STAFF PICKS: Friday Faves

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

New Music for March: Roomful of Teeth, Women in Music Marathon, and a Sequel to “Become Ocean”

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 - March 2018

 

Wayward Music Series
Concerts of contemporary composition, free improvisation, electroacoustic music, and sonic experiments. This month: sonic cinema, 12-tone touch guitar, microtonal MIDI, and pantonal piano poetry.
Various days, 7:30/8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-$15

UW Modern Music Ensemble: Ludovic Morlot and Sæunn Thorsteinsdóttir
Ludovic Morlot leads the UW Modern Music Ensemble in a program of contemporary French works, including Tristan Murail’s spectral masterpiece Le Lac and the U.S. premiere of Betsy Jolas’ Wanderlied, with cellist Sæunn Thorsteinsdóttir as the soloist. Two of Morlot’s students conduct works by Pierre Boulez and Marc-André Dalbavie.
Thurs, 3/1, 7:30pm, Meany Theater | $10

On the Boards: ‘On Loving the Muse and Family’
Seattle bassist and composer Evan Flory-Barnes presents an evening of original music inspired by the late-night variety shows of the ’50s and ’60s, featuring performances with musicians from the True Loves, the Seattle Girls Choir, Industrial Revelation, the Teaching, and a full chamber orchestra.
Thurs-Sat, 3/1-3/3, 8pm, On the Boards | $15-$30
Sun, 3/4, 5pm, On the Boards |$15-$30

The Tudor Choir: Nico Muhly World Premiere
Cappella Romana presents the Tudor Choir performing the world premiere of Nico Muhly’s Small Raine, inspired by the same ancient English tune as another piece on the program: John Taverner’s 16th-century Western Wind Mass.
Fri, 3/2, 8pm, St. Mark’s Cathedral | $39-$49

Sound of Late: Book of the Dark
Amidst a program ranging from Arvo Pärt’s mystical minimalism to Ruth Crawford Seeger’s grittily angular music, Sound of Late unveils the world premiere of Book of the Dark by American composer Alan Shockley.
Sat, 3/3, 8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $15

Second Inversion Women’s Day Marathon
Celebrate International Women’s Day with Second Inversion’s 24 hour marathon of new and experimental music by women composers. Tune in all day on March 8 to hear works by over 100 women who have helped shape, inspire, and expand the world of classical music, including Meredith Monk, Laura Kaminsky, Du Yun, Angélica Negrón, and many more.

Town Music: Roomful of Teeth
Experimental a cappella ensemble Roomful of Teeth combines yodeling, Broadway belting, Inuit throat singing, and other vocal traditions from around the world to craft a program of thrilling soundscapes that challenge traditional notions of vocal music.
Fri, 3/9, 7:30pm, Seattle First Baptist Church | $15-$20

TORCH: CD Release Concert
Contemporary chamber ensemble TORCH releases their first full-length album with a concert featuring the varied and vibrant sounds of their composer collective.
Sat, 3/10, 7:30pm, Alhadeff Studio at Cornish Playhouse | $10-$15

Women Who Score: HerStory
In honor of International Women’s Day weekend, HerStory celebrates some of music history’s most prolific and influential women composers with a performance of music by Amy Beach, Clara Schumann, Louise Farrenc, and Libby Larsen. This special preview concert benefits the Women Who Score’s inaugural season in the Fall of 2018.
Sun, 3/11, 7pm, Nordstrom Recital Hall | $37

Pacific Northwest Ballet: Director’s Choice
PNB Artistic Director Peter Boal’s annual selection promises modern and experimental music paired with bold, beautiful choreography. PNB dancers perform to music by Francis Poulenc, Richard Einhorn, Gavin Bryars, and Thom Willems.
3/16-3/25, Various times, McCaw Hall | $37-$187

Seattle Pro Musica: Sounds & Sweet Airs
As part of a citywide celebration of William Shakespeare, Seattle Pro Musica performs choral settings of poetry and prose by the Bard of Avon—including world premieres from Northwest composers Jessica French, Don Skirvin, and Giselle Wyers.
Sat, 3/17, 7:30pm, Seattle First Baptist Church | $12-$28

Emerald City Music: In Blue…
Journey to the American South with this concert exploring the influence of blues music on American composers. Hear George Gershwin’s timeless Rhapsody in Blue performed on two pianos alongside music by Leonard Bernstein, Frederic Rzewski, and more.
Fri, 3/23, 8pm, 415 Westlake Ave (Seattle) | $45
Sat, 3/24, 7:30pm, The Minnaert Center (Olympia) | $10-$43

