LIVE BROADCAST: Joshua Roman and JACK Quartet | May 10, 7:30pm PT

by Gabriela Tedeschi

Photo by Shervin Lainez.

The world-renowned JACK Quartet welcomes a fifth member this week at the Town Music season finale: acclaimed cellist Joshua Roman. With a program designed to conjure up vivid images and emotions, Roman and the quartet are using sound to paint pictures and tell stories that will linger in listeners’ minds. Perhaps the most evocative work on the program is a piece by Roman himself.

Photo by Hayley Young.

Roman, who leapt right into performing with the Seattle Symphony and around the world after studying at the Cleveland Institute of Music, began composing his own music in 2013. He was commissioned by Town Hall and Music Academy of the West to compose Tornado, a work that paints a portrait of the storms that were a fixture of his childhood in Oklahoma.

Tornado is also inspired by music traditions of the past: Roman quotes a theme from  Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony and alludes to works of the Baroque era which use virtuosity to evoke sensations of nature. In an ode to the untameable force of a tornado, Roman has left elements of the piece up to chance and performer interpretation by writing microtone smears and aleatoric parts.

The first half of the concert will feature John Zorn’s exhilarating Ouroboros and Jefferson Friedman’s Quintet, a musical manifestation of the grieving process. Amy Williams’ Richter Textures also appears on the first half of the program, each of its seven parts inspired by a different painting from German artist Gerhard Richter and each seeking to musically portray the complex textures his visual art is famous for.

In addition to Tornado, the second half will feature three Madrigali libro sesto from Don Carlo Gesualdo, arranged by Ari Streisfeld for strings. Gesualdo—an unstable and murderous 17th century composer—is known for chromatic harmonies and diverse emotional expressions that make his music sound modern to contemporary audiences. Because removing the voices meant removing the lyrics, Streisfeld employs different timbral techniques to convey the meaning and emotions of the text to the audience.

Second Inversion is thrilled to offer a LIVE concert broadcast of the performance this Thursday, May 10 at 7:30pm PT. Click here to stream the performance live from anywhere in the world!

Program:

Jefferson Friedman: Quintet (2013)
John Zorn: Ouroboros (2017)
Amy Williams: Richter Textures (2011)

Intermission

Carlo Gesualdo: Selections from Madrigali libro sesto, arranged by Ari Streisfeld
     Lo parto, e non più dissi
     Beltà, poi che t’assenti
     Già piansi nel dolore

Joshua Roman: Tornado (2017)


Town Music presents JACK Quartet and Joshua Roman on Thursday, May 10 at 7:30pm at Seattle First Baptist Church. For tickets and additional information, click here.

New Music for May: Joshua Roman, JACK Quartet, and a Microtonal Music Fest

by Maggie Molloy

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

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

New music flyer May 2018 FINAL

 

Wayward Music Series
Concerts of contemporary composition, free improvisation, electroacoustic music, and sonic experiments. This month: avant-garde piano solos, Eastern-European cimbalom songs, a dark ambient memorial, and more.
Various days, 7:30/8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-$15

Live Music Project: 4th Annual Lecture-Concert
The Live Music Project celebrates its 4th birthday with a scintillating lecture from a cyborg, a centuries-spanning solo violin performance by Mikhail Shmidt of the Seattle Symphony, a ticket giveaway, and the most adorable cupcake toast this side of the Cascades.
Tues, 5/1, 6:30pm, Naked City Brewery & Taphouse | $30

DXARTS: Points vs. Fields
UW School of Music faculty performers Cuong Vu, Ted Poor, Richard Karpen, and Juan Pampin perform an ephemeral new improvisation for trumpet, drums, piano, and live electronics, programmed alongside Bernard Permegiani’s classic exploration of the meaning of sound itself, De Natura Sonorum for loudspeaker orchestra.
Tues, 5/1, 7:30pm, Meany Theater | $10-$15

