STAFF PICKS: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from their weekly playlist. Tune in on Friday, May 11 to hear these pieces and plenty of other new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre!

Pauline Oliveros: “Pauline’s Solo” (Innova Recordings)
Pauline Oliveros, accordion

“Listen to everything all the time and remind yourself when you are not listening,” Pauline Oliveros said in her 1998 keynote address at the ArtSci98 symposium.

Twenty years later, those words have come to encapsulate the astonishing legacy left behind by the late composer, who passed away in 2016. An artist, accordionist, and pioneer of experimental and electronic art music, Oliveros is remembered for her revolutionary tape experiments, her poetic and aleatoric musical scores, her groundbreaking musical philosophies, and above all, her unwavering devotion to the exploration of sound.

“Pauline’s Solo” embodies that legacy. It is an intimate, improvised accordion solo that explores not melody so much as the music of sound—the clattering keys, wavering dissonances, swelling drones, and fluttering breaths of the instrument easing the listener into musical hypnosis. – Maggie Molloy

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


No Lands: “Icefisher” (New Amsterdam)
Michael Hammond, electronics

Michael Hammond’s recording project No Lands opens it’s album Negative Space with a confusingly-titled track. Despite being titled “Icefisher,” this piece brings a distinct sense of warmth. The slow, bendy chords are reminiscent of surf rock, while the heavy electronic static might be a sonic translation of the sensation of relaxing outdoors on an evening that is too hot. The end result? This track makes me want immediate access to a cold drink and a lawn chair. – Seth Tompkins

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


William Brittelle: Hieroglyphics Baby (New Amsterdam)

If you’re looking for some Friday night grooves, William Brittelle’s got the tune for you. “Hieroglyphics Baby” is a colorful art-pop-meets-classical mashup from his full-length, lip-synched (when live) concept album Mohair Time Warp. Tongue-in-cheek lyrics spiral through Technicolor melodies in this art music adventure that splashes through at least six musical genres in the span of three minutes. See if you can keep up. – Maggie Molloy

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


György Ligeti: Lux Aeterna (EMI Records)
Groupe Vocal de France

It’s always fascinating for me to hear the atonal landscape of György Ligeti applied to vocal works—for me, it magnifies the majesty and magic that is a somewhat lesser characteristic of his instrumental compositions that I know and love. Lux Aeterna is a highly difficult work for 16-part mixed choir that uses constantly shifting rhythms and high notes for all vocal parts to create a floating, ethereal feeling. Stanley Kubrick was attracted to its celestial sound, using it in his film 2001: A Space Odyssey. The Latin text comes from the Catholic Requiem Mass, and translates to:

“May everlasting light shine upon them, O Lord, with thy saints in eternity, for thou art merciful. Grant them eternal rest, O Lord, and may everlasting light shine upon them.”

 Geoffrey Larson

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

STAFF PICKS: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from their weekly playlist. Tune in on Friday, January 12 to hear these pieces and plenty of other new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre!

Angélica Negrón: La Isla Mágica (Innova Recordings)
Eleonore Oppenheim, double bass

Brimming with whimsy and wistful nostalgia, Angélica Negrón’s La Isla Mágica combines punchy, video game-worthy electronics with double bass, percussion, and ambient vocals. Performed here by Eleonore Oppenheim on her debut solo album Home, her bass swings, sways, and dances amid a swirl of technicolor electronics. At times it sounds almost as though she’s in the middle of a theme park, playing among the neon signs, the colorful carnival games, and the translucent stars above. – Maggie Molloy

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 1pm hour today to hear this piece.


