ALBUM REVIEW: Darcy James Argue’s Real Enemies 

by Maggie Molloy

Tangled up amidst the drama of yet another scandal-soaked presidential election, this season we find ourselves perhaps a little more willing than usual to engage in discussions of a clandestine and conspiratorial nature.


But whether you’re a conspiracy theory junkie or a sideline skeptic, even the most patriotic of us loves a good old-fashioned conspiracy. Whether it’s the Watergate scandal or the inner-workings of the Illuminati, alien sightings or the mysterious murder of JonBenét Ramsey, we just can’t help but turn up our ears when we hear a juicy top-secret scheme.


Photo Credit: Lindsay Beyerstein

And since we’re already listening, Brooklyn-based composer and bandleader Darcy James Argue decided to take our eavesdropping ears to the next level: his new album Real Enemies is a 13-chapter exploration into America’s unshakable fascination with conspiracy theories. Performed with his 18-piece big band Secret Society and released on New Amsterdam Records, the album traverses the full range of postwar paranoia, from the Red Scare to the surveillance state, mind control to fake moon landings, COINTELPRO to the CIA-contra cocaine trafficking ring—and everything in between.


“Belief in conspiracies is one of the defining aspects of modern culture,” Argue said. “It transcends political, economic, and other divides. Conservative or liberal, rich or poor, across all races and backgrounds there exists a conspiratorial strain of thought that believes there are forces secretly plotting against us.”

The product of extensive research into a broad range of conspiratorial lore, Real Enemies traces the historical roots, iconography, literature, and language of conspiracies, offering a compelling glimpse into the secrets, scandals, and suspicious sneakings-around of the American government.

“Conspiracies theories often take hold because they provide an explanation for disturbing realities,” Argue said. “They tell a story about why the world is the way it is. Paradoxically, it’s often more comforting to believe that bad things happen because they are part of a hidden agenda than it is to believe that they came about as a result of mistakes, ineptitude, or random chance.”

Like any good conspiracy theorist, Argue’s composition pulls from a variety of sources, both historical and sociopolitical (and in this case, musical). Real Enemies draws heavily on the 12-tone techniques devised by Arnold Schoenberg in the aftermath of World War I, but cleverly disguises them under sprawling layers of brassy big band jazz licks and insatiably funky bass grooves.


Photo Credit: James Matthew Daniel

With cheeky titles like “Trust No One,” “Never a Straight Answer,” “Silent Weapons for Quiet Wars,” and my personal favorite, “Apocalypse is a Process,” the expansive album unfolds like an evening-length jam session. The stage-worthy solos pour over from instrument to instrument above a musical backdrop which oscillates between atonal classical, 80s toe-tapping funk, psychedelic space jazz, and sleuthy 60s-era detective film scores. Samples of infamous speeches from figures like John F. Kennedy, Frank Church, George H. W. Bush, and Dick Cheney are expertly sprinkled in among the musical chaos.

And those are just a few of the major overarching musical influences—the album also includes pockets of minimalism, Latin-American salsa, Afro-Cuban jazz, synth-laden electro, and more. A staticky spew of TV news headlines and a couple motives borrowed from the famously paranoia-inducing film scores of Michael Small’s The Parallax View and David Shire’s All the President’s Men also make an appearance.

And in the final chapters of the album, that spiraling web of musical influences becomes a theatrical backdrop for a monologue voiced by actor James Urbaniak. A spiraling conclusion explores the paranoid mind head-on, blurring the line between fact and fantasy, truth and conspiracy—and begging the ultimate question: Who is the real enemy?

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


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


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


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.

STAFF PICKS: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts and community members share a favorite selection from this Friday’s playlist and a few other gems, too. Tune in at the indicated times below on Friday, May 6 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!

91TvJJNSA9L._SX522_ Michael Daugherty: Bizarro, feat Baltimore Symphony Orchestra & David Zinman (Argo Records)

“It’s a bird!  It’s a plane!  It’s…  Superman?  But why is he trying to kill us all?”   Because that’s his doppelganger foe Bizarro, you Metropolis dummies!  As the title suggests, this Michael Daugherty piece was inspired by Bizarro, an imperfect copy of Superman created by Lex Luthor’s Duplicator Ray.  Bizarro’s musical world is chaotic in a mighty fun way!  He WHAMs with the brash energy of rock and roll, POWs with the fun of big band jazz, and ZAPs through the city propelled by a swift tempo. – by Rachele Hales

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 8am hour today to hear an excerpt from this recording.

Corey Dargel: “Thirteen Near-Death Experiences” from Someone Will Take Care of Me (New Amsterdam Records)

a3457959849_16Corey Dargel is not your typical singer-songwriter. He does not have long, flowing hair or wear stylish flannels. He does not write three-chord songs or charm teenage girls with his velvety singing voice—and you certainly will not find him in the corners of bourgeoisie coffee shops, huddled over an acoustic guitar and singing songs of lost love and lonely nights.

