STAFF PICKS: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from their weekly playlist.  Tune in on Friday, June 15 to hear these pieces and plenty of other new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre!

Andy Akiho: Vick(i/y) (New Amsterdam)
Vicky Chow, piano

Andy Akiho is rapidly becoming one of the most interesting movers and shakers in the contemporary music world, and his piece for prepared piano Vick(i/y) is one of my favorites. The piece doesn’t limit itself to the usual prepared sounds of clanging and crashing and twanging, but uses normal piano sound as a sort of through-line to tell its story. Andy says that this alternation of prepared sounds and conventional sounds represents a “consistent, yet fading image of a forgotten dream.” Andy is a percussionist, and it’s the percussive sounds of Vick(i/y) that define the piece. There is also a really cool music video that transports the piano into natural locations, and features an Andy Akiho cameo. – Geoffrey Larson

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


John Cage and Sun Ra: Empty Words and Keyboard (Modern Harmonic)
John Cage, voice; Sun Ra, synthesizer

A near-mythic musical encounter happened on Coney Island in the summer of 1986. Two of the 20th century’s most iconoclastic musical philosophers, John Cage and Sun Ra, came together for a concert. For one night only, two artists from opposite ends of the avant-garde shared the same stage.

That fateful day has been immortalized on a record that is best listened to from front to back, as the two artists tend to trade off soloing. Empty Words and Keyboard offers a rare exception: Cage’s sparse, wordless vocal improvisations are echoed by Sun Ra’s even sparser synth accompaniment, the two intertwining in a delicate meditation on sound, silence, and the music in between. – Maggie Molloy

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


Nico Muhly: Comfortable Cruising Altitude (Cantaloupe Music)
Bang on a Can All-Stars

As many people look toward a summer filled with long-distance travel, it’s nice to know that even the experience of riding inside the cabin of a commercial airliner has been used as fuel for new music.  Nico Muhly’s Comfortable Cruising Altitude opens with a field recording taken from inside an airliner cabin.  The piece explores the many layers that make up a typical airline trip, including complex contemplative feelings, the anxiety of waiting, and even a crying child.  This work encapsulates the commercial air travel experience with striking poignancy, especially given its relatively short duration.
– 
Seth Tompkins

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


Matt Marks: “I Don’t Have Any Fun” (New Amsterdam)
Matt Marks and Mellissa Hughes

Matt Marks called the album that this song is from (The Little Death: Vol. 1) his “post-Christian nihilist opera.” This almost spastically poppy track is poking fun at a mutually destructive relationship dynamic. In this case, a guy is placing a woman on a ridiculously high pedestal, telling her that he doesn’t have any fun on his own, that he needs her, and in his final appeal, that she is like a god to him. The more he entreats her, the meaner she gets, and the meaner she gets, the more desperate his attempts become.

Marks captures the nuances of this variety of romantic behavior so well, so hilariously, and so succinctly, you might even think he was That Guy at one point in his life—that maybe he was making fun of his own emotional tendencies. Or maybe he was illuminating how in a post-Christian nihilist world, God is sometimes replaced with other gods in the human race’s ongoing quest to annihilate the Self. Matt Marks died this past month, and people close to him describe him as being both really serious and really funny. This song is that exactly. – Dacia Clay

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

STAFF PICKS: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from their playlist. Tune in during the indicated hours below on Friday, January 20 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!