Gabriela Lena Frank: Danza de los Saqsampillos (Naxos Records)
Alias Chamber Ensemble

I seriously can’t get enough of these works by Gabriela Lena Frank, with all their vibrant colors and stunning rhythmic character. Gabriela was born in the US to parents of Peruvian/Chinese and Lithuanian/Jewish ancestry, and much of her music is influenced by her heritage. Danza de los Saqsampillos is inspired by the Peruvian “saqsampillo,” a rambunctious jungle-dweller with a characteristic jumping two-person dance. This performance from the Alias Chamber Ensemble album Hilos is the version for two marimbas.
– Geoffrey Larson

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


David Bowie: “Ashes to Ashes” (arr. Bischoff)
Amanda Palmer and Jherek Bischoff

David Bowie once said that “Ashes to Ashes” represented his own feelings of inadequacy about his work not having much importance.  Until “Ashes to Ashes” was released in 1980, much of Bowie’s music was cloaked in concept and personas so the vulnerability and maturity of this song was, among other things, his way of closing that chapter and moving on. In this version, from an album recorded just two weeks following Bowie’s death in 2016, the harsh textures, edginess, and synthesized guitars of the original are replaced with softer melancholy strings and sultry nightclub vocals.  Bowie is celebrated here, not emulated, and that’s what makes this tribute shine.
 Rachele Hales

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


David Crowell: “Waiting in the Rain for Snow” (New Amsterdam Records)
NOW Ensemble

This is exactly what waiting in the rain for snow sounds like.

NOW Ensemble’s flute, clarinet, double bass, oboe, piano, and electric guitar combine the excitement and anticipation of dramatic, beautiful flakes drifting from the sky, with the anxious desire to stay dry while the undesirable in-between phase of sleet insistently pounds the pavement in front of you. – Brendan Howe

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

Second Inversion’s Top 10 Albums of 2017

From Icelandic sound sculptures to pan-global jazz, found sounds and field recordings to sprawling, city-wide operas, 2017 was filled with some pretty incredible new music. As this year draws to a close, our Second Inversion hosts take a look back at our Top 10 Albums of 2017:

The Industry and wild Up: Hopscotch (The Industry Records)
Release Date: January 13, 2017

Hopscotch is by far the most inventive, labor-intensive, and meticulously designed work of the year. Live performances of the opera take place in 24 cars on three distinct routes, stopping at various locations-turned-performance spaces throughout Los Angeles. It involves everything from animated sequences exploring themes of identity and community to hearing star musicians perform in the car with you as you ride to your next unknown destination. The album recording is just as expansive, inviting the listener to experience the musical narrative in a non-chronological order, with multiple singers forming a composite of each character’s identity.

Intentionally disorienting, surprising, and overwhelming, artistic director Yuval Sharon and his team at the Industry have created an absolutely immersive experience—and audiences have been blown away. – Brendan Howe


yMusic and Son Lux: First (Communal Table Records)
Release Date: February 17, 2017

Something I hear frequently said about new classical music, from detractors and fans alike, is that it’s hard to listen to. First is a decidedly “new classical” album that does not fit into that framework at all. It’s—and I say this without irony—a freaking delight to listen to. It’s full of stories; for example, in the titular track, the instruments seem to be vying for first place until this looming bass note kicks in, threatening to take them all down. The titles themselves kickstart the imagination: “Trust in Clocks,” “Memory Wound,” and “I Woke Up in the Forest” are some of my favorites. Composer Ryan “Son Lux” Lott and producer Thomas Bartlett took yMusic’s edict to make a chamber music record structured like a rock album to heart and, with the addition of amazing performances by the group, turned it into art. – Dacia Clay


American Contemporary Music Ensemble: Thrive on Routine (Sono Luminus)
Release Date: February 24, 2017

Thrive on Routine was an interesting choice of title for ACME’s 2017 release. Timo Andres’ programmatic string quartet that follows the potato-tending and Bach-playing morning routine of Charles Ives thus becomes the album’s centerpiece, and by relation the rest of the selections are colored by the idea of beauty arising from the mundane. Minimalist textures in Caleb Burhans’ “Jahrzeit” and John Luther Adams’ “In a Treeless Place, Only Snow” provide a sense of calm and even pacing, while a deliberate, almost “learned” style extends from Andres’ title track to Caroline Shaw’s “in manus tuas” and “Gustave Le Gray” for solo cello. – Geoffrey Larson