Emerald City Music: Metamorphosis
A season-long celebration of Leonard Bernstein’s centennial ends with a special multimedia feature on the iconic conductor, plus performances of two composers whose work he championed during his lifetime: Strauss and Beethoven.
Fri, 5/4, 8pm, 415 Westalve Ave, Seattle | $40-45
Sat, 5/5, 7:30pm, Evergreen State College Recital Hall, Olympia | $23-$43

Matt Shoemaker Memorial Concert
Longtime friends and collaborators of the late Matt Shoemaker perform works in his honor ranging from experimental noise to sound art, dark ambient, and beyond.
Sat, 5/5, 7pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-$15

Town Music: JACK Quartet with Joshua Roman
Cellist Joshua Roman joins forces with the JACK Quartet to perform his new piece Tornado, inspired by his roots in Oklahoma. Works by Jefferson Friedman, John Zorn, Amy Williams, and Carlo Gesualdo complete the program.
Thurs, 5/10, 7:30pm, Seattle First Baptist Church | $15-$20

Harry Partch Festival
Experience the handmade microtonal instruments of Harry Partch in this sprawling three-day music festival featuring new works composed for Partch’s instruments, as well as rarely-performed works from the composer’s archives. Master classes, demonstrations, and lectures, complete this homage to a uniquely American artist.
Fri-Sun, 5/11-5/13, Various times, Meany Theater | $10-$60

Portland Cello Project
Equally at home in rock clubs and concert halls, Portland Cello Project reimagines classical favorites and contemporary hits alike for their famous choir of cellos. Expect everything from Bach to Coltrane to Radiohead.
Tues, 5/15, 7:30pm, The Triple Door | $26-$35

Seattle Art Museum: John Cage’s Themes and Variations
John Cage is best known as one of the leading figures of the 20th century avant-garde in music—but much of his work crossed boundaries into performance art, theatre, and even visual art. His sculpture Not Wanting to Say Anything About Marcel recently joined the Seattle Art Museum’s collection. Learn more about his contributions to both art and music in this conversation with curators Catharina Manchanda and Carrie Dedon.
Wed, 5/16, 6:30pm, Seattle Art Museum | $10

Peter Nelson-King: Post Avant-Garde
Multi-instrumentalist and modern music rabble-rouser Peter Nelson-King presents an eclectic program of individualist piano music from the 1980s, featuring works by Robert Beaser, George Benjamin, Peter Sculthorpe, John Tavener, Augusta Read Thomas, Charles Wuorinen, and more.
Thurs, 5/17, 8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-$15

Seattle Pro Musica: Sacred Ground
Explore the intersections of music, spirituality, and the natural world in this program of nature-inspired works by Tõnu Kõrvits, Hyo-Won Woo, and Healey Willan.
Fri, 5/18, 8pm, St. James Cathedral | $12-$38
Sat, 5/19, 8pm, St. James Cathedral | $12-$38

Nat Evans: Flyover Country
Composer and interdisciplinary artist Nat Evans uses his family history across the last three centuries as a lens to look at ecological destruction, genocide of indigenous people, capitalism, and food systems in the United States.
Sat-Sun, 5/19-5/20, 8pm, The Grocery | $5-$20

Mostly Nordic: Finlandia
The Emerald Ensemble perform Jean Sibelius’s beloved hymn to Finland alongside 20th century works by Finnish composers Einojuhani Rautavaara, Jaakko Mäntyjärvi, and more.
Sun, 5/20, 4pm, Nordic Museum | $25

Music of Remembrance: Gaman
A world premiere by composer Christophe Chagnard explores the experience of Japanese immigrants who were forced into internment camps in the wake of the attacks on Pearl Harbor. Combining traditional Japanese and classical Western instruments, the piece brings a powerful story to life through the words and images created by three artists and poets during their captivity in the Minidoka camp.
Sun, 5/20, 5pm, Nordstrom Recital Hall | $30-$45

