” Lott and producer Thomas Bartlett took yMusic’s edict to make a chamber music record structured like a rock album to heart and, with the addition of amazing performances by the group, turned it into art. – Dacia Clay


American Contemporary Music Ensemble: Thrive on Routine (Sono Luminus)
Release Date: February 24, 2017

Thrive on Routine was an interesting choice of title for ACME’s 2017 release. Timo Andres’ programmatic string quartet that follows the potato-tending and Bach-playing morning routine of Charles Ives thus becomes the album’s centerpiece, and by relation the rest of the selections are colored by the idea of beauty arising from the mundane. Minimalist textures in Caleb Burhans’ “Jahrzeit” and John Luther Adams’ “In a Treeless Place, Only Snow” provide a sense of calm and even pacing, while a deliberate, almost “learned” style extends from Andres’ title track to Caroline Shaw’s “in manus tuas” and “Gustave Le Gray” for solo cello. – Geoffrey Larson


Iceland Symphony Orchestra: Recurrence (Sono Luminus)
Release Date: April 7, 2017

The massive, slow-moving sound sculptures of Iceland shimmer and sparkle in Recurrence, an album of ethereal orchestral works by five emerging and established Icelandic artists. Daníel Bjarnason leads the Iceland Symphony Orchestra through a luminous program ranging from Thurídur Jónsdóttir’s kaleidoscopic “Flow & Fusion,” to María Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir’s oceanic “Aequora,” Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s icy and iridescent “Dreaming,” and more. Each piece on the album is a gorgeously abstracted soundscape in itself, showcasing the small Nordic island’s all but unparalleled explorations of texture, timbre, and immersive, atmospheric colors in music. – Maggie Molloy


PRISM Quartet with So Percussion and Partch: Color Theory (Naxos)
Release Date: April 14, 2017

Mixing colors takes on new meaning in Color Theory, an album blending the hues of four saxophones with an experimental percussion quartet and the microtonal musical instruments of Harry Partch. The PRISM Quartet teams up with So Percussion and the Partch ensemble to explore the full spectrum of color in music, from the deepest blues to the boldest reds, oranges, and yellows. Steven Mackey’s “Blue Notes & Other Clashes” mixes colors ranging from muted to magnificent through eight short movements culminating in a prismatic fantasy, while Ken Ueno’s “Future Lilacs” explores the shifting shades of the overtone series and Stratis Minakakis’s “Skiagrafies” paints a sonic canvas with color-changing harmonies. – Maggie Molloy


Amir ElSaffar: Not Two (New Amsterdam Records)
Release Date: June 16, 2017

In a year choked with disunity in nearly every part of our lives, trumpeter Amir ElSaffar’s jazzy pan-global album Not Two offers a welcome musical melting of borders. ElSaffar draws inspiration from different cultures and their instruments, primarily Western Asia and America, and declares that they “do not exist as separate entities ‘belonging’ to any people or place.” His humanism coupled with the skill of his collaborators results in an album that pulses with mystical jazz spells, thrills with august horns, and reminds us that music is egalitarian. Knowing that Not Two was recorded in one marathon 16-hour session is just the cherry on top of ElSaffar’s accomplishment.
Rachele Hales


Los Angeles Percussion Quartet: Beyond (Sono Luminus)
Release Date: June 16, 2017

LAPQ’s Beyond pushes the boundaries of what a percussion ensemble can do, with a healthy dose of ambient-leaning music combined with a smaller measure of perhaps slightly more familiar groove-based music that might seem more typical of percussion repertoire. With works by heavy-hitting composers Daníel Bjarnason, Christopher Cerrone, Anna Thorvalsdottir, Ellen Reid, and Andrew McIntosh paired with thoughtful and delicate execution, Beyond is a tour-de-force that stands at the leading edge of music for percussion. – Seth Tompkins


Third Coast Percussion: Book of Keyboards (New Focus Recordings)
Release Date: August 4, 2017

If classical music is a volcanic island, percussion ensembles are the lava and magma that makes the new land. They’re always on the edge, pushing out, making new sounds with new instruments. And that’s exactly what Third Coast Percussion is doing on Book of Keyboards. They’ve recorded two works by modernist composer Philippe Manoury—sometimes sounding like an elaborate wooden wind chime orchestra, and at other times leaving long, worshipful tensions between notes.

