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: ‘More Field Recordings’ by the Bang on a Can All-Stars

by Maggie Molloy

Photo by Lisa Bauso.

Some composers can make music out of just about anything—and that’s precisely the idea behind the Bang on a Can All-Stars’ newest release.

A follow-up to their 2015 album Field Recordings, the recently released More Field Recordings features the same basic premise as the original: 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. This year’s release is a two-disc album featuring new works by 13 of today’s top composers: Caroline Shaw, Anna Thorvaldsdottir, Ben Frost, Nico Muhly, Richard Reed Parry, Glenn Kotche, Dan Deacon, Jace Clayton, Gabriella Smith, Paula Matthusen, Zhang Shouwang, Juan Felipe Waller, and René Lussier.

The album begins with a sonic quilt composed by Caroline Shaw. “Really Craft When You” is 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. Its equal parts humorous and heartfelt, and it also serves as a beautiful metaphor for the rest of the album: a colorful patchwork of found sounds and sonic squares from over a dozen different composers.

It’s followed by the dawn chorus of Southern Chile, with Gabriella Smith’s “Panitao” weaving together field recordings of birdsongs from a small Chilean town with her own imaginary birdsongs chirped by the All-Stars. A very different type of song is at the heart of Jace Clayton’s piece “Lethe’s Children,” which explores the music of memory. He asked each of the All-Stars what the first song was that they memorized as young children—then he reimagined fragments from each in an expansive stream of sound named after the mythical river of forgetfulness.

Paula Matthusen’s “ontology of an echo” finds its music in the resonant frequencies of an Old Croton Aqueduct, while Glenn Kotche’s “Time Spirals” swirls together live music with field recordings ranging from parades and festivals to protests and dying electronic toys—all of which he collected while touring and traveling the world.

Zhang Shouwang’s “Courtyards in Central Beijing” entwines the All-Stars in a gentle musical blossom; the piece was composed in a courtyard house south of Gulou where Shouwang says “the feng shui is so strong that a flower seed can bloom in just three days.” And the first disc closes with and a transatlantic lullaby: Nico Muhly’s “Comfortable Cruising Altitude” weaves together audio from overnight airplane rides with the soothing accompaniment of the All-Stars to craft a softly shimmering serenade.

Disc two begins with quite a different type of flight: Ben Frost’s ominous and immersive “Negative Ghostrider II” is an electroacoustic translation of field recordings from an unmanned semi-autonomous drone aircraft. It’s followed by the quiet heartbeat of Richard Reed Parry’s “The Brief and Neverending Blur,” a nostalgic and nuanced chamber work based on a recording of a piano improvisation played at the speed of the composer’s own breath.

Photo by Peter Serling.

Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s “Fields” is similarly introspective, though more atmospheric in nature. Inspired by a twilight stroll among the lava fields of her native Iceland, the piece builds from the quiet music of her footsteps to gradually encompass the exquisite timbre and texture of the natural world around her.

Dan Deacon explores a more intergalactic soundscape in his dark-ambient drone “Sago An Ya Rev,” a transcription of a NASA Voyager recording that evolves slowly through dissonant harmonies and rumbling metallic noise. Juan Felipe Waller’s “Hybrid Ambiguities” is a bit sprightlier in nature, with the All-Stars bouncing along to the echoing flurries of a microtonal harp.

The final square of the patchwork quilt comes from René Lussier, his “Nocturnal” mirroring the humor and sincerity of the album’s opening track—but here embodied through the clever and vividly colored music he writes to accompany his sleeping sweetheart’s snores.

But whether playing along to quilting interviews or Chilean birdsongs, lava fields or snoring sleepers, the All-Stars bring personality, precision, and a pioneering creativity to every musical interpretation on the album. In the end, that’s what the series is really all about: hearing music amid the found sounds and field recordings and clamors of everyday life.

STAFF PICKS: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from their playlist. Tune in during the indicated hours below on Friday, February 3 to hear these pieces. In the meantime, you’ll hear other great new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre 24/7!