Baltic Centennial: 100 Years of Statehood
Seattle Choral Company, the Mägi Baltic Ensemble, and other Seattle choirs come together to celebrate 100 years of independence for Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in a concert featuring 20th and 21st century music from the leading composers of the Baltic states.
Sat, 3/24, 8pm, St. Mark’s Cathedral | $5-$25

Messiaen’s ‘Quartet for the End of Time’
Composed in 1941 while captive in a Nazi prisoner of war camp, Olivier Messiaen’s sublime Quartet for the End of Time is one of the great masterpieces of the 20th century and a deeply spiritual work contemplating faith, time, and love. It is performed by Seattle new music luminaries Luke Fitzpatrick, Rose Bellini, James Falzone, and Jesse Myers.
Sun, 3/25, 2pm, St. Mark’s Cathedral | $15-$20

Deceptive Cadence: Celebrating Paul Taub’s 38 Years at Cornish
In celebration of Paul Taub’s decades-long career at Cornish, the flutist performs a program of 21st century works, including music by his late Cornish colleague Bern Herbolsheimer as well as a newly commissioned piece by alumna Beth Fleenor.
Sun, 3/25, 7pm, PONCHO Concert Hall | $5-$10

Seattle Symphony: John Luther Adams ‘Become Desert’
Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Luther Adams created an entire sea of sound with his illustrious Become Ocean, which received its world premiere at the Seattle Symphony in 2013. Now he’s back with a sequel: Become Desert.
Thurs, 3/29, 7:30pm, Benaroya Hall | $22-$122
Sat, 3/31, 8pm, Benaroya Hall | $22-$122

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: ‘More Field Recordings’ by the Bang on a Can All-Stars

by Maggie Molloy

Photo by Lisa Bauso.

Some composers can make music out of just about anything—and that’s precisely the idea behind the Bang on a Can All-Stars’ newest release.

A follow-up to their 2015 album Field Recordings, the recently released More Field Recordings features the same basic premise as the original: 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. This year’s release is a two-disc album featuring new works by 13 of today’s top composers: Caroline Shaw, Anna Thorvaldsdottir, Ben Frost, Nico Muhly, Richard Reed Parry, Glenn Kotche, Dan Deacon, Jace Clayton, Gabriella Smith, Paula Matthusen, Zhang Shouwang, Juan Felipe Waller, and René Lussier.

The album begins with a sonic quilt composed by Caroline Shaw. “Really Craft When You” is a chamber piece that stitches together vibrantly textured patches of chamber music with recorded interviews of quilters from North Carolina and Virginia in the 1970s. Its equal parts humorous and heartfelt, and it also serves as a beautiful metaphor for the rest of the album: a colorful patchwork of found sounds and sonic squares from over a dozen different composers.

It’s followed by the dawn chorus of Southern Chile, with Gabriella Smith’s “Panitao” weaving together field recordings of birdsongs from a small Chilean town with her own imaginary birdsongs chirped by the All-Stars. A very different type of song is at the heart of Jace Clayton’s piece “Lethe’s Children,” which explores the music of memory. He asked each of the All-Stars what the first song was that they memorized as young children—then he reimagined fragments from each in an expansive stream of sound named after the mythical river of forgetfulness.

Paula Matthusen’s “ontology of an echo” finds its music in the resonant frequencies of an Old Croton Aqueduct, while Glenn Kotche’s “Time Spirals” swirls together live music with field recordings ranging from parades and festivals to protests and dying electronic toys—all of which he collected while touring and traveling the world.

Zhang Shouwang’s “Courtyards in Central Beijing” entwines the All-Stars in a gentle musical blossom; the piece was composed in a courtyard house south of Gulou where Shouwang says “the feng shui is so strong that a flower seed can bloom in just three days.” And the first disc closes with and a transatlantic lullaby: Nico Muhly’s “Comfortable Cruising Altitude” weaves together audio from overnight airplane rides with the soothing accompaniment of the All-Stars to craft a softly shimmering serenade.

Disc two begins with quite a different type of flight: Ben Frost’s ominous and immersive “Negative Ghostrider II” is an electroacoustic translation of field recordings from an unmanned semi-autonomous drone aircraft. It’s followed by the quiet heartbeat of Richard Reed Parry’s “The Brief and Neverending Blur,” a nostalgic and nuanced chamber work based on a recording of a piano improvisation played at the speed of the composer’s own breath.

Photo by Peter Serling.

Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s “Fields” is similarly introspective, though more atmospheric in nature. Inspired by a twilight stroll among the lava fields of her native Iceland, the piece builds from the quiet music of her footsteps to gradually encompass the exquisite timbre and texture of the natural world around her.