Iceland Symphony Orchestra: Recurrence (Sono Luminus)
Release Date: April 7, 2017

The massive, slow-moving sound sculptures of Iceland shimmer and sparkle in Recurrence, an album of ethereal orchestral works by five emerging and established Icelandic artists. Daníel Bjarnason leads the Iceland Symphony Orchestra through a luminous program ranging from Thurídur Jónsdóttir’s kaleidoscopic “Flow & Fusion,” to María Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir’s oceanic “Aequora,” Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s icy and iridescent “Dreaming,” and more. Each piece on the album is a gorgeously abstracted soundscape in itself, showcasing the small Nordic island’s all but unparalleled explorations of texture, timbre, and immersive, atmospheric colors in music. – Maggie Molloy


PRISM Quartet with So Percussion and Partch: Color Theory (Naxos)
Release Date: April 14, 2017

Mixing colors takes on new meaning in Color Theory, an album blending the hues of four saxophones with an experimental percussion quartet and the microtonal musical instruments of Harry Partch. The PRISM Quartet teams up with So Percussion and the Partch ensemble to explore the full spectrum of color in music, from the deepest blues to the boldest reds, oranges, and yellows. Steven Mackey’s “Blue Notes & Other Clashes” mixes colors ranging from muted to magnificent through eight short movements culminating in a prismatic fantasy, while Ken Ueno’s “Future Lilacs” explores the shifting shades of the overtone series and Stratis Minakakis’s “Skiagrafies” paints a sonic canvas with color-changing harmonies. – Maggie Molloy


Amir ElSaffar: Not Two (New Amsterdam Records)
Release Date: June 16, 2017

In a year choked with disunity in nearly every part of our lives, trumpeter Amir ElSaffar’s jazzy pan-global album Not Two offers a welcome musical melting of borders. ElSaffar draws inspiration from different cultures and their instruments, primarily Western Asia and America, and declares that they “do not exist as separate entities ‘belonging’ to any people or place.” His humanism coupled with the skill of his collaborators results in an album that pulses with mystical jazz spells, thrills with august horns, and reminds us that music is egalitarian. Knowing that Not Two was recorded in one marathon 16-hour session is just the cherry on top of ElSaffar’s accomplishment.
Rachele Hales


Los Angeles Percussion Quartet: Beyond (Sono Luminus)
Release Date: June 16, 2017

LAPQ’s Beyond pushes the boundaries of what a percussion ensemble can do, with a healthy dose of ambient-leaning music combined with a smaller measure of perhaps slightly more familiar groove-based music that might seem more typical of percussion repertoire. With works by heavy-hitting composers Daníel Bjarnason, Christopher Cerrone, Anna Thorvalsdottir, Ellen Reid, and Andrew McIntosh paired with thoughtful and delicate execution, Beyond is a tour-de-force that stands at the leading edge of music for percussion. – Seth Tompkins


Third Coast Percussion: Book of Keyboards (New Focus Recordings)
Release Date: August 4, 2017

If classical music is a volcanic island, percussion ensembles are the lava and magma that makes the new land. They’re always on the edge, pushing out, making new sounds with new instruments. And that’s exactly what Third Coast Percussion is doing on Book of Keyboards. They’ve recorded two works by modernist composer Philippe Manoury—sometimes sounding like an elaborate wooden wind chime orchestra, and at other times leaving long, worshipful tensions between notes.

Some of the instruments used on this album are familiar enough—like marimbas and vibraphones—but I’m gonna bet you’ve never heard the sixxen, because they were invented by a guy named Iannis Xenakis (also an avant-garde composer) and homemade by Third Coast. I wonder if performing on instruments that you’ve made by hand is as exciting/terrifying as flying a kit plane that you’ve built in your garage? Third Coast never lets on, moving through these two works, “Le Livre des Clavier,” and “Metal,” like seasoned pilots flying in formation. – Dacia Clay