David P. Jones: Music for South Africa (Caballito Negro)

For many living in the United States, this past week has felt like a lit fuse. Today, protests & rallies will explode all over the country as marginalized groups and their allies rebuke violence, advocate for social justice, and work together from every corner of the nation to make a statement of unity. Seems like a good time for some “music of hope,” which is how David P. Jones describes Music for South Africa. In this piece, Jones took inspiration from the struggle against apartheid and drew from traditional South African music to create a percussion-heavy composition akin to the sounds of Johannesburg night-club jazz. Whether or not you participate in a mass movement, let Music for South Africa encourage thoughts of hope and expressions of your limitless potential. – Rachele Hales

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


Joseph Byrd: Prelude to “The Mystery Cheese Ball” American Contemporary Music Ensemble (New World)

ACME’s album exploring Joseph Byrd’s work in NYC from 1960-1963 has some interesting sounds, not least of which is the final track. This experimental work for balloon ensemble serves as the prelude to a chamber opera that was performed at Yoko Ono’s loft in the spring of 1961 (with Ono as one of the performers). There is no score, rather only a sort of oral history of the event to follow: each performer is instructed to allow air to escape their balloon, creating different pitches by stretching the neck in different ways. It results in an improvised crowd of squeaks and whines, and it goes for some time – maybe the balloons are pretty big in this recording. Some combine together to almost form a melody, but not quite. It’s a good bit nose-thumbing anti-music, with a hilariously abrupt ending as the last bit of air escapes. – Geoffrey Larson

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


Madeleine Cocolas: If Wisdom Fails (Futuresequence) 

A distillation of her “track-a-week-for-52-weeks” composition project, Cocolas’s album Cascadia was written after the composer relocated from Australia to Seattle.  Lately, my ever-deepening connections to the Seattle area have been an indispensable source of solace, and those feeling were brought back to the surface by If Wisdom Fails.  Seattle’s The Stranger newspaper called this album “cathartic;” I wholeheartedly agree. – Seth Tompkins

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


Matt Marks: The Little Death, Vol. 1 (New Amsterdam Records)

Matt Marks’ The Little Death, Vol. 1 is a classic tale of boy meets girl—except for instead of the familiar happily-ever-after ending, the boy and girl take a romantic ride through the world of Fundamentalist Evangelism, struggling to cope with their religion-prescribed repressed sexuality in the 21st century.

Performed by Marks and Mellissa Hughes, the post-Christian nihilist pop opera features 11 provocatively-titled chapters which detail the extraordinarily convoluted relationship between religion and sexuality using surprisingly modest means: Marks self-produced the album using only a couple microphones and a laptop running Ableton Live.

The ambitious two-character theatrical work draws on sampled material from Marks’ own collection of 1970s gospel, hip-hop, and soul albums, crafting surprisingly catchy tunes that fuse hypnotic pop hooks with satirical lyrics and apocalyptic Christian imagery. It’s definitely not your traditional church service—but it’s a surprisingly spiritual experience.
Maggie Molloy

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 7pm hour today to hear an excerpt from this recording.

STAFF PICKS: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from their playlist. Tune in during the indicated hours below on Friday, November 18 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!

Jacob Cooper: Silver Threads (Nonesuch)

st-front_finalThis piece is the opening song of a six-part cycle of the same title.  With text by 17th-century Japanese poet Bashō, this track is a good choice if you’re looking for a uplifting contemplative experience. Make sure your headphones or speakers can produce decent bass for this one; the sliding low tones make this piece come alive. – Seth Tompkins

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


Robert Honstein: “Why are you not answering? I don’t wish to play games”
From RE: You (New Focus Recordings)

fcr146_cover-750x0Here’s a little 21st century love story for you:

Once upon a time, Boston-based composer Robert Honstein’s email address was erroneously paired with the online profile of one Midwestern, middle-aged Jeffrey K. Miller. As such, Robert was mistakenly cc’d on hundreds of private emails and unwittingly given a ringside seat at the romantic travails of a complete stranger.

Inspired, Robert decided to make an album of lyricless love songs titled RE: You using the email exchanges as its basis. The pieces, titled after unusual (and sometimes alarming) email subject lines, explore not so much love itself as the longing for love—those most intimate, most vulnerable, most profound moments of our humanity.