The Westerlies
Far from your typical brass band, this Seattle-bred, New York-based quartet is known on both coasts for their bold artistry, impeccable finesse, eclectic musical interpretations, and remarkable versatility. The band returns to the West this month for a one-night-only performance in Seattle.
Wed, 5/23, 7:30pm, The Royal Room | $5-$15

Frequency with Yura Lee: Dialogues
Guest violinist Yura Lee joins members of Frequency (violinist Michael Jinsoo Lim, violist Melia Watras, and cellist Sæunn Thorsteinsdóttir) for duos by Berio, Maderna, Ravel, and Watras. Also on the program is Dohnányi’s Serenade for string trio.
Sun, 5/27, 7:30pm, Meany Theater | $10-$20

ALBUM REVIEW: ‘The War Below’ by Andy Akiho

by Gabriela Tedeschi

Photo by Da Ping Luo.

Despite its dark implications, the title of Andy Akiho’s new album The War Below is actually a pun that pays tribute to one of the recording artists. Each of the five parts of the first piece on the album, Prospects of a Misplaced Year, are sneakily named after the performers who premiere themand the first part, which gives the album its title, is an homage to violist Taija Warbelow.

It’s fitting that Warbelow is recognized in this way, because she launches the piece as a soloist with a melodic motif. Prospects of a Misplaced Year, recorded in a cathedral, first makes an impression because of Warbelow’s rich tone, luminous against the vast silences that punctuate her phrases.

The piece becomes a tense back-and-forth conversation when the percussion enters. As the other instruments emerge with running lines, trading off and sometimes sounding all at once, the tension builds into a dense whirlwind of sound. It’s almost as though the instruments are fighting, talking, and even yelling at one another without listeningfitting for the piece’s association with war.

There are gentler moments in the piece, too, but everything is rooted in darkness. The quiet sections are eerie and melancholy. As the sound builds, dissonant chords evoke the sense of something sinister, and heavy percussion creates wild, dangerous sensations. The result is a dramatic, hauntingly beautiful work that showcases both Akiho’s trademark percussion writing as well as a deep sensitivity to intricate ensemble writing.

Jenny Q Chai, who plays a piano prepared with a coin and poster tack in the harp of the instrument, is at many times the key to developing the piece’s different moods. Masterfully taking advantage of the unique timbres that emerge in different registers of the piano, Chai creates some of most mesmerizing lines in Prospects.

The other piece on the album, Septet is characterized by variety, ambiguity, and surprise. From the start, the strings provide a static landscape of sustained, dissonant chords, leaving listeners without a clear sense of the piece’s direction. Slowly, piano and percussion join in. The volume and tension rise and then fall, sometimes gradually, sometimes suddenly.

Without warning, quiet serene moments morph into grandiose, hopeful melodic lines and then transform again, becoming creepy and suspenseful. In certain sections, the instruments are at odds with one another. The strings have a murky, mysterious melody over tender, consonant chords, or a gentle motif is abruptly disrupted by a burst of jarring dissonance, creating a complex mood that defies classification.

Because of this, even after multiple listens, Septet remains an exhilarating experience. You can never anticipate what’s coming next and when it comes, sometimes it’s impossible to describe.

Akiho shines on steel pan in Septet, repeating a mystical, chameleon-like motif throughout the piece. The rest of the septet, made up of pianist Vicky Chow, percussionist Ian David Rosenbaum, and members of the orchestral group the Knights rise magnificently to the challenge of coloring the motif with their rhythmic and harmonic support. Working with and against the steel pan and one another, they create a variety of coherent moods at some moments and a clash of divergent ideas at others.

The complex interplay of instruments in Prospects and Septet, designed by Akiho and executed by the works’ talented ensembles, makes each track of The War Below captivating. As tension builds and moods shift, listeners are desperate to discover where the music is taking them and excited to find that it was in a direction they never would have expected.

Seattle New Music Happy Hour: Tuesday, April 24 at 5:30pm

by Maggie Molloy

You like new music. We like new music. Let’s get together and talk about new music, drink a couple beers, and make some new friends along the way.

