Staff Picks: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from their weekly playlist. Tune in on Friday, October 6 to hear these pieces and plenty of other new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre!

Michael Gordon: Timber (Cantaloupe Music)
Remixed by Ikue Mori

Michael Gordon could make music out of just about anything. His piece Timber, composed for six percussionists playing 2×4 planks of wood, is not just good—it’s so good  it spurred an entire album of remixes by 12 different electronic artists.

This particular remix by Ikue Mori slows down the texture and explores the space between the notes, with the music slowly oscillating up and down, side to side, from one headphone to the other and back again. With an echoing, almost ritualistic pulse, Mori’s version feels ghostlier than the original. It’s almost as though the wooden planks were cut from haunted trees—evoking a spookier interpretation of the title Timber. – Maggie Molloy

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


Julia Wolfe: Lick (Cantaloupe Music)
Bang on a Can All-Stars

This is an intense piece in many ways. It’s rhythmically difficult, aggressively pounding, and relentless throughout; it features no sound softer than a determined forte until possibly the very end. Generally I would abhor something like this, but the Bang on a Can All-Stars are able to give it a truly fascinating showcase: raucous and full of indomitable character.

It’s the first piece that Julia Wolfe wrote for the ensemble, hoping they would “go over the top” with the work’s “intense energy” born of the body-slamming rhythms of Motown, funk, and rock music of Julia’s childhood. I think it worked. – Geoffrey Larson

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 3pm hour today to hear this piece.


Florence Price: Dances in the Canebrakes (MSR Classics)
William Chapman Nyaho, piano

William Chapman Nyaho: Asa is the second of five volumes curated by Ghanaian-American composer and pianist William Chapman Nyaho. All five volumes feature a fascinating and impressive collection of music of Africa and the African diaspora.  This second volume is focused on dance music, and Nyaho certainly shines as he dances his hands across the keys of his piano with striking expertise.

In Florence Price’s Dances in the Canebrakes, Nyaho treats the listener to three movements that feel like a courtly cakewalk.  Price, I should note, was the first black woman in the US to be recognized as a symphonic composer and to have her work performed by a major American orchestra. Price was a pioneer and is perfectly at home in this anthology of musical unity. – Rachele Hales

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


Ballaké Sissoko & Vincent Ségal: “N’kapalema” (No Format Records)

I’m currently going through a months-long phase of discovering West African music, which started with Peter Gabriel’s collaborations with Youssou N’Dour and then led me through to Toumani Diabaté and Rokia Traoré. (Give them a listen!)

It looks like Ballaké Sissoko will carry the torch next. In “N’kapalema,” a collaboration with cellist Vincent Ségal for Sissoko’s album Musique de nuit, the composer plucks precise, intricate melodies on the kora while Ségal overlays the cello’s husky voice. For me, it evoked an image of a lot of families in their homes at dusk, all saying prayers before a candlelit dinner. – Brendan Howe

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 9pm hour today to hear this piece. Plus, catch the duo in Seattle when they perform as part of the Earshot Jazz Festival on Oct. 22.

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.

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, September 2 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!

westside+industrialM.O.T.H.: “him” from Westside Industrial on slashsound

Growth, development, and change are inevitable parts of life, right? Sometimes they’re good, sometimes they’re unavoidable, sometimes they’re guided by motivation and hope, and sometimes they’re completely frustrating and disheartening. This ambient, electronic work by M.O.T.H. tells the story of “disillusionment, reassessing, and ultimately optimism after endeavor” from the perspective from “him” and “her” in a rapidly changing culture in a place once guided by arts and bohemian values. Gentrification, commodification, and commercialization have taken over to turn lifestyles into brands and shiny new thises and thats. Having this narrative in mind helps to give the relatively sparse texture of this work some deep meaning. Personally it resonates with me, as the city of Seattle continues to change in some of these ways, rendering certain neighborhoods unrecognizable from just 7 or 8 years ago. Westside Industrial is a reminder that we’re not alone in this change, and through our relationships with one another and with art, we can persevere. – Maggie Stapleton