Qasim Naqvi: FILM (Published by Erased Tapes)
Release Date: September 29, 2017

Perhaps best known as the drummer from the group of acoustic virtuosos Dawn of Midi, Qasim Naqvi also plays other instruments and composes both art music and music for television and film. The album FILM, as you might guess, falls into the latter category. Released in September of 2017, FILM contains music written for the film Tripoli Cancelled and the video installation Two Meetings and a Funeral, both by Naeem Mohaiemen. This release, like other projects by Naqvi, celebrates the legacy of Moog synthesizers. The atmospheric sounds on this album were inspired by disused architecture, and sometimes recall the music of John Carpenter. – Seth Tompkins


Bang on a Can All-Stars: More Field Recordings (Cantaloupe Music)
Release Date: October 27, 2017

Some composers can make music out of just about anything—and that’s precisely the idea behind the Bang on a Can All-Stars’ More Field Recordings. A star-studded cast of composers are each asked to find a recording of something that already exists (a voice, a sound, a faded scrap of melody) and then write a new piece around it.

A follow-up to their original 2015 release Field Recordings, this year’s rendition is a colorful patchwork of found sounds and sonic squares from the likes of Caroline Shaw, Ben Frost, Nico Muhly, Richard Reed Parry, and Glenn Kotche (to name just a few), with the All-Stars playing along to field recordings ranging from quilting interviews to Chilean birdsongs, lava fields, and snoring sleepers.
Maggie Molloy

ALBUM REVIEW: Orpheus Unsung by Steven Mackey with Jason Treuting

by Rachele Hales

It’s a tale as old as time…  boy meets girl, girl dies of snakebite, boy rescues girl from underworld, boy makes dumb mistake and girl is returned to underworld, boy is ripped to shreds by women after refusing to join their orgy and his decapitated head becomes an oracle.  It’s amazing Disney never adapted this heartwarming tale!

Jayme Halbritter Photography.

Of course the tale is that of Orpheus and Eurydice, an ancient Greek myth told musically and with expertise as a guitar opera by Steven Mackey and Jason Treuting in Orpheus Unsung. The piece originally premiered in 2016 as a multimedia music and dance spectacle directed by Mark DeChiazza—this October, the music was released as an album on New Amsterdam Records.

Mackey brings Orpheus back to life with his electric guitar, which is the musical representation of Orpheus in this “opera without words.”  Of course, in the original story Orpheus is known far and wide for his expertise with the lyre, a harp-like instrument he played so well that flora and fauna alike would follow the faint music and travel closer to hear him play.  It’s refreshing to hear Orpheus played by instruments with a bit more edge.  Mackey uses two guitars, one tuned normally and the second tuned microtonally, to create what he calls an “underworldly” harmonic sound.  The drums and gongs provided by Sō Percussion’s Treuting round out the sound of the opera with interesting texture and crisp, innovative drumming techniques.

Jayme Halbritter Photography.

Mackey and Treuting give us the whole story in about an hour, which is structured as three acts representing the phases of Orpheus’ quest: above ground, the underworld, and his return to the land of the living.  While above ground, Orpheus falls hard for Eurydice and the two marry with haste.  At the wedding the god of marriage offers no smiles or words of encouragement (bad omen alert!) and just after the wedding Eurydice is bitten by a snake and dies.  Orpheus laments her death and embarks on his journey to the underworld to bring her back.  Mackey and Treuting play “The Wedding” with gentle sustained notes that graduate to the all-out anarchy of “Snakebite,” which is followed by a somber, slower “First Lament” that builds as Orpheus lands on the decision to take his lyre with him to the underworld and get Eurydice back with a musical plea to Hades, God of the Underworld.

So down he goes.  In a musical swirl of percussion and guitar loops, Orpheus uses his artful playing to charm the beasts, Furies, and dead souls that block his entrance.  Mackey plays with lovely restraint and calm as Orpheus finds Hades and makes an impassioned speech, reminding the god of his own great love for Persephone.  Convinced that Orpheus and Eurydice are true lovers, Hades agrees to free Eurydice from the underworld but orders that she must walk behind Orpheus on the journey back and that Orpheus is not allowed to turn back to look at her.  Up, up, up they go with Mackey lighting the way with his cautious guitar, until Orpheus blows it all at the last second by turning back to gaze at his wife—his shattered dreams scored by shards of icy guitar riffs as she falls back into the darkness.