Dan Deacon explores a more intergalactic soundscape in his dark-ambient drone “Sago An Ya Rev,” a transcription of a NASA Voyager recording that evolves slowly through dissonant harmonies and rumbling metallic noise. Juan Felipe Waller’s “Hybrid Ambiguities” is a bit sprightlier in nature, with the All-Stars bouncing along to the echoing flurries of a microtonal harp.

The final square of the patchwork quilt comes from René Lussier, his “Nocturnal” mirroring the humor and sincerity of the album’s opening track—but here embodied through the clever and vividly colored music he writes to accompany his sleeping sweetheart’s snores.

But whether playing along to quilting interviews or Chilean birdsongs, lava fields or snoring sleepers, the All-Stars bring personality, precision, and a pioneering creativity to every musical interpretation on the album. In the end, that’s what the series is really all about: hearing music amid the found sounds and field recordings and clamors of everyday life.

STAFF PICKS: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from their playlist. Tune in on Friday, March 3 to hear these pieces and lots of other great new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre!
Nico Muhly: Beaming Music (Bedroom Community)

Marimba and organ are not your average keyboard duo, but it works so well I could cry. Thank you, Nico, for doing this. and what’s in a name? “The title refers not only to the various metric subdivisions of the main material, but also to Chris Thompson, the percussionist who commissioned it, whose his sunny disposition colored each stage of this piece’s conception, rehearsal, and performance.” If that doesn’t make you smile, I don’t know what will. – Maggie Stapleton

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


Nico Muhly: Fast Cycles (Bedroom Community)

When I was in college, organ music (specifically that of J.S. Bach) was one thing I used as a study aid. The continuous tone of the organ and the steady harmonic and rhythmic movement of Bach’s compositions kept me focused. Now, I’d like to present a piece of organ music that might be less relevant as a study aid, but that is vastly more useful as a source of inspiration. Nico Muhly’s Fast Cycles brims with inventive uses of the organ. While this piece might not literally be “pulling out all the stops,” it certainly delivers on excitement and beautifully novel sounds from an instrument that is too often forgotten. – Seth Tompkins

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


Alejandro Bento: “Heartbeat” from Ripples (Subtempo Records)

In such troubling times as these, there’s nothing quite like an introspective solo piano piece to help you find your center. Alejandro Bento’s “Heartbeat” is one of three such works on his EP Ripples, a simple and stunning collection which traces a wide emotional arc through modest musical means.

Bento’s fingers float above the piano in soft washes of sound, each melody shaped with striking intimacy and refreshing sincerity. The piece ebbs and flows organically up and down the piano keyboard, gently persuading you into a soothing musical meditation and—if you listen closely—quietly connecting you to the beat of your heart. – Maggie Molloy

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


Nico Muhly: Honest Music (Harmonia Mundi)

I’m fascinated by this piece by Nico Muhly, scored for violin and pre-recorded sound. (I guess we used to say “violin and tape” for works like this, but it’s never a tape nowadays, is it? The performer(s) play with a CD or sound from digital download.) It’s interesting how the layers of pre-recorded harp, percussion, and electronic organ don’t really seem to interact with the solo violin part (which layers over itself, and is thus played by two violinists in this performance), at least not explicitly. The elements stacked on top of each other just seem to exist, and all have distinct purpose of their own, like people living above and below each other in an apartment building. The title seems to stem from the earnest, forthcoming character of this music. Honesty, even in wordless musical form, feels so refreshing.

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

ALBUM REVIEW: The Glass Effect from Lavinia Meijer

by Maggie Molloy

When most people hear the harp, they think of Baroque suites or Celtic folk ballads, angels strumming heavenly melodies—or perhaps that sideline string instrument sandwiched between the violin and percussion sections of the orchestra.lavinia-meijer

But harpist Lavinia Meijer is interested in expanding those possibilities. In fact, she’s made an entire musical career out of it.

Meijer has cultivated a name for herself as one of the most diverse harpists of the 21st century, consistently seeking out little-known classical solo and orchestral repertoire, collaborating with contemporary cross-genre artists, and recording brand new music that bursts through classical music boundaries. And when the music’s not written for her instrument—she simply arranges it for harp herself.

Her latest project is The Glass Effect: a two-disc release featuring works composed and inspired by minimalist mastermind Philip Glass. The first disc is classic Glass: 10 of the composer’s famous 20 Piano Etudes, each delicately arranged and deftly performed on harp by Meijer. The second disc highlights Glass’s influence on the next generation of composers, featuring Glass-inspired compositions by Bryce Dessner, Nico Muhly, Nils Frahm, Ólafur Arnalds, and Ellis Ludwig-Leone.