Join us Tuesday, April 24 at 5:30pm at T.S. McHugh’s for New Music Happy Hour, co-hosted by Second Inversion and the Live Music Project. Bring a friend, make a friend, have a drink, and discover connections with fellow new music lovers from all over Seattle!

Click here to RSVP and invite your friends. Plus, sign up for alerts for future happy hour dates and day-before reminders so you’ll never miss a beer—er, beat.

STAFF PICKS: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from their weekly playlist. Tune in on Friday, April 20 to hear these pieces and plenty of other new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre!

Hildegard Westerkamp: Fantasie for Horns II (Empreintes Digitales)
Brian G’Froerer, horn; Hildegard Westerkamp, electronics

Let it be known upfront that this is not your average horn solo. Composed by sound ecologist Hildegard Westerkamp, Fantasie for Horns II explores the sound of horns we hear in our everyday lives: trainhorns, foghorns, factory and boathorns. This piece is about how those sounds often give a place its character—foghorns echoing across a charming coastal village, trainhorns ringing amid a bustling metropolis, or factory horns blasting in a gritty industrial town.

But this piece is also an exploration of how horns are shaped by their surroundings: how the horn reverberates across the ocean waves, or how it changes pitch slightly as the train approaches. Fantasie for Horns II laces together field recordings of all of these different horns, creating a whole city of sounds with one single live French horn echoing across it. – Maggie Molloy

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


itsnotyouitsme: “Lost Nation Municipal Airport” (New Amsterdam)
Grey McMurray and Caleb Burhans

“Lost Nation Municipal Airport” is the aural version of how the world looks when your vision is readjusting after waking up from a deep sleep that you fell into while waiting for your plane at an airport gate—it’s the music of the strangers and planes and signage slowly taking shape around you. The longer and more closely you listen to this piece, the more you find in it, much like staring at one of the giant paintings in the Rothko Chapel.

There’s something about airports that’s hopeful and optimistic—maybe leftover from the Jet Age of the 1950’s and ‘60’s—with their diverse and ever-fluctuating populations, their busy purposefulness, and their technology. I like that this song slows down that perpetual motion of humanity. The album that this is from, fallen monuments, was recorded from live performances because Caleb Burhans and Grey McMurray—the members of itsnotyouitsme—wanted to capture the fleeting nature of the improvisations that they tend to play at live shows. That spirit is beautifully captured in this piece, with—I’m guessing—a little nod to Brian Eno. – Dacia Clay


Pauline Oliveros and the Deep Listening Band: Suiren (New Albion)
Deep Listening Band

As the weather in Pacific Northwest proceeds at its typically leisurely pace toward its version of summer, I’m thinking a great deal about the pleasures of time spent outdoors. I was struck by The Deep Listening Band’s Suiren this week because it replicates a special atmosphere often found in the solitude of nature.  This specific and rare character of  the environment, often found in the amoral companionship of an empty and quiet sky at a high altitude, is present in this piece. That’s ironic, considering this piece was literally recorded underground. – Seth Tompkins

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 8pm hour today to hear this piece.


Nils Frahm: Kaleidoscope (Erased Tapes)
Nils Frahm, keyboards; Shards, voices

“Kaleidoscope” is one of my top three songs from Nils Frahm’s latest album All Melody.  The album itself features a wider instrumental palette compared to Frahm’s earlier work, which focused mainly on piano, yet he maintains the same exploratory spirit and continues to give his works space to evolve.  “Kaleidoscope” is a great example of that as it features the human voice, lots of plinky synth, and a pipe organ (which Frahm himself helped build!) among other instruments. The textures combine slowly and create a warm and gratifying listen, making “Kaleidoscope” a great starting point for anyone unfamiliar with Frahm’s repertoire. – Rachele Hales

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 10pm hour today to hear this piece.

Women in (New) Music: What Better Than Call An Interview?

by Lauren Freman

Quick! Imagine a genius. Don’t think about it, just, whatever comes to mind first. What do they look like? Do they wear glasses? How old are they? What color is their hair?