Oof.  After mourning and weeping at the edge of the River Styx, Orpheus emerges from the underworld and plays a sorrowful lament punctuated by long, resting pauses.  In “Orpheus Redux,” our protagonist wanders back home literally singing the blues (and here Mackey and Treuting transition to a bluesy sound as well).  Eventually he is met by a mob of drunk, horny women.  When Orpheus spurns their advances they begin to throw sticks at him.  But remember how flora and fauna alike are enchanted by Orpheus?  Of course you do.  So when the thrown sticks refuse to hit him the women rip him apart themselves, tossing his parts into the nearby stream.  The guitar and drums become chaotic to depict this messy and violent scene, but soften greatly as his head (still singing out for Eurydice) and lyre (still playing mournfully) float down the stream, bobbing gently as they continue to drift, perform, and enchant.  Eventually The Muses discover his head and rest it peacefully at the bank of the stream, where it becomes an oracle.

Stories about loss and trying to cheat death will always be relevant—but with help from percussion and a couple guitars, Treuting and Mackey give new life to these themes and allow Orpheus to be reborn.

Staff Picks: Friday Faves

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

William Brittelle: Hieroglyphics Baby (New Amsterdam)

If you’re looking for some Friday night grooves, William Brittelle’s got the tune for you. “Hieroglyphics Baby” is a colorful art-pop-meets-classical mashup from his full-length, lip-synched (when live) concept album Mohair Time Warp. Tongue-in-cheek lyrics spiral through Technicolor melodies in this art music adventure that splashes through at least six musical genres in the span of three minutes. See if you can keep up. – Maggie Molloy

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


Harry Partch: “The Wind” (Second Inversion Live Recording)
Charles Corey, Harmonic Canon II and Melia Watras, bass marimba 

Having the Harry Partch instrument collection in Seattle is a benefit that cannot be overstated.  I’ve attended many of their concerts at this point, and after every single one, I walk away feeling that my ears have been stretched in a pleasant and healthful manner.  I could call the experience “musical yoga” or “aural vegetables,” but no matter how I describe it, it seems clear to me that listening to Partch, in any form, is one of the best things one can do for their listening skills. – Seth Tompkins

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 4pm hour today to hear this piece, and watch our live video below!


Terry Riley: Fandango on the Heaven Ladder
Gloria Cheng, piano 
(Telarc Records) 

Terry Riley says of his Fandango on the Heaven Ladder, “It is no secret that I am wild about the music of Spain and Latin America, and since I heard my first fandango I’ve been wanting to write one. In Fandango on the Heaven Ladder, I am attempting to alternate and somewhat fuse the controlled sensuality of the romantic fandango with a somewhat melancholic chorale.”

The piece weaves in and out of fandango and melancholy, giving the impression of moving from solitude into a dreamlike soirée, only to slip back inward while stepping outside into a glassy night and hearing the sounds of the party flow out through the windows and doors. – Brendan Howe

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


Bruce Adolphe: Night Journey (Albany)
Musical Arts Woodwind Quintet

Any composer who sets out to write a really good wind quintet contends with inherent challenges of the instrumentation, chief among them the balance of sound between the high, light sound of the flute and the potentially low and overwhelming sound of the French horn. But they also have a beautiful, diverse palette of colors and textures open to them, and it seems to me that this 1986 work for winds makes use of these with aplomb. It’s a very enjoyable piece that moves in three main sections through bubbly counterpoint and quiet shades of repose.

