ALBUM REVIEW: Michael Gordon’s ‘Clouded Yellow’

by Gabriela Tedeschi

Michael Gordon. Photo by Peter Serling.

After throwing out a piece he’d been working on seriously for months, Michael Gordon sat down for just nine days to create something new, something uninhibited where “all the colors are flying.” That piece became “Clouded Yellow,” titled after the smudged, colorful wing patterns of the clouded yellow butterfly. It also became the title track for his new album, a collection of string quartets where blurred, distorted, and layered sounds coalesce into a vibrant, fluttering haze.

Gordon, one of the three co-founders of Bang on a Can, has a passion for exploring ways in which classical chamber works can be warped with electronic effects and guitar pedals. His latest album is the product of a decades-long collaboration with the Kronos Quartet, an ensemble comprised of violinists David Harrington and John Sherba, violist Hank Dutt, and cellist Sunny Yang that is committed to stretching the limits of string quartet music. Clouded Yellow features four works that revel in blurred harmonies and melodies, shedding light on the beauty of opaqueness.

Kronos Quartet. Photo by Jay Blakesburg.

The title piece, “Clouded Yellow” creates this blurred effect with driving melodic lines and overlapping rhythms that obscure the beat. Chromatic movement with slides and trills encompasses much of the violin lines, developing dark, intricate harmonies that flutter restlessly around the listener.

Similarly, “Potassium” layers different sliding lines of sustained notes and uses a fuzz box to distort the strings, creating a mysterious cloud of sound. The piece alternates between slower, melancholic sliding sections, dramatic periods where the violins slide rapidly above driving viola and cello accompaniment, and conventionally beautiful sections with tender, lyrical melodies. As these contradictory elements are woven together, “Potassium” becomes an ornate musical web that is impossible to untangle.

The album’s blurred aesthetic brilliantly suits the thematic content in “Sad Park,” a four-part piece that layers the quartet’s music under sentences from toddlers who were asked to explain the events of 9/11. Following the pattern laid out by the previous tracks, the piece features electronic sounds, slides, and complex, interlocking patterns that intentionally disorient the listener. As the young children’s words are replayed over and over, they are electronically warped, becoming eerie non-verbal sounds—almost like wails of pain at some moments. The children’s confused words and the distortion of both their voices and the instruments reflects the confusion, pain, and helplessness felt in the wake of 9/11.

“Exalted,” the final track, serves as a response to the mourning of “Sad Park.” Featuring the Young People’s Chorus of New York City, the piece sets the opening of the Kaddish, a prayer sequence recited for the dead in the Jewish faith. The voices layer chromatic, descending lines over a rhythmic violin pattern and the slides of the cello and viola. While the dark intensity of the piece never diminishes, it begins to move over time toward a quiet finality that offers a sense of peace. “Exalted” both captures the complexity of mourning and artfully juxtaposes something ancient and religious with the immediacy of modern sounds.

Clouded Yellow documents Gordon and the Kronos Quartet’s innovative experimentation with electronics, clashing layers, and disorienting rhythmic patterns. The resulting music is intricate, dramatic, and thought-provoking: it speaks powerfully to the confusion we all experience when so much of the world around us is blurred.

November New Music: Prepared Piano, Electric Theorbo, & More

by Maggie Molloy

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Second Inversion and the Live Music Project create a monthly calendar featuring contemporary classical, cross-genre, and experimental performances in Seattle, the Eastside, Tacoma, and places in between! 

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Keep an eye out for our this flyer in concert programs and coffee shops around town. Feel free to download, print, and distribute it yourself! If you’d like to be included on this list, submit your event to the Live Music Project at least 6 weeks prior to the event and tag it with “new music.”

