ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Life is Endless Like Our Field of Vision (Huck Hodge)

by Maggie Stapleton


Here at Second Inversion we aim to “Rethink Classical,” but the array of sounds on Huck Hodge’s new album, “Life is Endless Like Our Field of Vision,” steps beyond that mantra.  “Rethink Sound,” perhaps?  The four pieces offer a varied textural output and alternation of pieces without and with electronics – chamber ensemble (Talea Ensemble under Jim Baker), piano with computer-realized sound, chamber ensemble (ditto Talea/Baker), string quartet (JACK Quartet) with live processed melodica, performed by Hodge.

Alêtheia (roughly translated as “truth”), composed in 2011, opens the disc. Alêtheia is based on Hodge’s reconciliation of two opposing philosophies of truth, particularly as noted by Parmenides, who sees truth as a fixed and unchanging reality, and Heraclitus, offering the notion that reality is in constant flux.  The music reflects this juxtaposition of truth in the musical form of time – many sections of the piece have simultaneously still, static, fixed ideas (e.g. a single harmony lasting 30 seconds) but with rapidly changing timbres.  Melody also portrays this opposing force of truth; the piece is strongly rooted in melody, represented as a fixed element.  Fragmented and textural moments with a style marking of “Disjunctly lyrical” counteract the fixed nature of the melody.  The US Premiere of this piece is this Saturday, November 15 at 8pm, performed by the Seattle Modern Orchestra!

Moving along, Pools of shadow from an older sky is in five movements for live-processed bent piano, computer-realized sound and video projection.  While we don’t get the visual stimulation in this recording, there is no lack of richness for the sense of sound, performed here entirely by Huck Hodge.  The piece was commissioned by the American Academy in Rome in 2011 (while Hodge was in Rome celebrating his receipt of the Rome Prize) in commemoration of Galileo’s first telescope demonstration.  The premiere was on April 11, 2014, exactly four hundred years afterward.  While Alêtheia dealt with juxtaposition of truth interpretations, Pools of shadow from an older sky displays a past vs. present negotiation.  Hodge weaves church bells and hymns of Roman cathedrals with present sounds from Rome (sirens and street noise), all the while with a clear homage to Galileo.  Piano twinkling stars and intergalactic radio wave sounds create a soundscape that is truly otherworldly.  Close your eyes as you listen – I hope you’ll feel as transported as I do!

Continuing with the theme of “this or that,” re[(f)use] can be interpreted in many ways.  First, there’s the world “refuse”:

ref·use /rəˈfyo͞oz/ v. indicate or show that one is not willing to do something

ref·use /refˌyo͞os/ n. matter thrown away or rejected as worthless; trash

…but also within the word there are many other words: fuse (noun & verb), use, reuse.  Each shade of meaning has something to do with the piece.  re[(f)use] uses a lot of “junk” sounds – cell phone noise, speaker hums, cell phone ringtones.  The aesthetic here is an attempt to reverse the hierarchy of “beauty” to which many composers and musicians often strive.  Rather than taking something that’s already beautiful, like a violin melody, and transforming it into something less beautiful (perhaps in attempt to question its beauty), re[(f)use] takes sounds which are inherently ugly and transform them into something beautiful.  Hodge performs on live processed melodica along with the (amplified) JACK Quartet.

It’s always a pleasure to feature Seattle-based artists here on Second Inversion.  Huck Hodge has received more accolades before the age of 40 than many of the world’s greatest composers have achieved in their entire life, including the Rome Prize, Guggenheim Fellowship, Gaudeamus Prize, and the Aaron Copland Award..  Alêtheia and another one of Hodge’s  works, Zeremonie, will be featured on the upcoming Saturday, November 15 Seattle Modern Orchestra concert.  PS, Tune in to The Takeover on Wednesday, November 12 at 3pm to hear SMO Co-Artistic Director Jeremy Jolley share some of the music from the upcoming season.

You can purchase the disc from New World Records here.  Enjoy!