What color is their skin?

What’s their gender?

I’d wager a guess that most of us have a very specific image of the kind of person who counts as a genius. But there are glimmers of hope that the narrow parameters for the moniker are beginning to loosen: Shuri, the teenage tech-whiz character in the box-office record breaking film Black Panther, for example, or, more recently, Kendrick Lamar’s historic Pulitzer Prize win.

The fact is, we carry around our assumptions until they’re confronted. I was lucky enough to experience such a confrontation, when I sat down with new music chamber ensemble Kin of the Moon (comprised of Heather Bentley, Dr. Kaley Lane Eaton, and Leanna Keith), and dancer-choreographer Karin Stevens (of Karin Stevens Dance) to ask a few questions about their collaborative performance this Friday, What Better Than Call a Dance?

From left: Kaley Lane Eaton, Leanna Keith, Heather Bentley, Karin Stevens, Beth Fleenor.

The performance will feature original pieces by Bentley and Eaton, each inspired by dance forms running the gamut from waltz, tango, the Scottish cèilidh—and even EDM. Kin of the Moon’s more-or-less-through-composed music will be interwoven with improvised movement and music by Karin Stevens and clarinetist Beth Fleenor.

I admit I initially felt a certain skepticism around the name Kin of the Moon. This is a highly educated ensemble that plays intellectually complex, heady musicwhy choose a name that evokes a certain nag-champa-laden mysticism? Was that title truly serious enough to describe serious music that is to be taken seriously? I was surprised to find that the line came straight out of a poem from one of the most established figures in the English literary canon, W.B. Yeats. Strike one, assumptions.

What Better Than Call An Interview? with Kin of the Moon and Karin Stevens

We got exclusive access into the brilliant minds behind Kin of the Moon and Karin Stevens Dance. Join us as we discuss everything from W.B. Yeats, the #metoo movement, and of course, their April 20th performance What Better Than Call a Dance?

Posted by Second Inversion on Tuesday, March 27, 2018

 

Kaley Lane Eaton (KLE): I didn’t start composing until my last year of college, and I had never even thought about it until then. It had not even crossed my mind. I had been a concert pianist, I was winning concerto competitions, I was surrounded by classical music composers my entire life, studying opera, and all that. But I went to Whitman College and I took a course by the incredible Dr. Susan Pickett. She teaches a course called Women As Composers…I really had to reckon with the fact that I had never considered women as composerswhich was odd, given that I’m a woman musician, raised by a raging bra-burning feminist, who made sure that everything I consumed as a young child was feminist. And that says something, that even having a mother like that, who puts everything on the line to make sure that her daughter is aware that she can be anything, STILL I didn’t even know.

Karin Stevens (KS): It’s been essential to me to advocate for local new music, and to build this work that I do together with these amazing composers and artists in music in Seattle. Beth [Fleenor] and I go way back, we’ve done a lot of work together through various groups: the Seattle jazz composers ensemble, the Sam Boshnack quintet, she was a player in a work I did… playing music by Wayne Horvitz, Mike Owcharuk, Nate Omdal (just to give all those lovely people a shoutoutthat’s the advocate in me! We’ve gotta be building audiences for each other). For me, I hope that it’s another layer of the people that have come to support my work, to see music from another direction.

Leanna Keith (LK): I think part of it is that we try to focus on certain types of voices that you may not hear anywhere else. We tend to focus on a lot more female composers if we can. This particular show, it is genreless, going from all these different types of dance from the waltz to EDM, so it’s one of those things where, even if you’ve never heard anything like this before, that’s kind of the point.

Heather Bentley (HB): That EDM piece is really quite unique. This is one that Kaley put together.