New Music Flyer – November 2017

 

Wayward Music Series
Concerts of contemporary composition, free improvisation, and sonic experiments. This month: wind improvisations, sleepy music podcasts, jazz-infused songs on war and poetry, and electroacoustic ruminations on West Coast minimalism.
Various days, 7:30/8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-$15

World New Music Days: Vancouver, BC
Not technically in Seattlebut definitely worth the drive. Nearly 50 countries come together for this festival of new music, which features over 30 experimental concerts and outreach events.
Thurs-Wed, 11/2-11/8, Vancouver, BC | $10-$39

Live @ Benaroya Hall: Hauschka
German pianist and composer Volker Bertelmann (better known as Hauschka) takes prepared piano to a whole new level, employing everything from ping pong balls to Tic Tacs and tin foil to create stunning new sonic landscapes.
Fri, 11/3, 7:30pm, Nordstrom Recital Hall | $25-$30

Peter Nelson-King: Modern American Piano
Multi-instrumentalist and composer Peter Nelson-King presents a concert of daring modern American works for the piano, featuring music by Dane Rudhyar, Stephen Jaffe, David Diamond, Hugo Weisgall, and more.
Fri, 11/3, 8pm, Gallery 1412 | $5-$15

Pacific Northwest Ballet: Her Story
PNB presents the American premiere of Crystal Pite’s haunting Plot Point, set to music from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. The spellbinding program also features music by Benjamin Britten and Vladimir Martynov.
Weekends 11/3-11/12, McCaw Hall | $30-$187

Saratoga Orchestra: Un/Questionable Visionaries
Oak Harbor-based horn player Sean Brown performs his new Horn Concerto with the Saratoga Orchestra. Symphonies by Mozart and Louise Farrenc frame this world premiere performance.
Sat, 11/4, 7pm, Trinity Lutheran Church Freeland | By donation

Kronos Quartet
Known around the world for their adventurous programming, the San Francisco-based Kronos Quartet comes to Federal Way to share a bold program of string music ranging from George Gershwin to Aleksandra Vrebalov.
Sat, 11/4, 8pm, Federal Way Performing Arts and Event Center | $17-$73

Music of Remembrance: Snow Falls
Two world premieres by Japanese composers form the basis of this powerful program. Ryuichi Sakamoto’s Snow Falls is based around Kiyoko Nagase’s haunting poem of the same name, while Keiko Fujiie’s song cycle Wilderness Mute features English translations of Japanese poetry from Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Sun, 11/5, 7pm, Nordstrom Recital Hall | $30-$45

Cornish Presents: Projeto Arcomusical
World music sextet Projeto Arcomusical reimagines the Afro-Brazilian berimbau through a program of original chamber music which draws from folk, classical, and traditional capoeira music.
Sun, 11/5, 7:30pm, Performing Arts Center, Western Washington University | $10-16
Mon, 11/6, 8pm, Cornish College of the Arts’ Kerry Hall | $10-$20

Opera on Tap
Local singers let their hair down and sing their hearts out, performing famous operatic masterpieces and hidden musical gems alike in a friendly, relaxed atmosphere.
Wed, 11/8, 7pm, Naked City | $5-$8

Early Music Seattle: Forces of Nature
Music and meteorology intertwine in this concerto for electric theorbo by Seattle-based composer Aaron Grad. Inspired by Vivaldi’s famous Four Seasons (adapted here to portray the idiosyncratic weather patterns of Seattle), each movement features its own sonnet narrated by Former KING 5 meteorologist Jeff Renner.
Sat, 11/11, 7:30pm, Nordstrom Recital Hall | $20-$40

Seattle Symphony: DeVotchKa
Denver-based indie rock band DeVotchKa joins forces with the Seattle symphony to transform their intimate melodies into a full-scale orchestral experience.
Wed, 11/15, 7:30pm, Benaroya Hall | $35-$50

Seattle Symphony: Harry Potter
Wizards rejoice! Seattle Symphony breaks out the big screen for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, performing John Williams’ iconic score alongside the movie.
Thurs-Sat, 11/16-11/18, 7:30/8pm, Benaroya Hall | $50-$120