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


a3222330692_16Daníel Bjarnason: Bow to String (Saeunn Thorsteinsdottir, cello; Valgeir Sigurosson, programming) on Bedroom Community

I don’t know what it is about cellists – shredding, rocking out, whatever you want to call it, they have some innate desire for it. Think of all the head-banging cello groups: 2cellos, Cello Fury, Uccello…everywhere there are cellists plugging into amps and tearing it up. They must have some sort of deep inner angst. Bow to String by Daníel Bjarnason definitely taps into that angst with the driving rhythms of the beginning, but relaxes to an almost haunting conclusion. It’s partially electrifying (no pun intended), partially cathartic, and a perfect SI selection. – Geoffrey Larson

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


gordon_vangogh_cover_1400pxMichael Gordon: Van Gogh (Alarm Will Sound) on Cantaloupe Music

Vincent van Gogh painted over 30 self-portraits in his short lifetime. Notoriously impoverished, he didn’t have the money to pay models to pose, nor the patronage to pay for the portraits—so, he painted himself.

Just imagine how much time he must have spent looking at his reflection, studying himself, painting his own image. Composer Michael Gordon explores that staggering sense of introspection in Van Gogh, an opera which takes the heartbreaking letters Van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo as its libretto.

Performed here by the chamber orchestra Alarm Will Sound, the opera traces the tragic reality of Van Gogh’s life: his adolescent anxieties and rejections, his professional shortcomings and personal failures, his crippling loneliness and eventual institutionalization.

Van Gogh’s brutal honesty and raw emotions sprawl out amidst a strident ensemble of voice, clarinet, strings, piano, percussion, and electric guitar—each melodic line as thickly textured and brazenly colored as the brush strokes of Van Gogh’s famous canvases. It’s a powerful tribute to one of history’s greatest artists—a creative visionary who changed the face of art without ever making a cent.

“Theo, if you can, write soon,” he pleads. “And of course, the sooner you can send the money the better it would be for me. I spent my last penny on this stamp.” – Maggie Molloy

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


Brooklyn-coverSergei Prokofiev: Peter and the Wolf, Op. 67 (arr. Project Trio)

If you’ve never heard someone beatbox on a flute you won’t want to miss Project Trio’s performance of “Peter and the Wolf.”  Greg Pattillo’s flute effects are out of this world and this funky, theatrical, exuberant take on a childhood classic is overflowing with humor and joy.  These are three musicians having a blast with their craft and the fun is contagious.  Highly recommended! – Rachele Hales

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

 

Music in the American Wild: Looking to the Future

by Seth Tompkins

This is the final installment in a series covering Music in the American Wild. Our earlier posts include a series preview and concert review.

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Music in the American Wild at Hurricane Ridge Visitors Center. Photo Credit: Geoff Sheil

Following the completion of the Music in the American Wild tour in celebration of the centennial of the National Park Service, I took some time to consider the state of the interaction between music, the parks, and wild places in general. Inspiringly, there are many projects happening now that explore this terrain. The interaction of wild spaces and music is a topic which many people both in the United States and around the world are eager to explore.

In addition to Music in the American Wild, another group recently completed an entirely separate tour that brought new music to the national parks in celebration of the centennial. The Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble‘s tour visited Badlands, Wind Cave, Grand Teton, and Yellowstone National Parks. This tour concluded on July 9, 2016. They also commissioned new music for the centennial, presenting eight new works alongside three previously commissioned works from a 2014 tour of national parks of the Southwest.


David Biedenbender‘s Red Vesper, a commission from the 2014 tour

Also like Music in the American Wild, the GVSU tour was supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. The fact that there were at least two separate new music ensembles touring the national parks and celebrating the centennial with newly commissioned works is outstanding! However, beyond recognizing projects like these, we must address the deeper meaning of what they are trying to accomplish. The effect of music in wild places is defined by two axes: the interaction of music and venue, and the content of the music itself.