Some of the instruments used on this album are familiar enough—like marimbas and vibraphones—but I’m gonna bet you’ve never heard the sixxen, because they were invented by a guy named Iannis Xenakis (also an avant-garde composer) and homemade by Third Coast. I wonder if performing on instruments that you’ve made by hand is as exciting/terrifying as flying a kit plane that you’ve built in your garage? Third Coast never lets on, moving through these two works, “Le Livre des Clavier,” and “Metal,” like seasoned pilots flying in formation. – Dacia Clay


Qasim Naqvi: FILM (Published by Erased Tapes)
Release Date: September 29, 2017

Perhaps best known as the drummer from the group of acoustic virtuosos Dawn of Midi, Qasim Naqvi also plays other instruments and composes both art music and music for television and film. The album FILM, as you might guess, falls into the latter category. Released in September of 2017, FILM contains music written for the film Tripoli Cancelled and the video installation Two Meetings and a Funeral, both by Naeem Mohaiemen. This release, like other projects by Naqvi, celebrates the legacy of Moog synthesizers. The atmospheric sounds on this album were inspired by disused architecture, and sometimes recall the music of John Carpenter. – Seth Tompkins


Bang on a Can All-Stars: More Field Recordings (Cantaloupe Music)
Release Date: October 27, 2017

Some composers can make music out of just about anything—and that’s precisely the idea behind the Bang on a Can All-Stars’ More Field Recordings. A star-studded cast of composers are each asked to find a recording of something that already exists (a voice, a sound, a faded scrap of melody) and then write a new piece around it.

A follow-up to their original 2015 release Field Recordings, this year’s rendition is a colorful patchwork of found sounds and sonic squares from the likes of Caroline Shaw, Ben Frost, Nico Muhly, Richard Reed Parry, and Glenn Kotche (to name just a few), with the All-Stars playing along to field recordings ranging from quilting interviews to Chilean birdsongs, lava fields, and snoring sleepers.
Maggie Molloy

ALBUM REVIEW: Bearthoven’s Trios

Photo by Jaime Boddorff.

by Seth Tompkins

Trios, the new release by New York City-based piano trio Bearthoven is a masterclass in eclecticism.  With this album, the trio, which consists of percussion (Matt Evans), piano (Karl Larson), and bass (Pat Swoboda), set out to create a collection that presents a sample of the more than 20 new works that Bearthoven has commissioned as well as to showcase music from composers with markedly different musical backgrounds.  Trios more than achieves these goals; the blend of sharply contrasting aesthetics and exceptional musicianship here yields a fascinating and joyful product that fuses exuberant eclecticism with top-quality performance.

Although each of the six pieces on Trios comes from quite different musical places, there is an overarching structure.  Broadly speaking, these selections fit into two groups: three of the six tracks are rhythm-forward, “post-minimalist” pieces, while the other three tend toward soundscape and abstraction.  Trios begins with one of the post-minimal compositions, and alternates between the two categories, ending with Adrian Knight’s peaceful and contemplative “The Ringing World.”

While Bearthoven identifies as a “piano trio,” their instrumentation (percussion, piano, and bass) is decidedly unusual.  This setup is common in other types of music (jazz, pop, etc.), but is largely unexplored as a vehicle for contemporary classical.  One other notable group that shares this interesting space is the all-acoustic ensemble Dawn of Midi, similarly composed up of drums, piano, and bass, and also based in New York City.  Both groups occupy similar inter-genre spaces.  However, their divergent raisons d’être result in musical outputs that are complementary and non-duplicative: while Dawn of Midi focuses on self-composed and improvised groove-based music that is influenced by global traditions, Bearthoven is oriented around collaboration with a diverse range of composers whose music tends strongly toward contemporary classical.

That is not to say that Bearthoven has an aversion to grooves, however.  In fact, the opening track, Brooks Frederickson’s “Undertoad,” and the second-to-last track, Brendon Randall-Myers’s “Simple Machine,” have collections of grooves that are both wantonly energetic and fascinating in their complex construction.  Bearthoven executes both enjoyably and with great attention to detail, which is typical for tracks on this release.