Cornish Presents: Frequency
Frequency is a new Seattle-based chamber ensemble combining the talents of violinist Michael Jinsoo Lim, violist Melia Watras, and cellist Sæunn Thorsteinsdóttir. In this program, the group lends their bows to music by Daníel Bjarnason, Frances White, and Richard Einhorn.
Fri, 11/17, 8pm, Cornish College of the Arts’ Kerry Hall | $10-$20

Kin of the Moon Debut Concert
Three cutting-edge and iconoclastic women performers come together for a new chamber series that explores sonic rituals, improvisation, and a fearless cross-pollination of genres. Composer and vocalist Kaley Lane Eaton, flutist Leanna Keith, and violist Heather Bentley perform original works, improvisations, and a piece by Kate Soper.
Sat, 11/18, 8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-$15

UW School of Music: Hindustani Classical Music
Ethnomusicology visiting artist Zakir Hussain is known in India and around the world as a virtuoso tabla player, percussionist, and composer. In this program he performs the tabla solo and also presents the culmination of his work with UW faculty and students.
Sun, 11/19, 7:30pm, Meany Theater | $10-$35

Philip Glass at 80

We are celebrating Philip Glass’ 80th birthday in great style with a 24-hour streaming marathon of his music. Tune in all day!

ALBUM REVIEW: Kronos Quartet and Aleksandra Vrebalov: The Sea Ranch Songs

by Geoffrey Larson

ca21122_kronos_quartet_sea_ranch_songs_frontIn Aleksandra Vrebalov’s The Sea Ranch Songs, the Kronos Quartet takes us on a tour of a special natural landscape that is breathtakingly beautiful and profoundly personal. The Sea Ranch, stretching for ten miles along the northern California coast, is an area defined both by stunning natural beauty and the carefully-planned developments that house its stewards, the Sea Ranch Association. Founded in 1965, the area recently celebrated its 50th anniversary as a community “dedicated to living, building, and interacting with its surroundings in harmonious and responsible ways.”

What an amazing subject for a piece of music! This album makes the fullest use of its subject matter, giving us both a sound recording and a DVD of an artistic film created by Andrew Lyndon set to the music. Vrebalov composed thirteen songs for Kronos Quartet, using audio of personal testimonials from permanent residents of Sea Ranch and those who have made the curation and development of this unique place their work. For my journey through this music, I chose the film, which uses scenes shot on location at the Sea Ranch and a small amount of stylized animation.

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All photos credit No Ordinary Resort.

The opening shot of a patch of grass with faraway sea sounds actually seems somewhat plain at the outset, but the frank depiction of this unremarkable part of the landscape scene soon makes sense. A heavily processed recording of the singing of First Nations people is the first form of music we hear, an homage to the Kashia-Pomo Indians that were Sea Ranch’s first residents. The entrance of the quartet is stark and imposing, and the video here is heavily edited, re-colored, and distorted, creating mystic images. As the video returns to its opening shot of grass, each blade seems to have taken on spiritual significance.

The second track, “Fort Ross Chorale,” provides immediate contrast and introduces us to the frontier-like architecture of the settlements. The chorale-like music seems honest and practical. In the third song, “Gratitude,” we hear the voices of Sea Ranch residents, speaking of the natural beauty and inspirational qualities of the landscape, with music from the quartet growing more romantic and swelling with pride and nostalgia. The fourth song’s pizzicato throughout is the perfect accompaniment to recordings of navigational coordinates being read, a sort of laundry list of figures describing the area’s features with scientific precision. Footage of a pristine white barn is the centerpiece for the video of “Numbers,” a musical quantification of the Sea Ranch settlement. Blueprints are the visual focus of the fifth song, “Ideas: Condominium One,” where an architect talks of unique designs for long-roofed, lean-to-like structures. Long notes and electrified sounds from the quartet reflect the designs and huge expanse of the Sea Ranch environment.