KLE: Yeah, this is gonna be the final thing that concludes our pieces, but then [Karin and Beth] will come in on the bass drop. I write electroacoustic music, and I love EDM, I love dance, I love trap musicall of this stuff is really movement-based…We’re going to sing this Hildegard chant into this microphone that picks up our signal and takes little granules…and then turns them into a beat. So you’ll hear this kind of driving, four-on-the-floor beat that’s actually made out of our voices, from the Hildegard chant. So our singing will kind of dissolve into this beat that will emerge, and then [Karin and Beth] will join us

KS: —for the Finale.

KLE: It’s Hildegard and EDM, it’s like

LK: —Trap Hildegard!

Strike two, assumptionsthis time about the limits of what Serious Artists™ are allowed to draw inspiration from. To review: The finale of What Better Than Call A Dance? will be a club-music inspired dance piece, using electronics to manipulatein real-timea chant by an 11th century abbess into an EDM mix.

Incidentally, St. Hildegard von Bingen, said 11th century abbess, was a genius. She was a writer, scientist, composer, philosopher, playwright, medical healer, Doctor of the Church—and currently the only woman listed in the Wikipedia entry for “polymath.”

HB: When I was a kid, I always did many, many, many things…So, this is this idea that I’ve been trying on since #metoo. I should get a t-shirt, I want it to say “I’m a Genius Polymath.” As a woman, my first inclination is to be like “Oh, well isn’t that presumptuous?” I don’t know if I am a genius polymath or not, but why not say it anyway? …So that’s something to try on. I was asked to write a piece for the Thalia Symphony, and it’s going to be about the shape of the universe, which means I need to learn some astrophysics. So I said to myself “I can learn that, because I’m a genius polymath.” What if women—and especially younger girls—just had the sense that it was allowed to them, to say that about themselves, or just to have that self-knowledge? That takes a lot of ceilings away from one’s attitude.

KS: I’m fabulously excited about this side of Kin of the Moon, to be surrounded by all these women…The movements and sounds we make together matter—they have power, and have effect. So I’d like to imagine…that there is something beyond the traditional transaction of art consumption or aesthetic gesture—that we’re doing something that is important. We haven’t had a lot of support for our voices, especially in music…I’m just really excited to be a part of this energy that they’re building with their own music. I kinda don’t care if people like it or not.

LK: To be honest, this is very integral to what we do. The whole gender spectrum, and feminine identity, and these kinds of ideas, across age differences. Kaley, and myself and Heather, we span a rather different amount of time, and so have very different perspectives between the three of us…When we sit down and talk and start to make music together, we’re like, “What do we want to talk about in our music, what do we want to get across?” so a lot of this is what you’ll hear.

KLE: I have to add a little addendum to that article I wrote [“Things I Wish I Had Known When I Thought I Couldn’t Be A Composer”], that you have to just do it. You have to just commit, you have to just be like “I’m not gonna care if anyone tells me I can, I’m not gonna wait for funding, I’m not gonna wait. I’m just gonna do it, and I’m gonna advocate for myself, and I’m not gonna sit around being like ‘nobody wants to hear my music.” Who cares? Just, f***ing do it. So that is my number one advice for people, especially young women, who feel like “I don’t know if I can do this,” well, you can. Just do it.

Which is to say: strike three, assumptions.


What Better Than Call A Dance? is Friday, April 20 at 8pm at the Chapel Performance Space at the Good Shepherd Center. Tickets can be purchased at the door, on a sliding scale of $5-$15 (cash only). Click here for more information.

For a full transcript of the interview, please click here.


 

Lauren Freman is a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and composer, hell-bent on blurring the boundaries between high and low art. Follow her at www.freman.band, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

 

Ecco Chamber Ensemble Makes Waves for Earth Day

by Maggie Molloy

Photo by Dan Mastrian, Jr.

Immerse yourself in the music of water this Saturday at the next On Stage with KING FM concert hosted by Second Inversion! We’re thrilled to welcome to the stage the Ecco Chamber Ensemble in a special Earth Day program featuring music about, inspired by, or in some cases, made from water.