Glenn Kotche: Drumket Quartet No.51; So Percussion (Cantaloupe Music)

A few weeks ago, I decided to take a nice urban hike on a gorgeous, clear, sunny day here in Seattle. I didn’t feel like wasting any of that time in a car driving to a trail head, so I stayed local and used the power of my legs to circumvent Lake Union – a healthy handful of miles. I put my iPhone on shuffle and this piece came on in the mix. To me, it definitely has the tinkling sound of rain – which was no where in sight – but nonetheless set a perfect soundtrack for my walk. I enjoyed this piece so much that I put it on repeat and listened to it 3 times in a row because it’s just that good – Maggie Stapleton

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 11am hour today to hear this piece.


James Taylor: You Can Close Your Eyes (arr. Philip Lawson); The King’s Singers (Signum Classics)

James Taylor offered the world a peak into the gray area of a relationship when he wrote “You Can Close Your Eyes.”  The couple is stuck somewhere between a love ballad and a blues song as they remain in love but see the end edging nearer.  It’s a tricky tone for one man to negotiate, so how do the six men of The King’s Singers sound in their arrangement of this song?  Precise & layered with tight harmonies; it’s like a beautiful song woke up one morning and decided to put on its best crisp suit. – Rachele Hales

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 12pm hour today to hear this piece.


Philip Glass: Piano Étude No. 10; Bruce Levingston, piano (Sono Luminus)

Composed over the course of two decades, Philip Glass’s 20 Piano Études offer a fascinating retrospective of his musical progression—a rare chance to see his style grow and change through one single, controlled variable: the piano étude.

Pianist Bruce Levingston presents one in the exact middle: the dense and relentless No. 10. A friend and frequent collaborator of Glass, Levingston is quite at home amidst the cyclical harmonies and motoric rhythms, his fingers dancing nimbly through a kaleidoscopic soundscape of restless and repetitious motives. Suffice it to say: Glass’s Étude No. 10 is in very good hands. – Maggie Molloy

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 5pm hour today to hear this piece.


Charles Wuorinen: Big Spinoff; Alarm Will Sound

Charles Wuorinen’s Spinoff for violin, bass, and bongos of 1983 was a sort of ode to the harsh music of New York City: imagine if a violinist and bassist were having a chamber music rehearsal, and the sounds of their jamming wafted out the apartment window and mingled with the percussive physical sound of the city. Big Spinoff is essentially a spinoff of Spinoff, with a small chamber orchestra joining the musical fray. We get a lot of short, unison licks that propel the music forward and seem to capture the spirit of a chamber music rehearsal, which for some groups is more chaotic than others. At least Alarm Will Sound seems to be having a good time, and it’s a fun listen as well. I especially love the rapid-fire shifts of loud and soft music, an exciting contrast that is punctuated with toms and pounding piano. – Geoffrey Larson

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 5pm hour today to hear this piece.

STAFF PICKS: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from this Friday’s playlist. Tune in during the indicated hours below on Friday, August 12 to hear these pieces. In the meantime, you’ll hear other great new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre 24/7!

Daniel Wohl: 323 (Transit) on New Amsterdam Records

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Like so much of what we play on Second Inversion, “323” by Daniel Wohl is difficult to categorize.  It’s an exuberant piece full of interesting sounds, found noises, and jangly percussion that I’m fairly sure is pots and pans yet the overall feel of the piece can be summed up with the word “radiant.”  It’s music that pulsates and cuts into your tympanic membrane with its soft edges.  “323” is like if drone and a junkyard gave birth to… a solar system?  It’s confusing, but it is a bold confusion that truly works and inspires. – Rachele Hales

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 1pm hour today to hear this recording.


Darcy James Argue: Phobos (Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society) on New Amsterdam Records

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If you’re someone who is immersed in (small ‘c’) classical music most or all of the time, it can be refreshing (and necessary) to bend your ears on something that really challenges you to think about what makes music “classical.”  Where are the boundaries of the art form?  Darcy James Argue’s track Phobos can help you grapple with (if not answer) these questions.  This is first and foremost jazz, but it has so many elements more closely associated with other types of music that it really forces listeners to ask themselves some tough questions (if they are insistent on classifying the music at all!).  Among the shades of minimalism and post-rock, those big-band “jazz” chords begin to sound like tone clusters…  Listen to the barriers fall!  Wonderful! – Seth Tompkins

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


Missy Mazzoli: Vespers for a New Dark Age (Victoire, Lorna Dune, and Glenn Kotche) on New Amsterdam Records

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The Western classical music tradition as we know it began in the Church. And both the Church and the Western classical music tradition have historically excluded women from positions of power and authority.