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The sixth through thirteenth songs reflect on the beauty and motion of the natural landscape, and the spiritual connection Sea Ranchers have with it. Swooping melodic slides in the Kronos violins in “Creatures” are accompanied by video of diving seabirds, and shots of wildlife interlocking with video of underwater fauna. Music with beautiful, open chordal textures plays against spiritual, stained-glass-like imagery in “Chapel, Rainbows,” where we see the sea and its wildlife through the lens of human religious constructs. The eighth song is perhaps the most pure fun to listen to: fast, minor music in the form of an aria and accompaniment set to video of crashing waves and flocks of birds constantly changing direction. The relentlessness of the melody and arpeggiated cello figures in this song, “Elements I,” seem to portray the motion of nature, both free and monotonous. In “Starry Night,” we hear the pitter-patter of ponticello ricochet with twinkling imagery of the night sky. The contemporary-sounding techniques are fascinating here, and mix with electronics to portray the vast expanse of a cosmic light show.

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Lyrical music full of counterpoint tells the story of hard work and tired hands in “Ideas: Barn Fugue,” with accompanying testimonials of Sea Ranch barn-builders. An actual recording of coyotes is the arresting sound of “Spirit II,” with a lonely, reverberant piano sound portraying the emptiness of the night. The violin solo that opens the twelfth song, “Elements II,” is expressive and virtuosic, adorned with double stops and sweeping melody. It precedes a chaotic duet, trio, then quartet, with imagery of frothing water and crashing waves. Vrebalov saves the most heartfelt music for the final song, which begins on a pastoral drone against a static shot of the sunset over crashing waves. The music of “Gratitude, Coda” embodies the calmness and fullness of the feelings related in testimonials by Sea Ranch residents, detailing joyous childhood memories and descriptions of their harmonious relationship with nature. There is so much contained in that static shot, and so much about this final music that is profoundly comforting. The virtuosic frenzy of rising figuration that ends the songs in a flourish of leaping water is a complete surprise. That final flourish might be a shock, but it seems to sum up the great musical depth and ability of the vessel for our journey, the fantastic Kronos Quartet, who have created yet another special musical offering of tremendous scope and ambition in collaboration with Aleksandra Verbalov and Andrew Lyndon.

Seattle New Music Concerts: February 2016

SI_button2Second Inversion and The Live Music Project have partnered to create a monthly calendar featuring contemporary classical, cross-genre, and experimental performances in Seattle, the Eastside, and Tacoma. 

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Keep an eye out for our this flyer in concert programs (and in coffee shops!) around town. Feel free to download, print, and distribute it yourself! And if you’re interested in being a part of this collaboration, drop us a line!  
Program Insert - February 2016 - onesided

Wayward Music Series
Concerts of contemporary composition, free improvisation, electronic/electroacoustic music, & more.
Various days, 7:30/8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-15

Racer Sessions
A weekly showcase of original music with a jam session based on the concepts in the opening presentation.
Every Sunday, 8-10pm, Cafe Racer | FREE

Gabriel Kahane & Brooklyn Rider
This show samples their new collaborative album, The Fiction Issue, and is co-presented by Second Inversion.
February 1, 8pm, Tractor Tavern | $15

Counterpoint | Phase: All Steve Reich
Gloriously hypnotic sounds: clarinet, marimbas, cello, violin
February 2, 8pm, On the Boards | $10

Seattle Symphony [untitled] 2
This program includes works by New York Experimental composers Feldman, Wolff, Cage, and Brown.
February 5, 10pm, Benaroya Hall Lobby | $15

Sunday Sunset Concerts with Erin Jorgensen
An intimate concert as the sun sets and the week ends. Think more punk rock yoga nidra than classic concert.
February 7, 7:30pm, Velocity Kawasaki Studio | $10

Lake Union Civic Orchestra: Higdon’s blue cathedral
This deeply moving tribute by Higdon is paired with Beethoven’ Symphony No.2 & Lalo’s Cello Concerto.
February 12, 7:30pm, Town Hall Seattle | $13-18