No, Corey Dargel prefers a much more eccentric musical existence. He creates electronic art songs which blur the line between contemporary classical and pop music idioms, combining deadpan vocal delivery with dark, tongue-in-cheek lyrics and deceptively cheery chamber music accompaniment.

For his ambitious 13-part art song cycle “Thirteen Near-Death Experiences,” Dargel teamed up with the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), pianist Kathleen Supové, and drummer David T. Little to tell the story of a character who suffers from debilitating hypochondria. And trust me, the songs truly span the gamut. From migraines to manic depression, underage alcohol consumption to unhealthy effects of Ritalin, nightmares of lost teeth to a surprisingly erotic account of falling in love with a doctor—nothing is off limits.

Corey Dargel may have nearly died 13 times in the making of this album—but I, for one, am really glad he survived it. – Maggie Molloy

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 3pm hour today to hear an excerpt from this recording.

Edith Salmen: Wassermusik (Castigo Classic Recordings)

500x500Starting off with several bangs, subversive drum rolls, and pitched cowbell sequences, German contemporary percussionist Edith Salmen opens her 2015 album Wassermusik with an energetic interpretation of Vyacheslav Artyomov’s Sonata Ricercata, or “Sonata Sought”. This is indeed an apt description for the entirely percussive piece, as the pedagogical principle of the sonata as a form requires both home and complementary keys, and thus challenges the listener to do away with their possible preconceptions. As the album progresses, Salmen alternates between five original pieces of Watermusic, all featuring a background of said element in different aural settings (rain-swelled river to leaking catacombs) with her own version of pieces by her contemporaries Peter Michael Hamel, Maciej Żółtowski, Viktor Suslin, and Hanna Kulenty. – Brendan Howe

ALBUM REVIEW: “Holographic” by Daniel Wohl

by Maggie Molloy

In the realm of contemporary classical, the line between acoustic and electronic is sometimes blurred. In the realm of L.A.-based composer Daniel Wohl, that line simply does not exist.

download photo by Nathan Lee Bush

Photo by Nathan Lee Bush

Wohl’s newest release, titled “Holographic,” bends the rules of light and sound altogether, creating a new dimension in art and music. Released on New Amsterdam Records, the album blends electronic elements with the musical talents of the Mivos Quartet, Mantra Percussion, the Bang on a Can All Stars, Iktus Percussion, Olga Bell (of Dirty Projectors), and Pulitzer Prize-winner Caroline Shaw (of Roomful of Teeth). Not a bad roster for an electro-classical experiment.

The album begins with “Replicate,” a dense two-movement tapestry of sound featuring Iktus Percussion and a whole lot of electronics. Pitched percussion figures circle above a two-note drone, creating a warm, tranquil sound world that slowly builds in density as the piece progresses. The first movement is liquid, like echoes rippling across an ocean of sound—but the second movement picks up the pace, transforming into a chaotic wind tunnel of machines clinking, glass breaking, foghorns blasting, and electronics oscillating.

Mivos Quartet and Mantra Percussion team up with Wohl to perform “Formless,” a five-minute musical soundscape which oscillates from ear to ear. The string players slither and slide through cyclical harmonies amidst a web of muted electronics and softly pulsing percussion, blurring the boundaries between acoustic and electric, man and machine.

The album’s title track is more kaleidoscopic in nature. Performed with the Bang on a Can All-Stars, the two part “Holographic” is a something of an aural illusion—it is filled with small clusters of musical material which distort and transform to create ever-changing colors, timbres, and musical textures. It’s no wonder the work was originally conceived as a multimedia piece (which, by the way, featured a synchronized visual component designed by artist Daniel Schwarz). And though the album doesn’t include any visuals, the piece is just as vivid without them.

In keeping with vibrant musical imagery, Wohl’s next piece on the album is perfectly titled “Pixelated.” Performed with Mantra Percussion, the piece sounds sort of like a cross between a winning slot machine and a bag full of brightly-colored bouncy balls flying off the walls. It is light, bright, colorful chaos, like spilling rainbow sprinkles all over the kitchen floor.

“Source” is slightly less frenzied, though every bit as striking. The wordless vocals of Olga Bell and Caroline Shaw flow in and out of focus in this eight-minute rumination on computer music and sampled sounds, as if ghosts in an eerie electronic landscape. 

The album climaxes with the hyperactive “Progression,” a maverick mashup of unusual sonorities and even more unusual rhythms. The frantic strings of Mivos Quartet intertwine with the frenetic percussion of Mantra to create this fast-paced and fretful sound world.

The album ends with Wohl’s atmospheric “Shapes,” co-written with the L.A.-based experimental music outfit Lucky Dragons. Mivos Quartet’s transparent strings mingle with humming electronics in this ethereal meditation, immersing the listener in warm waves of sound.

And in these liquid musical moments, it’s difficult to tell exactly where one instrument ends and another begins. The beauty of this album is that with each piece, Wohl artfully erases the line between acoustic and electronic, creating three-dimensional, holographic sound worlds which engulf the listener in their textures, timbres, shapes, sounds, and of course, their shimmering colors.


ALBUM REVIEW: “The Source” by Ted Hearne

by Maggie Molloy


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.