Performed with a mixed chamber ensemble of strings, winds, percussion, and piano, this album’s got all the ups, downs, butterflies, and backlashes of looking for love on the internet. We may be living in a digital age, but the universal yearning for love is just as palpable as ever. – Maggie Molloy

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


Zubin Hensler: The Beach (Songlines Recordings) 

songlines-1617-2-440x440Oh, The Westerlies.  How do I love thee?  Let me count the ways: Willem, Andy, Zubin, Riley…  All four have a knack for taking common brass instruments and crafting uncommon brass music. In Zubin Hensler’s “The Beach,” trumpets and trombones create a sound more tender and poetic than the typical military/fanfare we’re used to hearing from brass. Here, the notes float in the air like seagulls and the warmth the performers exude makes the heart feel all good and mushy. Total sigh…

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


Michael Gordon: Timber (Hauschka Remix) (Cantaloupe Music)

ca21121_timber_remixed_frontComing off a long period of orchestral composition, Michael Gordon welcomed an opportunity to throw orchestration and pitch out the window when he composed Timber in 2009. Scored for six wooden simantras (a fancy word for 2x4s) cut at gradual lengths, the 60-minute original work has a simple beauty that can easily turn a hardware store into a performance venue.

Timber has been remixed into twelve vignettes by producers and DJs who incorporate some electronica, drones, and beats into Mantra Percussion’s studio recording. I’m excited to present Hauschka’s iteration, which goes so far as to incorporate prepared piano in the mix. If you like Timber but want a smaller dose, join Hauschka and the good company of Mira Calix, Greg Sanier, Johann Johannson and many more, on this beautifully re-imagined collection. – Maggie Stapleton

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

ALBUM REVIEW: “The Source” by Ted Hearne

by Maggie Molloy

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Ted Hearne – photo by Nathan Lee Bush

Some musicians are inspired by history, literature, nature, art, or even philosophy—but American composer and vocalist Ted Hearne prefers to get his inspiration straight from the source.

The primary source, that is. Never one to shy away from the political, Hearne’s compositions tend to favor preexisting, primary-source texts portraying the tragic, troubled, and otherwise politically-turbulent parts of America’s recent history.

His latest album, aptly titled “The Source,” takes as its basis the Iraq War Logs and Afghan War Diary—two of the biggest leaks in U.S. military history. Hearne matches the massive scope and political significance of these documents by creating a likewise chaotic, dense, passionate, and poignant patchwork of musical maximalism.

 

The album is an oratorio of sorts, based on Private Chelsea Manning (formerly Bradley Manning) and her disclosure of hundreds of thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks in 2010. Manning—who was 22 years old at the time and stationed in Iraq—was reported to the authorities by Adrian Lamo, an online acquaintance and former hacker. Manning had spoken to Lamo about a number of taboo topics, both political and personal: the document leaks, life in the Army, U.S. foreign policy—but also about her personal feelings, her gender identity, and her hopes that her actions would create “worldwide discussion, debates, and reform.”

In 2013, Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison for espionage, theft, and computer fraud, as well as numerous military infractions. Shortly afterward, she made public her transgender status and her intent to transition to a woman.

Suffice it to say, there are countless political, social, cultural, and personal threads woven throughout this historic event—and Hearne explores as many as he can in just over one hour. Scored for five vocalists, interactive auto-tune, electronic processing, and small chamber ensemble, the album features the vocals of Hearne himself along with Mellissa Hughes, Samia Mounts, Isaiah Robinson, and Jonathan Woody. Their voices, auto-tuned and processed in real time, take on an eerily mechanical effect, underscoring the technological aspects of the leaked documents in addition to the political.

Ted Hearne sings a sparse, live version of “Criminal Event” 

Mark Doten provides the chilling patchwork libretto, drawn from various primary-source texts dating from 2005-2010—including the leaked documents, the conversations (both political and personal) between Manning and Lamo, and selections of interviews, radio, social media, and popular music of the period.