NW Symphony Orchestra: Huling, Tonooka, Jones, & more
This show features local composers, including a premiere by Tonooka featuring trombonist Ko-Ichiro Yamamoto.
February 12, 7:30pm, Highline Performing Arts Center, Burien | $12-15

North Corner Chamber Orchestra: The 3 B’s (with a twist)
Bach and Brahms get nudged out by Barber and Bartok on this reimagining of the typical “3 B’s” of classical music!
February 20, 2pm, University Christian Church (2/20)
February 21, 7:30pm, Royal Room (2/21)
$15-25, FREE for Music Students & Youth (under 18)

STG Presents: Kronos Quartet: Vrebalov’s Beyond Zero
This new work commemorates the centennial of the outbreak of World War I & integrates film by Bill Morrison.
February 20, 8pm, Moore Theatre | $20-75

Music of Today: Garth Knox, viola
The UW School of Music presents new and improvised music by internationally renowned violist Garth Knox.
February 22, 7:30pm, Meany Theatre | $10-15

Town Music: we do it to one another
Joshua Roman presents his commissioned song cycle to Tracy K. Smith’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Life on Mars.”
February 25, 7:30pm, Town Hall Seattle | $5-25

Seattle Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra: World Sounds
SMCO presents the winning works of the 2nd International Composition Competition for Young Composers.
February 27, 8pm, First Free Methodist Church | $15-20

STG Presents: Trader Joe’s Silent Movie Mondays
A viewing of Ben Hur – A Tale of the Christ, featuring the original score performed live with Seattle Rock Orchestra.
February 29, 7pm, Paramount Theatre | $25.50

Archives:
January 2016

ALBUM REVIEW: Rebirth of a Nation

by Maggie Molloy

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D. W. Griffith’s “The Birth of a Nation” was the first film in American history to be screened at the White House—and while that may seem like quite a triumph, the tale it tells is deeply tragic.

Released in 1915, the silent epic drama film is based on the novel and play “The Clansman” by Thomas Dixon, Jr. If the title didn’t already give it away, the film is three hours of racist propaganda portraying an extremely biased (and honestly, downright offensive) account of the American Civil War and Reconstruction era.

And it’s more than just a film: this movie helped lead to the creation of Hollywood—as one of the first pieces of sophisticated, mass-produced cinematic media, its message became embedded in our country’s history, art, and ethos. Its reverberations can be felt even now, 100 years later.

Electronic artist Paul D. Miller (better known as DJ Spooky, That Subliminal Kid) reflects on the cultural significance of this film in his large-scale multimedia performance piece, aptly titled “Rebirth of a Nation.” The ongoing interdisciplinary project includes a documentary film, site-specific performances around the world, and, most recently, a new album.

Recorded with the fearlessly experimental Kronos Quartet, “Rebirth of a Nation” is conceived as a remix and reimagination of Griffith’s original film. Miller remixed, remastered, and resynced the original score, taking a critical look at society’s racial politics and making a musical statement about it.

Kronos photographed in San Francisco, CA March 26, 2013©Jay Blakesberg

Kronos photographed in San Francisco, CA March 26, 2013©Jay Blakesberg

You can watch the trailer for the project here:

“We need more than ever to see the context that early cinema offers us,” Miller said. “As my old friend Saul Williams likes to say: Another World Is Possible. A remix of a film as deeply important and problematic as ‘The Birth of a Nation’ reminds us that, in the era of Trayvon Martin and Ferguson, many of these issues still linger with us at every level.”

The album itself retells the story through 19 short pieces for string quartet and electronics, creating a colorful, fractured, and fragmented collage of American History. Miller layers the classical strings with hip hop, folk, gospel, and blues elements, combines them with drum beats and electronic echoes, and resynthesizes them into a musical mashup of American history—thus expressing, without words, a history of racial (and musical) complexity that Griffith’s original film sought to suppress.