Recorded as a tribute album for Glass’s 80th birthday this coming January, the two-disc set begins with a retrospective glance backward through Glass’s extraordinary compositional discography. Meijer lends her fingers to 10 of Glass’s 20 Etudes which, composed over the course of 1991-2012, offer a glimpse into the development and ongoing transformation of his harmonic language and compositional style.

Etudes are, of course, exercises: short musical compositions designed to develop (and, once learned, demonstrate) the skill and technique of the player. And trust me, Glass’s Etudes are no easy feat.

Yet Meijer dances with grace and charm through the entire obstacle course of changing tempi, textures, and techniques, crafting each phrase and every delicate detail with the utmost care and attention. From the soft and sweet lullabies of Glass’s early Etudes to the motoric rhythms and virtuosic variations of the later ones, Meijer’s arrangements maintain the music’s trademark clarity and unshakable sense of forward motion while also offering compelling insight into her instrument.

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The second disc is bookended by Glass’s haunting theme from the 1982 apocalyptic film Koyaanisqatsi, beginning first with Meijer’s solo harp arrangement. She craftily transforms the original synth-laden ostinato into a poignant and introspective solo piece which speaks to the sheer power and timelessness of Glass’s melody. But she doesn’t forgo the electronics entirely: the theme comes back again at the end of the album in a remixed version with electronics titled “Lift Off,” which Meijer created with sound designer Arthur Antoine in 2014.

The effects of Glass echo clearly throughout the second disc, which showcases how ambient and minimalist music has evolved (and continues to evolve) in the hands of young composers.

Among the first composers featured is Bryce Dessner (who you may recognize from the band The National) with his three-movement Suite for Harp. Dessner’s piece utilizes the full pitch range and performance idiosyncrasies of the harp, painting a hazy soundscape of softly cascading melodies, harmonics, and arpeggios.

laviniaNico Muhly’s two contributions to the album, each originally composed for piano, are more introspective in nature. Meijer’s fingers drift patiently through the simple, chant-like melodies and soft bass drones of Muhly’s “Quiet Music,” and her playing brings a quiet warmth and aching resonance to “A Hudson Cycle.”

Muhly’s pieces dissolve into the soft ambience of two of Ólafur Arnalds’ most music box-worthy compositions. Meijer twirls through the twinkling melodies of “Erla’s Waltz” and drifts sweetly through the circular harmonies of “Tomorrow’s Song.”

Arnalds’ friend and frequent collaborator Nils Frahm follows with two compositions originally composed for piano but expertly arranged for harp by Meijer. Breathy melodies float above soft (but busy) bass arpeggios in “Ambre,” while block chords echo against a serenely silent backdrop in “In the Sky and on the Ground.”

However, it’s perhaps composer Ellis Ludwig-Leone’s contribution which stretches the harp the furthest from its traditional musical stereotype. His composition “Night Loops” for harp, looping pedal, and electronics sparkles with fluttering melodies and crackling electronics, creating an entire glistening garden of timbres and musical textures.

And thus, the album ends with a glance toward the future—a look at how Philip Glass’s musical influence continues onward in all its ever-expanding variations and transformations.

Because although Glass may be a minimalist, his influence is far from minimal.

album-artwork

ALBUM REVIEW: The Westerlies

by Seth Tompkins

The Westerlies’ eponymous sophomore album is unified by a clarity of purpose and a distinctive sonic palette. The overall effect of this release is one of harmony and serene simplicity. In fact, this album is so consistently styled and masterfully produced that it could be easy to miss the ingenious subtleties and careful construction that underpin the simple beauty of this release. That would be unfortunate, because to miss the subtleties in these 17 tracks is to miss the potential lasting impact of this album.

 

It is difficult talk about The Westerlies without mentioning the album’s distinctive sound. Despite differences between tracks, the sound of this album is remarkably consistent from track to track, creating a satisfying unity that runs from beginning to end.

The chief element in this unity of sound is the types of articulations The Westerlies have chosen to use. This is not to say that the articulations are uniform across the album; quite the opposite is true! Within just the first few tracks, the wide variety of articulations varies from mellow to aggressive and from bright and insistent to smooth and nonchalant. However, despite this obvious prowess, the group does manage to create a unified sound through articulation alone. This is mostly accomplished through their heavy reliance on a specific articulation: a somewhat soft, breathy, but very consistent sound that is reminiscent Stan Getz. This particular sound is one that guides the listener through the entire album. While not a sound that may be familiar top all listeners, by the end of the second disc, it seems like an old friend.