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Librettist Mark Doten

The result is an abstracted and completely idiosyncratic musical mashup which exists somewhere between the very separate realms of classical collage, fringe theatre, rock opera, and robotic electronic. Bouncing violently back and forth between a thousand different musical worlds, Hearne explores the full range of human emotion through a fragmented recap of both political and personal wars.

Shards of text and melodic fragments are layered, transformed, and repeated again and again, circling into a frenzied tornado of sound and emotion that refuses to settle down for more than a moment at a time. And while it’s difficult to find communicative meaning amidst of the crescendoing chaos and confusion, the emotions behind the music are perfectly tangible and utterly visceral.

Because ultimately, “The Source” does not tell a linear story—it takes a snapshot of our world, in all its political, social, and cultural complexity. It does not offer up a solution or remedy but rather, it leaves the listener with a whirlwind of reflections and questions that echo long after the oratorio has ended.

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

ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Octet Ensemble’s “Scatter My Ashes”

by Maggie Molloy

OctetCompositeNulogo2

I have always considered poetry to be the distant cousin of music. After all, both combine elements of rhythm, sound, lyricism, and storytelling. However, after listening through the OCTET Ensemble’s performance of “Scatter My Ashes,” I thought perhaps these two artistic mediums may be even closer than cousins; perhaps they could even be brother and sister.

“Scatter My Ashes” is a series of five poems written by Sue Susman about life, death, and darkness. Her brother, composer and keyboardist William Susman, then transformed the poems into a five-movement composition for OCTET, his New York-based contemporary music ensemble.

OCTET is essentially a jazzy big-band-turned-a-little-smaller: their sound features one of each instrument in the brass section plus rhythm. The ensemble is composed of soprano vocalist Mellissa Hughes, saxophonist Demetrius Spaneas, trumpeter Mike Gurfield, trombonist Alan Ferber, composer and keyboardist William Susman, pianist Elaine Kwon, double bassist Eleonore Oppenheim, and drummer and percussionist Greg Zuber.

 

“Scatter My Ashes” is the title track on OCTET’s debut album, where it is brilliantly framed by three other works which combine a neoclassical sound with jazz and pop elements. Hughes’ dazzling vocals soar above each piece, transitioning flawlessly from singing lyrical poetry to percussive wordless vocals depending on the composition.

The title track lays Hughes’ crystal clear voice over a relatively sparse, brass-dominated musical texture. The result is a harmonious mixture of minimalism and jazz, filled with swirling brass melodies and tender, lyrical vocals. Hughes’ voice amplifies the sorrow, hope, and drama of the poetry, making each word glow with very minimal vibrato.

The album’s opening track, the three-movement “Camille,” plays on the intermingling of vocal and instrumental timbres, using wordless vocals as a melodic and, at times, percussive element. The circling, minimalist melodies and vocal rhythms of the first movement give way to the piece’s somber, slower, jazzier middle movement before picking up the pace for the triumphant final section, a repetitive, rhythmic return to the minimal music aesthetic.

Another highlight is the ensemble’s “Piano Concerto” which, of course, is no ordinary piano concerto. Rather than showcasing a flashy soloistic piano part, the piece carefully blends subdued piano melodies with wordless vocals and brassy highlights to create a dreamlike atmosphere. The result is a beautiful and texturally fascinating sonic landscape which fully encompasses the listener in its sinuous melodies and jazz-infused rhythms.

The album finishes with “Moving in to an Empty Space,” a series of three more poems written by Sue Susman which her brother set to music for OCTET. The poignant poems explore themes of loneliness and isolation in the everyday human experience, the expressive lyrics further complimented by the softly sparkling background melodies. The pieces showcase Hughes’ impressive vocal range over a brass-dominated backdrop.

Though the entire album runs just under 45 minutes, each note is perfectly crafted and expertly executed. The precision and accuracy of each instrument’s part is a true testament to the musicianship OCTET’s members.

Without a single moment wasted, the album stands as a timeless combination of contemporary classical music, minimalism, and jazz into a profound and dynamic multidisciplinary work.