“Collage is the collective unconscious,” Miller said of his creative inspiration. “Sound is a phenomenon that’s totally open, so there are no real boundaries unless you make them. I like to think of all sound as just patterns, so there’s no reason to think we can’t just add patterns, subtract patterns.”

The result is a series of over a dozen unique soundscapes, each telling its own fragment of a larger story: the history of U.S. slavery and the ongoing struggle for racial equality. With ominous, grim titles like “Gettysburg Requiem,” “Ride of the Klansmen,” “Lincoln and Booth get Acquainted,” and “Ghost of a Smile,” Miller’s music tackles many of our country’s most challenging and emotionally-charged political issues. The pieces are haunting, often even hypnotic—but they certainly get you thinking.

Musically, Miller portrays Civil War and Reconstruction era America as a desolate electronic wasteland—but as he travels through this metallic and industrial landscape, he discovers and explores a number of hidden treasures: a soulful blues melody here, a folky harmonica riff there, an infectious hip hop beat beneath him or a trancelike drone just around the corner.

“From almost every angle, this kind of creativity celebrates collage, a willful breakdown of boundaries, and a playfulness that would aggravate almost anyone,” Miller said of his compositional process. “That’s kind of the point. That’s where I looked for inspiration.”

And it extends beyond music, too: the film and site-specific performances recreate the project again and again, making full use of the artistic possibilities of today’s digital age.

“Multi-disciplinary art is crucial these days,” Miller said. “It’s the way we live now. The year 2015 is science fiction for me, but we are still using the imagination of a different era to describe a cultural milieu that has evolved more rapidly than anyone anticipated. That’s kind of like using an old bicycle to race an F-34 Joint Strike Force fighter jet. It’s apples and oranges; it doesn’t make sense. That’s the paradox at the heart of my ‘Rebirth of a Nation’ film project.”

And in exploring this paradox, in critically examining that deep, dark part of American history that “The Birth of a Nation” portrays, Miller is able ultimately to offer a message of hope: We do have the power to reexamine and remix our past—and we likewise have the power to reform our present and our future.

“The realm of the possible is always greater than the realm of the real,” Miller said. “I try to navigate between the two: that’s art.”

Staff & Community Picks: July 29

A weekly rundown of the music our staff and listeners are loving lately! Are you interested in contributing some thoughts on your favorite new music albums? Drop us a line!



the_little_death_album_cover_1-1Religion + hormones + hip hop beats = nihilist pop opera.  The Little Death Vol. 1 is boppy, fun & sentimental.  Strong vocals from Mellissa Hughes and Matt Marks’ twisted take on the traditional “boy meets girl” story make this one of my favorite CDs in our music library.  I dare you not to dance to “I Don’t Have Any Fun.” – by Rachele Hales

 

 

 


71GJwJ+HBtL._SY355_If you enjoy Spanish and Latin American music, you’ll find a lot to love in “Andalusian Fantasy,” a collection of pieces written and performed by pianist Lionel Sainsbury. The compositions embrace the darker, more romantic side of traditional Latin music, incorporating a pleasantly crunchy chord just seldom enough to keep things melodic overall. Imagine if tango, Debussy, and Gershwin all met in one album, and you’ll get a sense for Sainsbury’s music. – by Jill Kimball

 

homepage_large.e22fb394I’ve been a huge Arcade Fire fan for years, and I was completely awestruck when this album came out.  The whole idea behind the works on this album – letting the human body dictate the tempi, is one of the most revolutionary concepts I’ve encountered in new music.  I can’t really think of many albums that represent Second Inversion SO WELL – the composer/genre/artist crossover, the musicians on the album – yMusic, Kronos Quartet, Nadia Sirota, Nico Muhly, Aaron and Bryce Dessner – all are revolutionaries in the new music world and helping to create music that completely breaks the mold of classical, despite the instruments they’re playing. – by Maggie Stapleton