Though the played-out “train chugging along through the night” concept seems to pop up incessantly in contemporary music for wind ensembles, I’m happy to give Adolphe a pass here since the piece was initially conceived with no specific inspiration in mind. The flickering colors and shifting mosaic of rhythm that characterize the music that opens and closes the piece seem to evoke a darkened nighttime landscape passing outside the window of a train, and thus the composer chose Night Journey for the title.
– Geoffrey Larson

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

Staff Picks: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from their playlist. Tune in on Friday, March 17 to hear these pieces and lots of other great new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre!

Julia Wolfe: Cruel Sister;  Ensemble Resonanz

Image result for julia wolfe cruel sisterSibling rivalry takes on a whole new meaning in Julia Wolfe’s Cruel Sister for string orchestra. Based on an old English ballad of the same name, the piece tells the tale of two sisters: one bright as the sun, and the other cold and dark. When a young man comes courting, the dark sister pushes the bright sister into the sea so that she can marry him. But when two minstrels find the dead sister washed up on the shore, they create a harp from her breastbone, strung with her yellow hair—and they play the ghostly instrument at the dark sister’s wedding.

Wolfe tells the tale with no words, instead following the dramatic arc of the original ballad through orchestra alone. Restless strings detail the gruesome murder, airy resonances evoke the lifeless body floating on the sea, and an obsessive, foreboding pizzicato waltz brings the music of the mad harp back to life. – Maggie Molloy


Piazzolla: Adiós Nonino arr. Déjardin; Boston Cello Quartet

Image result for boston cello quartet piazzolla album

I couldn’t be happier that this amazing little piece cropped up in my playlist. I like a good Piazzolla tango once in a while, and Adiós Nonino is a very special one. It’s a somber, lyrical work, one that was intensely personal for Piazzolla, written after the death of his father. He said:

“And to close that very bad year of 1959, one day the phone exploded like an atom bomb. I was performing with (Juan Carlos) Copes in Puerto Rico…when I received a call from Dedé (his wife)…from New York. Nonino had died in Mar del Plata. It was too much.

“When I got back to New York a few days later, I asked to be alone in a room in the apartment, and in less than an hour I wrote Adiós Nonino. And then I cried as I had few times before in my life…In that piece I left all the memories I had of my dad.”

It’s some of his most soulful music, and it was arranged in something like 20 different ways during his life. In this version, the Boston Cello Quartet adds a beautifully dark, expressive sound, with an ending that is incredibly intimate. This new-era version of Adiós does not disappoint. – Geoffrey Larson


Olga Bell: Khabarovsk Krai

Musician Olga Bell was born in Russia, raised in Alaska, and now lives in New York as a member of the Dirty Projectors.  On her solo album Krai (meaning “periphery”/”edge”), she explores the forgotten areas of her homeland in her native Russian, combining old folk fables with fresh, trance-y electronic sounds.  In “Khabarovsk Krai,” crafty use of pitch-shifting software allows Bell’s vocals to sink, swoop, moan, and smear her voice inside your ears as she sobs “Russia, Mother Russia, Russian Motherland.”  Much like the landscape that inspired the work, the song shifts constantly and is full of striking, unusual surprises. – Rachele Hales

VIDEO PREMIERE: Valencia by Caroline Shaw feat. Jasper Quartet

Fact: the Valencia orange was hybridized in Santa Ana, California in the mid-1800s and has survived through the decades. Whether you enjoy it soccer practice style in wedges or with slightly orange-tinted and moistened fingers after peeling the whole thing, the sweet flesh is a refreshing treat.

Fast-forward to 2017… we have a new interpretation of this fruit to enjoy, also tinged with a Valencia orange hue:

Cellist Rachel Henderson Freivogel of the Jasper Quartet says, “the vibrancy of Caroline Shaw’s “Valencia” is both an evocative representation of a humble orange and a stunning example of the brilliant compositions on Unbound, releasing March 17, 2017. The Jasper String Quartet is delighted to present the definitive recordings of these 7 new remarkable pieces. Packed with energy and brilliance, ‘Valencia’ immediately piques the listener’s imagination.”

Unbound is co-produced by Sono Luminus and New Amsterdam. You can pre-order this March 17 release here.