When we consider music in the context of wild places, there is a spectrum of ways in which music and location interact. At the most basic, some projects are little more than outdoor concerts, with music (usually) written for indoor spaces presented outdoors. Moving further along the spectrum, some outdoor concerts include music that was written with the outdoors in mind, inspired by the outdoors, or even specifically written to be performed outdoors. Some projects go a bit further and curate music for the specific space in which it will be performed, whether written with outdoor performance in mind or not. Further along are projects that include music written specifically for the outdoors, sometimes combined with aforementioned curation of music for specific venues. Finally, there are other projects written for exactly the specific outdoor venue (and sometimes, time) at which they are performed.

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Heart o’ the Hills Campground. Photo Credit: Geoff Sheil

Music in the American Wild falls squarely in the middle of this spectrum, with a robust, if not completely essential, connection to their specific performance locations. The music that they presented was certainly written with the outdoors in mind and was designed to be performed outdoors (indoors, too, I suspect). However, not all of their pieces were designed for or inspired by specific places, and not all of their pieces took an apparent interest in interacting with the location in which they were to be performed. The group did, however, take the care to specially curate the programs of each of their performances so that the music they offered complemented each different performance space. The project was successful, to be sure, but the interaction of music with wild spaces shouldn’t be limited to the form it took in Music in the American Wild.

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Music in the American Wild in the Hoh Rain Forest. Photo Credit: Geoff Sheil

Consider a piece like John Luther Adams’ Inuksuit, in which the music intentionally acts like an assistive device, helping the audience experience the performance location in a new way. The music is not written for any specific outdoor space, but is intended to be performed outdoors and to deepen the experience of the space. This overtly intentional interaction between music and outdoor performance spaces illustrates one way concepts from Music in the American Wild and similar projects could be extended.

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Inuksuit was performed in Seattle in September, 2015. Photo Credit: Melanie Voytovich

Another piece that illustrates how music and location can be even more deeply connected is Michael Gordon’s collaborative piece Natural History, which was premiered on July 29, 2016 at Crater Lake in Oregon and commissioned by the Britt Music and Arts Festival. This piece was written specifically to be performed at Crater Lake, making both location and music essential to the project. Further, Natural History’s collaborative nature extends its connection to the performance location; the piece involved local musicians, especially focusing on performers from the Klamath Tribes, for whom Crater Lake has always been a special spiritual place.

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Crater Lake. Photo Credit: Britt Festivals

The totality of connections to place in Natural History invites consideration of the role of content in projects that include the interaction of music and wild spaces. Natural History was conceived with a keen awareness of Native American issues and culture. Other pieces, like many of John Luther Adams’ works, are centered on the issues of climate change and ecology. Pieces like these, which openly confront and explore the serious issues facing our wild spaces, are leading the way as musicians become more interested in and adept at exploring the intersection of music and nature.

On this front, one piece from Music in the American Wild’s set list deserves special recognition. Aaron Travers’ piece Sanctuary, inspired by the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge earlier this year,  takes a clear-eyed look at a difficult issue that is relevant to modern audiences.

Perhaps, as time moves on, more projects like Music in the American Wild will delve even deeper in search of connections to place. Maybe they will attempt to explore some of the modern challenges surrounding our national parks and wild spaces. The issues of conservation, Native American history, and land use are as relevant now as they have ever been. Exploring these sometimes-unpleasant facets of our National Parks and wild places is good for everyone involved; musicians get to participate in relevant modern conversation on topics that truly matter, and the public gets a new set of tools with which to connect with wilderness and consider the issues.

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American Camp at San Juan National Historical Park. Photo Credit: Geoff Sheil

I have immensely enjoyed covering the Music in the American Wild ensemble this year. I would like to thank them for all of their hard work and their openness in presenting these enjoyable concerts, and for visiting the beautiful (and sometimes overlooked) National Parks of Washington. They deserve praise for contributing to the movement to connect music with our national parks and wild places. Projects like this not only bring music to new and exciting places, they deepen the public’s awareness of wild places and can foster much-needed conversations on the issues surrounding them. I sincerely hope that the project continues into the future and grows even broader in scope. Until next time, I suggest we all go “take a hike!”