Which is a big part of what makes composer Missy Mazzoli’s 30-minute masterwork Vespers for a New Dark Age so striking, so liberating, and—for lack of a better word—so brilliant. Performed with her all-female new age art pop ensemble Victoire, electro keyboardist Lorna Dune, and rock drummer Glenn Kotche, the piece reimagines the traditional vespers prayer service in the modern age, replacing the customary sacred verses with the haunting and elegant poetry of Matthew Zapruder.

The result is a 21st century version of the vespers service which explores the intersection of our modern technological age with the old-fashioned formality of religious services. Oh, and I guess it could also be heard as a feminist assertion of women’s immense (and too often forgotten) contributions to the classical music tradition. – Maggie Molloy

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 6pm hour today to hear this recording.


Kevin Puts: River’s Rush (Marin Alsop, Peabody Symphony Orchestra) on NAXOS Records

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With its churning arpeggios and big, muscular orchestration, this piece reminds me of hurtling down the Salmon River in Idaho on a whitewater rafting trip. The tremendous excitement that the opening music generates is matched by the beauty of a lushly-orchestrated, flowing middle section. A winner of the Pulitzer Prize for his opera Silent Night, Puts is known for his flute and piano concertos and four symphonies, but this stand-alone work might be my new favorite. – Geoffrey Larson

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

ALBUM REVIEW: Maya Beiser’s TranceClassical

by Maggie Molloy

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Johann Sebastian Bach’s influence on the classical music tradition is immeasurable. Even now, nearly three centuries after his death, he remains one of the most performed composers of all time. Bach was the first of the three B’s, he was the golden standard against which all future composers would come to be measured—he was the undisputed king of counterpoint.

And he was also among the first composers that cellist Maya Beiser ever heard as a child, quickly becoming a central pillar in her musical development. Bach’s influence on Beiser extended far past her studies of the Baroque tradition or even the classical tradition—clear into her musical interpretations of 21st century compositions.

Beiser’s new album, TranceClassical, features the cutting-edge works of an incredible cast of contemporary composers: Michael Gordon, Imogen Heap, Glenn Kotche, Lou Reed, David Lang, Julia Wolfe, Mohammed Fairouz, and David T. Little.

And yet, the album is not wholly a product of the 21st century. TranceClassical is bookended by Beiser’s own arrangements of classic works by Bach and Hildegard von Bingen—and every 21st century work in between draws from the style, sensitivity, and skill of the early classical music tradition.

TranceClassical started from a washed-out still photo in my mind,” Beiser said. “Me, as a little girl curled with a blanket on her parents’ sofa, hearing Bach for the first time, hanging onto every mysterious note coming out of the scratchy LP. TranceClassical is the arc my mind sketches between everything I create and Bach—David Lang and Bach, Glenn Kotche and Bach, Michael Gordon and Bach.”

The album begins with Beiser’s own wistful arrangement of Bach’s famous “Air on the G String,” recreated as she first heard it in her childhood: the melody singing sweetly above the sounds of a distant, crackling LP.

Composer Michael Gordon’s “All Vows” features another meandering melody, this one echoing in churchlike reverberations. Interlacing cello motives transport the listener straight into a meditative trance, evoking a somber and nostalgic glance backward in music history.

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It’s followed by a glance forward: Beiser’s rendition of synth-pop superstar Imogen Heap’s “Hide and Seek.” Here we find Beiser singing in ghostly three part harmonies above a solemn cello accompaniment—all heavily processed to create an unshakable sense of eeriness and desolation.

The cello moves back to center stage for rock drummer Glenn Kotche’s contribution, “Three Parts Wisdom.” Densely layered to showcase Beiser’s remarkable cello chops, the piece features one fiercely challenging melodic line plus seven layers of computer-generated delays—and all happening in real time.

And speaking of rock stars: the album also features a rendition of the Velvet Underground’s “Heroin,” arranged by composer David Lang. But don’t expect the hypnotic drone of Lou Reed’s original two-chord tune—Lang’s arrangement is almost unrecognizable, layering Beiser’s despondent, breathless vocals above jagged cello arpeggios in this haunting rendition.