The more atmospheric pieces on Trios also showcase Bearthoven’s remarkable energy and outstanding musicality.  Especially in these tracks, the constant communication between the players is obvious.  On Knight’s “The Ringing World” and Fjóla Evans’ “Shoaling” particularly, the unity with which the trio executes (sometimes quite subtle) shifts of volume, intensity, and time is a triumph.  The responsiveness and individual mastery necessary to pull off that kind of seamless groupthink is rare and requires real dedication.

Diversity of repertoire, attention to detail, flexibility, and commitment to individual and ensemble excellence are Bearthoven’s strengths.  With these assets, Bearthoven has achieved a consistent ensemble sound that is apparent even in the face of broad eclecticism.  Based on Trios, Bearthoven is an ensemble that can be counted upon to deliver with poise, mastery, and style—and to produce new material that is both diverse and superlative.

Photo by Jaime Boddorff.

ALBUM REVIEW: Preamble by Qasim Naqvi

by Maggie Molloy

Standard Western music notation is made up of five lines, four spaces, and a whole lot of dots and symbols. But contemporary composer and drummer Qasim Naqvi was looking to make classical music that was a little less traditional.

Qasim Naqvi PicPerhaps best known as the drummer for the Brooklyn-based modern acoustic trio Dawn of Midi, Naqvi is also an accomplished composer in his own right. In his new album, titled “Preamble,” he combines graphic notation and traditional notational forms to inject a little aleatory into his compositions. Expanding upon the musical innovations of composers like Ligeti and Xenakis, these aleatoric components allow for the musicians to make spontaneous choices within a structured framework.

“Some of the graphic components deal with dynamics and expression, while others deal with duration and rhythm or ranges that are unique to the particular instruments in the ensemble,” Naqvi said. “This symbolic language is fused into a more conventional style of notation.”

“Preamble” is comprised of a series of short works for mixed acoustic instruments. Released this fall on NNA Tapes, the album features the Contemporary Music Ensemble of NYU and Naqvi himself as the conductor. The work was originally commissioned by the media artist Mariam Ghani, the choreographer Erin Ellen Kelly, and the St. Louis Art Museum as a score to a film installation loosely based on China Miéville’s sci-fi noir novel “The City & the City.”

“One aspect of the book involves two cities that essentially inhabit the same space, but because of the mindset of the citizenry and the threat of a Big Brother-type power known as the Breach, they are perceived as two separate geographic spaces,” Naqvi said. “Even though both cities are intertwined, in a sense, the citizens must unsee the people, buildings, and events of the other city. This, among many other plot elements from Miéville’s book, was used as a conceptual framework that was then mapped onto the real places and histories of St. Louis.”

The result is a suite of seven short pieces weaving in and out of time to explore the principles of chance and intention—in both music and history. Clocking in at just over 30 minutes, the scope of Naqvi’s album is nothing if not ambitious. But without a minute wasted, Naqvi manages to explore the power of music in all of its complexity, with special concern taken to St. Louis’s cultural, geographical, and political histories.

“It’s very much about the city’s history and as well the tragic and fracturing events of Ferguson, sort of raising the question of what a city chooses to see and unsee in times of tragedy,” he said.

The first piece on the album is the title track, which immediately introduces Naqvi’s unusual timbral palette: flute, clarinet, strings, vibraphone and piano. Metallic dissonances and abstracted harmonies ebb and flow in a fascinating textural landscape that seems to exist outside of time and space altogether.

It’s followed by the resonant plucking, sparse harmonies, and hollow textures of “Meg Erase Meta,” a piece inspired by St. Louis’s complex network of underground caves—a city beneath a city, so to speak. With modest forces of strings and piano, Naqvi explores these hidden places and the musical magic to be found within them.

But Naqvi also explores the city’s more somber mysteries. The duality and disjointed melodic fragments of “Children of the Drawer” give way to the sharp and, at times, jarring woodwinds of “Imagined Garages,” wherein long pauses punctuate metallic clamor and fragmented melodic flutters.