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Seth Tompkins, mid-hike.

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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Second Inversion’s Top 5 Videos of 2015

2015 was all about the videos here at Second Inversion! We hosted 22 recording sessions and produced a total of 44 videos! We connected with musicians from Seattle, San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Montreal, Los Angeles, Austin, Paris, Denmark, Malaysia, Colombia, and Indonesia! You can peruse them all on our video page, but here are the top 5…

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#5: Third Coast Percussion and Joshua Roman at Town Hall, Seattle

#4: Christopher O’Riley and Matt Haimovitz at the Tractor Tavern

#3: yMusic in our studios

#2: Friction Quartet in our studios

#1: Ashley Bathgate (Bang on a Can All-Stars) in our studios

Stay tuned for videos in 2016 of local musicians playing Steve Reich, SO Percussion, Gabriel Kahane w/ Brooklyn Rider, and more!

ALBUM REVIEW: Michael Gordon’s “Dystopia”

by Maggie Stapleton

Of all the modern late 20th and early 21st century repertoire out there, it can take a lot to stand out. Bang on a Can co-founder Michael Gordon’s Dystopia succeeds, particularly in two of the areas Second Inversion loves to focus on – rethinking the past and paying homage.

The title track is one of many collaborative projects between Michael Gordon and filmmaker Bill Morrison. They all encapsulate the aura of cities (Los Angeles as the focus here) and in all of these works the music is composed first and the film is conceptualized to fit the score. Bill’s video combines new and old footage from the streets of Los Angeles, as far back as some 1898 footage by Thomas Edison! Here’s an excerpt, courtesy of Cantaloupe Records:

Even without the film, Dystopia provides a “choose your own adventure” visual experience. I recommend you press play, close your eyes, and let the expansive color palette create a journey – whether it’s 90mph traffic ride through LA, a ride on a New York City subway, a motorcycle ride on winding mountain roads. The possibilities are endless.

It truly is a ride that is full speed ahead for eight and a half solid minutes, winds down for a few minutes, and revs back up, ebbing and flowing (like traffic and bumps in the road that slow us down. Flat tire? Overheated engine? We’ve all been there..) throughout the piece.

Gordon combines sounds and textures that offer freshness to the orchestral repertoire. He “explores the gray areas between harmony and dissonance,” which comes to me as enhanced, nuanced, and varied sounds for the orchestra. It’s the most exciting and engaging 30 minutes of music I’ve experienced in a long time.

Many composers pay tribute to those who have inspired or taught them. Gordon says, “Beethoven’s brutish and loud music has always inspired me… At the time it was written, it was probably the loudest music on the planet.” Rewriting Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony was a commission from the Beethovenfest Bonn in 2006 and Gordon utilized one element from each of the original symphony: “From the first movement, I couldn’t resist working with the huge barbaric opening chords. From the second movement, I took the divine and other-worldly theme, adjusting it slightly so that when it ends, it is in a key one half-step higher. The theme continues to cycle around and slowly spirals up. From the third movement, I lifted the background accompaniment and brought it to the foreground. From the fourth movement I used the main theme.”

This homage to Beethoven is so curiously engaging. The retained elements are very apparent from the first chord, which is totally a “fooled ya!” moment as it meows down to dissonance. Throughout the entire piece, the push & pull and transformation of the themes and harmonies fight my ears to hear Beethoven’s original in Gordon’s re-write. It’s as if the notes were tossed up in the air with excellent care, floating and mingling with one another, crisscrossing to land in brand new worlds of musical excitement. I highly recommend this mind-bending piece for an eyebrow-raising, intriguing listening experience.

For a Michael Gordon bonus, I would be remiss without redirecting you to our in-studio performance by Bang on a Can All-Star, Ashley Gordon:

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