Comprised of soprano Stacey Mastrian, flutist Sarah Bassingthwaighte, and guitarist Mark Hilliard Wilson, the Ecco Chamber Ensemble is dedicated to exploring the intersection of art and social change. For this Saturday’s program, titled Water is Life, the group explores the vital role of water in both our survival and our art, provoking listeners to think critically about humanity’s impact on Earth.

The concert juxtaposes adventurous water works by the likes of John Cage and Alvin Lucier with the oceanic art songs of Gabriel Fauré, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Joaquín Rodrigo, José de Azpiazu, and John Corigliano. Also on the program is music of Toru Takemitsu, a composer who seamlessly blended the musical languages of East and West, exploring a “sea of tonality” in many of his works. Plus, the concert features new pieces penned by Ecco members Sarah Bassingthwaighte and guitarist Mark Hilliard Wilson.

Photo by Stacey Mastrian.

Some music on the program is even made from water itself. A world premiere by Stephen Lilly (written specifically for this event) features the ensemble performing alongside a block of melting ice, and audience members are invited to make their own music out of water for a piece composed by Cornelius Cardew.

Not only does the performance inspire audiences to listen to our environment, but it also urges us to take the next step: action. A portion of the proceeds from the concert, as well as audience donations, will go to the People for Puget Sound, a water advocacy group that has worked for the past 20 years on state, county, and municipal levels to create cleaner water for the native species and the humans in this area.

To learn more, we talked with the Ecco Chamber Ensemble about Earth, environmentalism, and the music of water.

Second Inversion: Water exists in many different forms. What are some of the nontraditional instruments or musical elements you are incorporating in this performance in order to capture its essence?

Photo by Britt Olsen-Ecker.

Stacey Mastrian: To quote the character Stefon from Saturday Night Live, “This place has everything”: an egg slicer, a bucket of rocks, bird-warblers, dripping ice, guitar drumming, a plastic bag, an oatmeal container, a photosensitive digital water instrument, and triangles and a pot lid in a bucket of water.

We also have electronic manipulation of the voice and the incorporation of physical theater with related utterances (Cage’s Song Books), recordings of water from all over the region and the use of vases, bowls, etc. (Lucier’s Chambers), and water sounds created digitally via transforming the sound of orating politicians (Lucier’s Gentle Fire, realized by Stephen Lilly, based on an idea of mine). 

Tom DeLio’s work that light for soprano playing percussion incorporates silences that aurally render the visual sparseness of poetry by Cid Corman, an American composer who lived in Japan.  Additionally, the consonants in the work bring to life the onomatopoeic elements of the nature images therein.

Sarah Bassingthwaighte: My piece, H2O, uses primarily unusual sounds, with no traditional notation. Key clicks, tapping on the guitar, rubbing our hands together and slapping our hands against our legs are sounds we’re using to represent rain.  We utilize the unvoiced syllable “p” to represent snow, egg slicer and dissonant harmonics to represent ice, crumpling paper and scraping the edge of a quarter along the string of the guitar to represent frost, bending notes to represent water droplets, and a soup pot with a whisk and spatula to create the sounds of a storm. 


Mark Hilliard Wilson:
My piece Wind and Water features an exploration of stillness and motion and internal drones on the guitar.  In the end it is ultimately an exploration of my testing your patience with having two players play in two different time signatures, or heartbeats if you will. Too often it seems that we hold an opinion that we will not yield on only to find that there can be another perspective that fits equally in the measure, so to speak, but just at a different division.

SI: What makes water compelling to explore through music? 

Stacey Mastrian: The sounds and images.  Water is interwoven throughout every aspect of our life, from our physical makeup, to our tears of joy and sadness, to the multitudinous descriptions of nature that we emphasize in poetry and music.

Mark Hilliard Wilson: Water is so mysterious and yet so normal, so essential to every day. What I find so compelling about water is its mutability.

Photo by Sarah Bassingthwaighte.

SI: What do you hear when you listen to water? Has putting this program together made you hear water differently?