“Beyond Stars” takes on a more meditative atmosphere, with sliding strings in the lower registers swaying fluidly back and forth across a softly shimmering harmonic backdrop. A more frantic and unsettling “Aero” builds into the drama of the closing piece: “Esc.” Flute, clarinet, and strings swell into different colors and shapes, transforming and shifting across the soundscape until we are left with an unexpected silence.

Throughout “Preamble,” Naqvi colors outside the lines—he takes his bold textural and timbral palette and smears the rules of time, space, and traditional composition. He explores the notion of chance and intention throughout music and throughout history—and ultimately, by leaving some of the musical elements up to the performers, he ensures that this tale of two cities is never told the same way twice.

“What happens as a result is that you have these moments of the music being in control, and then you have moments where the music starts to fall over onto itself,” Naqvi said. “Those types of moments really interest me because they’re inexplicable. You can’t transcribe or write those moments down or recreate them. And there’s something kind of amazing about that.”

PS – for a special bonus, here’s a recent installment of The Takeover, hosted by Qasim Naqvi, introducing all of the tracks on Preamble:

LIVE CONCERT SPOTLIGHT: November 1, 5, 6

by Maggie Molloy

Whether you’re looking for an otherworldly saxophone quartet, a genre-bending septet, or an avant-garde piano soloist, this week’s music calendar has something for everyone.

Battle Trance at the Earshot Jazz Festival

BattleTrance_byMichaelAzerrad

The Earshot Jazz Festival has no shortage of talented saxophonists; however, this weekend one group of musicians is taking saxophone to a new level. Battle Trance is a tenor saxophone quartet that combines the best of contemporary classical music, avant-garde, jazz, black metal, ambient, and world music.

The result is a surprisingly spiritual soundscape that immerses its listeners in dense textures and whirling musical motifs. Through techniques such as multiphonics, circular breathing, ethereal melodies, and innovative articulation, Battle Trance seeks to erase the barrier between audience and music, transporting their audience into a new musical world where the listener and the sound are intricately linked.

Battle Trance will be performing this Saturday, Nov. 1 in the Chapel Performance Space at the Good Shepherd Center in Wallingford. The concert begins at 8 p.m.

NOW Ensemble at Town Hall

Stephen_Taylor1

If you’re looking for the latest in contemporary classical music, what could be more current than an ensemble titled NOW? True to their name, NOW ensemble is a dynamic seven-member group committed to pushing the boundaries of the classical chamber music tradition, often crossing into new genres and artistic media.

With an eclectic instrumentation of flute, clarinet, electric guitar, double bass, and piano, the ensemble is unlike any septet you have heard before (though admittedly, there aren’t very many septets out there to begin with). The group cements its status as a unique and innovative ensemble by infusing their sound with elements of indie rock, rap, hip hop, jazz, pop, minimalism, and other musical genres.

NOW ensemble will perform at Town Hall next Wednesday, Nov. 5 as part of the Town Music series. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and the concert begins at 7:30 p.m.

….and you can listen LIVE on Second Inversion! Partial funding for this broadcast is made possible by the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture.

Nils Frahm and Dawn of Midi at the Showbox

Nils Frahm

Berlin-based contemporary composer Nils Frahm is a classically-trained pianist with a musical approach that is anything but traditional. The experimental composer has made a name for himself internationally as an introspective composer, a captivating performer, and an imaginative improviser. His music has captured the ears and minds of many fans with its gentle, calming soundscapes and soft melodies.

Next week, he will perform in Seattle in promotion of his new live album, “Spaces.” Unlike most live albums, “Spaces” was filmed over the course of two years in different locations and on various mediums including old reel-to-reel recorders, cassette tape decks, and more. The recordings were then pieced together into an album, capturing the magic, spirit, and distinctiveness of each location.

dawnomNils Frahm will be joined by Dawn of Midi, a Brooklyn-based trio composed of bassist Aakaash Israni, pianist Amino Belyamani, and percussionist Qasim Naqvi. Their minimal, acoustic music is strikingly rhythmic, fully immersing the listener in each groove and each carefully-crafted sonic landscape.

Nils Frahm and Dawn of Midi will perform next Thursday, Nov. 6 at the Showbox Market as part of Decibel Festival. Doors open at 8 p.m. and the concert begins at 9 p.m.