Composer Julia Wolfe’s “Emunah” is a different kind of haunting: the droning, dissonant, and anxiety-driven kind of haunting. Wordless vocals whisper above cello tremolo, relentlessly pulling the listener back and forth in time.

Arab-American composer Mohammed Fairouz’s “Kol Nidrei” is perhaps the most striking and evocative work on the album. The piece echoes of ancient cantorial styles, with Beiser singing sacred Arameic text above ominously deep, dark cello melodies.

The trance is broken, however, with the onset of composer David T. Little’s “Hellhound,” a metallic rock ‘n’ roll tune inspired by blues legend Robert Johnson’s song “Hellhound on my Trail.” Andrew McKenna Lee steps in on electric guitar, but Beiser shreds hard enough on her cello to rival his raging solos.

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And in another unexpected musical turn, the album ends with Beiser’s own cello arrangement of Hildegard von Bingen’s choral work “O Virtus Sapientiae.” (Yes, as in Hildegard the 11th century composer and Christian mystic you studied in music history class.) Beiser’s rendition, however, features no vocals at all—it doesn’t need any. The sacred, solemn melody of her cello is music enough.

And although medieval choral music seems a far cry from the metallic drone of the Velvet Underground, Beiser manages the full range of music on the album with skill, precision, and charisma. Because whether she’s playing Julia Wolfe or Imogen Heap, Michael Gordon, or even Lou Reed—there’s a little bit of Bach in all of it.

“No matter how far I venture, how rebellious, or avant-garde or electronic, my artistic mooring stays with the creation of this immense genius,” Beiser said. “The pieces I bring here give me a sense of trance—a reverie and meditation on his place in my heart.”

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ALBUM REVIEW: The Colorado

by Maggie Molloy

The Colorado River is a national treasure.download (31)

For the past 5 million years, the Colorado River has carved some of the most magnificent landscapes on Earth.

More than 33 million people across Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, and Mexico depend on the Colorado River for their water supply. The river supports a quarter million jobs and produces $26 billion in economic output each year from recreational activities alone.

But if the numbers alone don’t convince you, maybe the stories behind the river will.

VisionIntoArt teamed up with New Amsterdam Records to create The Colorado: a multimedia, music-based documentary that explores the Colorado River Basin from social and ecological perspectives across history. The project is conceived as equal parts eco-documentary film, live performance, and an educational tool for classrooms.

 

And just wait until you meet the team behind the music. For this one-of-a-kind album, the Grammy Award-winning contemporary vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth breathes life into compositions by Shara Nova, Paola Prestini, Glenn Kotche, William Brittelle, and John Luther Adams.

With color, charisma, tight harmonies, and striking shots of the river and its wildlife, the documentary presents the Colorado in all its majestic splendor—but it also tells a much bigger story.

Today, with a booming agricultural industry to support and nearly 40 million people dependent on its waters, the Colorado is overused, over-promised, and unable even to reach its delta. Add to that the impact of climate change on the region, and you begin to see why these are stories that truly need to be heard.

The Colorado explores vast terrain, both in terms of music and lyrical content. Lyrics by William Debuys navigate from the prehistoric settlements of the region to the current plight of the river’s delta, from the period of European exploration to the dam-building era and its legacy, from industrial agriculture and immigration to the inescapable impact of climate change.

As an additional educational component to the album and documentary, the team behind The Colorado is also in the midst of creating a full-length textbook, corresponding section by section to the film, which will allow students and audiences to explore these topics in greater depth. The goal is to create connections between art, ecology, and regional history while also educating audiences toward a better stewardship of resources.

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The album begins—well, at the “Beginnings.” Composed by rock drummer Glenn Kotche (of Wilco), “Beginnings” sets the sonic scene of the prehistoric Colorado River through sparse instrumentation, evocative rhythms, and layered, wordless vocals. Almost ritualistic in nature, Roomful of Teeth’s voices evoke a deep spiritual connection to the river and its surroundings.