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Photo Credit: Sasha Arutyunova

The most outstanding specific sonic element on this disc is the way in which the group has handled the bass. Despite the trombone usually being a “bright” instrument, through smart microphone placement and expert execution, The Westerlies have coaxed an incredibly broad array of bass sounds out of the humble trombone. In many sections, the bass sounds as if it being produced by a euphonium, tuba, or even an electronic bass instrument. There are also moments when the bass sound is pure trombone. The staggeringly wide range of bass sounds The Westerlies include on this release is worthy of high praise, especially as it is apparently achieved with little or no digital alteration.

Another notable element of the sound world of this album is the group’s use of extended techniques. The noodling, the screeching, the growling, and related sounds make frequent appearances on this release. However, instead of the intrusive gimmicks these techniques can sometimes be, here they serve only to color and shade the unified sonic world the group has created. In many instances, these unusual sounds blend so well with the main textures of the music that they may pass unnoticed as they sculpt the soundscape. In many spots on this release, these effects take the place of electronic effects; there are many moments when what sounds like a digital alteration is actually being created live via the acoustic instruments of the group through these deftly executed special techniques.

The apparent lack of digital enhancements on this release is one of its chief merits. Through the use of extended techniques, savvy microphone placement, and top-notch engineering, The Westerlies and their producer, Jesse Lewis, have managed to create a collection of sounds that in many other cases would require a great deal of computerized hocus-pocus. And beyond that, they have managed to do it in a way that is not the least bit self-righteous. They are not shoving the fact that they are mostly acoustic in our faces; acoustic is simply the way their music exists.

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Photo Credit: Michael George

A secondary aspect of the laudable lack of digital trickery on this release is the freedom the group takes with letting some of the “uglier” sounds of brass playing bleed through. In many spots, edgy sounds come through that some producers might want to keep off their finished products. In other places, the sound of these muscular instruments can be heard bouncing of the wall and ceiling of the recording space. The fact that these peripheral brass sounds made it onto the final album is evidence that this group has done some deep soul-searching on the true nature of brass playing. Much like their choice to stick with a mostly-acoustic sound, The Westerlies’ choice to include some of these realistic sounds onto the album shows that they are not interested in the expectations of anyone else; they are thinking for themselves and forging their own path.

Perhaps one reason The Westerlies chose to build the sonic world of this release with the above elements is that they see their group as primarily a live acoustic ensemble, even in the context of a studio recording. Few, if any, of the tracks on this release would be difficult for the group to recreate in a live setting, and the live performance would likely sound much like the album, including sounds of “the room” and many of realistic sounds of live brass playing that are often omitted in commercial recordings. If this is indeed the case, this is an integrity move and their audience is better for it.

The compositions themselves also warrant praise. Much like the delicious balance between varied and unified articulations and colors throughout the album, the pieces themselves represent a diverse, yet broadly unified element that ties the entire release together. All the compositions on this release save three are by The Westerlies themselves. While there are moments of raucousness and unique diversions that occur frequently among these compositions, the overall effect is similar to that of the soundscape that pervades the album; the pieces have enough in common that they hang together remarkable well. Hopefully, these overarching unities bode well for the future of the ensemble, signaling that the quartet is bonded in a way that will afford them fruitful collaboration for years to come.

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Photo Credit: Michael George

Finally, the three compositions not by The Westerlies must be considered. It is a fascinating trio of pieces: one traditional tune (arranged by Nico Muhly and Sam Amidon), a Duke Ellington tune, and a piece by Charles Ives. There might be myriad reasons why the quartet chose these three, but it seems that the most likely plan is this: these tunes give just enough context to convince a skeptical listener to buy into this genre-defying acoustic quartet. Also, one jazz tune, one “modern” piece of classical music, and one traditional hymn-like tune are an excellent representation of the background that most classical-trained brass players have. Whether these tunes are intended to provide context for the new music on the album, or are a nod to the background of the quartet members, or are simply included because the quartet likes them, they are woven with the same delicious technique and careful construction as the rest of the release.

The Westerlies is an album with two layers of existence. It is at once a plainly beautiful release shot through with genius technique and considerate musical planning, and an innovative exploration into what the future of acoustically-driven music could be. The fearless choices The Westerlies have made on this release lead the way for acoustic music in the face of an increasingly computerized musical landscape, while at the same time creating a sublime listening experience that can be enjoyed for its simplicity and peace.

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