Sarah Bassingthwaighte: Something I’ve noticed since working on this program is the constant presence of water in our lives. I’m listening to the waves of Puget Sound lap against the shore as I type this, I notice the sounds of the creek in the woods as I walk my dog, water as I pour my tea or brush my teeth or wash the dishes. I appreciate the great need for water after I go for a run. I even had the experience this last week, while backcountry skiing for four days, that we were at an elevation higher than any of the rivers or streams and had to melt snow for water for all of our needs. 

Stacey Mastrian: I am more closely aware of water now.  I am paying attention to it in all of its states and “see” the white noise, the distinct variances in dripping, and the changes in pitches and rhythm. This project also likely made people look at me differently, since for a while I was going around recording every single type of water that I encountered!

It definitely has made us all learn more about what is going on with water in our region and around the world, feeling even more strongly about the need for changes on our planet. Since I saw the film Chasing Coral at SIFF last summer (it is on Netflix—watch it!), I started thinking about the water on Earth as an entity that is ill; particularly striking to me was this description:  “A temperature increase of just 2 degrees Celsius may not seem like a lot in the air, but for marine life, this is like living with a constant fever.”  How would we feel going around with a 102.2 degree fever at all times and without having a reprieve for the rest of forever?

Photo by Stacey Mastrian.


SI: This program features a mix of classical works and experimental works. How do these two general styles differ in their interpretations of water?

Sarah Bassingthwaighte: Offhand, it seems to me that the more traditional works refer to water in terms of story—that something happened next to the water’s edge or that the water provided a setting for the story. The more experimental works seem to focus more on the sensory aspects of water (color, sounds, temperature, textures) or on our interpretation of these senses (how water is calming or invigorating).  

Stacey Mastrian: The more traditional works tend to be “about” water, and some of the more experimental works actually use water itself (or objects related to water) as sonic materials or to control some aspect of the work. This concert juxtaposes very new and more adventurous works with gorgeous art songs; with one exception (Fauré’s “Au bord de l’eau”) all of the works are from the 20th and 21st centuries.

Photo by Becca Bassingthwaighte.

SI: Many of the works on this program also feature aleatoric elements—how does this tie in with the concert’s broader themes of water, environmentalism, and social change?

Sarah Bassingthwaighte: A link between what we’re doing and social/environmental issues is that when we play much of this music, we are expected to improvisethat is, the music is affected by the choices we make and is not dictated to us.  Likewise, how we respond to the issues concerning water will require explicit choices and actions that we makeif we want safe drinking water (such as in Haiti), we will have to work to keep the water clean or to decontaminate it. If we’re running out of water (such as in Cape Town) we’ll have to create ways to preserve it. 

In our music, as in these issues surrounding water, we are asked to be resourceful and creative and to take action. 

Stacey Mastrian: Composer Stephen F. Lilly, on his new composition, Melt III:

Humans have spent centuries trying to control water—fixing the paths of some rivers while creating new channels for others, harnessing the power of its currents, and even using it to farm arid land. In this piece that relationship is reversed. The melting block of ice controls the pacing of the instrumentalists, whose dynamic levels and expressive abilities are constrained so as to balance with the delicate sound of dripping. To further bring the role of water to the foreground, the piece begins and ends with the water dripping on an empty stage.

As the crystalline structure of the ice breaks down, drop by drop, so does the ensemble slowly deconstruct the harmonic series of their lowest note–the open E produced by the guitar’s sixth and lowest string. However, this process is viewed as if through a microscope by the slow pacing of the piece, controlled and coordinated by the dripping of ice-melt. Thus, we are much more likely to focus on each individual event as it occurs rather than hear any overall relationship or trend, much in the same way a significant portion of the population cannot see beyond the current weather in their own backyard to the alarming trend threatening their very existence.


Second Inversion presents the Ecco Chamber Ensemble in Water is Life this Saturday, April 21 at 7:30pm at Resonance at SOMA Towers in Bellevue. Click here for tickets.