It’s followed by cross-cultural composer Paola Prestini’s “A Padre, A Horse, A Telescope.” Prestini, who is one of the co-founders of VisionIntoArt, takes a more Baroque-inspired choral approach. Setting Jesuit sources as the text for the piece (including a Hail Mary in Cochimí, an extinct Native American language), Prestini creates haunting counterpoint through echoing, intricately layered voices which speak to the religious symbolism of the river—both for Europeans and indigenous peoples.

The river’s relentless pulse comes alive in “An Unknown Distance Yet to Run,” written by composer, singer-songwriter, and mezzo-soprano extraordinaire Shara Nova (of My Brightest Diamond). Through steady rhythms, restless strings, and chant-style vocals, she tells a gripping tale of exploration and adventure.

Composer William Brittelle folds elements of electro-pop into his two contributions on the album. “Shimmering Desert” features breathy, wordless vocals in a kaleidoscopic collage of electronics, radio clips, and strings, while “The Colossus” recalls the drama and dangerous working conditions of the Colorado River dams.

Pulitzer Prize-winning composer and environmentalist John Luther Adams’ contribution to the album requires a bit more patience. Unfolding slowly across layered, softly cascading vocal lines, he creates a vision of a vast, organic river landscape populated by nothing but the soft sounds of nature—in this case embodied ever so delicately by human voices.

Prestini’s narrative-driven “El Corrido de Joe R.” tells a more concrete story of love and sacrifice along the river. Roomful of Teeth sings above trickling water and birds chirping as they tell one family’s story—an anecdote of the interpersonal relationships between people and the land they live on.

It’s followed by another Nova piece, “Welcome to the Anthropocene,” a ghostly illustration of modern man’s massive (and dangerous) impact on the planet as we continue to abuse our resources and damage our world.

And yet, the album ends on a decidedly hopeful note: Kotche’s “Palette of a New Creation.” Roomful of Teeth paints an image of optimism through vividly colored harmonies and beautifully textured polyphony—a reminder of the meaningful change we can create when we lift our voices together.

Because together, through education, environmental activism, and effective stewardship of land and water, we can keep the Colorado flowing for generations to come. After all, there is 5 million years’ worth of music coursing through the Colorado River—for those who are willing to listen.

 

Staff Picks: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts Rachele, Geoffrey, and Maggie S. each share a favorite selection from their Friday playlist! Tune in at the indicated times below to hear these pieces. In the meantime, you’ll hear other great new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre 24/7!

Andrew Skeet: “Setting Out” from Finding Time (on Sony Records)

download (6)The textures of Andrew Skeet’s “Setting Out” seem to glow and shimmer and are so evocative of evening images that it’s no wonder that this music gave birth to an amazing visual creation as well. The video for this track is a must-see if you enjoy contemporary dance, or minimalist-influenced chamber music, or both. The lighting effects appear to flicker in the same manner as the piano and Skeet’s twinges of electronic effect, visually mirroring the twilight colors of the music. – Geoffrey Larson

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 1am and 1pm hours to hear this recording.


Glenn Kotche: “The Haunted Suite” from Adventureland (on Cantaloupe Music)
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“The Haunted Suite” is a 5 movement work interwoven throughout the album Adventureland by Glenn Kotche. Each vignette depicts an eerie place (Dance, Hive, Furnace, Viaduct, and Treehouse), in a “piano vs. percussion” duel between Lisa Kaplan, Doug Perkins, Matthew Duvall and Yvonne Lam. My favorite movement of the lot is “The Haunted Dance,” which sounds a bit like a music box possessed by dark, mysterious forces with a ghoulish figure instead of a graceful ballerina spinning. Twisted, eerie, and captivating. – Maggie Stapleton

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 7am and 7pm hours to hear this recording.


Christopher Tin: “Come Tomorrow” from The Drop that Contained the Sea (on Tinwoks Music). Performed by Soweto Gospel Choir, Angel City Chorale & Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

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Do your soul some good and explore the vocal traditions of the Xhosa with an uplifting, spirited choral piece. The Soweto Gospel Choir is an international treasure exuding joy that cannot be faked. Here they sing from Christopher Tin’s beautiful choral album The Drop That Contained The Sea, a collection of 10 vocal works, each sung in a different language and all exploring water in a different form. Climbing through the mist toward the steepest summit is a cinch with “Come Tomorrow” as your exuberant musical companion. – Rachele Hales

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 8am and 8pm hours to hear this recording.