Second Inversion’s Top 10 Albums of 2018

Cheers to another year of new and experimental music on Second Inversion! Our hosts celebrate with a list of our Top 10 Favorite Albums of the Year. From a quiet ocean of percussion to the shimmering orchestras of Iceland and the bold harmonies of Beijing, our list celebrates musical innovation within and far beyond the classical genre.

Michael Gordon: The Unchanging Sea
Released Aug. 2018 on Cantaloupe Music

It’s easy to get lost in the haunting majesty of Michael Gordon’s The Unchanging Sea, the sheer force of its rolling waves echoing across the piano in the hands of Tomoko Mukaiyama with the Seattle Symphony. Gordon’s ocean of sound swells to overwhelming proportions, each wave cresting higher and higher, surging and submerging you in its growling depths. Though originally conceived with an accompanying film by Bill Morrison—a gritty collage assembled from deteriorating film reels and historic footage of Puget Sound—the piece’s sonic imagery is equally vivid on its own.

It’s paired on this album with Gordon’s shimmering Beijing Harmony, a work inspired by Echo Wall at the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, where sounds reverberate from one side of the structure to the other. In performance, the wind and brass players are spread out across the stage—and when you listen with headphones, the music echoes from left to right and back again, all around and through you. – Maggie Molloy


Ken Thomson: Sextet
Released Sept. 2018 on New Focus

Clarinetist, saxophonist, and composer Ken Thomson is known primarily for his work with the Bang on a Can All-Stars. But as it turns out, he’s been living a sort of musical double life as a jazz musician for, basically, ever, much like Ron Swanson as Duke Silver. Unlike Swanson, Thomson has decided to let his alter ego run free. I hear strains of Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue in Thomson’s Phantom Vibration Syndrome, Dave Brubeck’s Time Out in the time signatures, maybe even a little Charlie Parker when the improvisation builds to a frenzy. Thomson brings the complex compositional structures—the details of which I will not pretend to understand—of new music and improvisation together on this album in a way that can only be described as fun. – Dacia Clay


Nils Frahm: All Melody
Released Jan. 2018 on Erased Tapes

Nils Frahms’ latest solo album is striking in its simplicity—the compositions distilled down to their most potent melodies. The album features the composer himself on his usual keyboard collection of pianos, synthesizers, and pipe organs—but here expanded to feature an ethereal choir of vocalists along with subtle strings and percussion. The resulting tracks are an ambient mix of minimalism, mid-tempo dance grooves, and broad, synth-laden washes of sound. Though each song is expertly crafted in iridescent detail, the individual pieces also fit together into a larger whole, the album unified in its wistful harmonies and muted colors. Understated but immersive, it reminds us of the simple pleasure and the intimate perfection of a good melody. – Maggie Molloy


The Hands Free: Self-Titled Debut
Released May 2018 on New Amsterdam

Over the course of the past decade, the four composer-performers who make up the Hands Free have performed together in a variety of contexts. They found that what they loved doing the most was holding informal late-night jam sessions—which is what led to the quartet’s inception. Comprised of violin, accordion, bass, and guitar (plus the occasional banjo), the ensemble likes to perform unamplified, sit in a circle, and integrate a mix of genres ranging from folk music to jazz and improvisation. Their resulting debut album features a beautifully eclectic mix of sounds that depict an immense variety of places and emotions—all while maintaining the warmth and spontaneity of an impromptu jam session.  Gabriela Tedeschi


Anna Thorvaldsdottir: AEQUA
Released Nov. 2018 on Sono Luminus

Anna Thorvaldsdottir finds inspiration in nature—her music is its own ecosystem, the nuanced textures shared, traded, and transformed among individual instruments over the course of her works. The delicate balance of nature is at the heart of AEQUA, a collection of chamber works (plus one solo piano piece) performed by musicians of the International Contemporary Ensemble. Like the stunning natural landscapes of her native Iceland, Thorvaldsdottir’s compositions echo with the full subtleties of timbre, the music expanding and contracting, breathing and humming and vibrating like the earth. – Maggie Molloy


Éliane Radigue: Œuvres Électroniques
Released Dec. 2018 on INA GRM

This beautifully-produced 14-CD set documents Radigue’s career as the mother of dark ambient music. Laboring humbly and hermetically with an ARP 2500 synthesizer and some tape recorders, Radigue spent the 70s, 80s, and 90s perfecting her brand of dense, slow-changing drone music. The works from that time are often inspired by descriptions of states of consciousness in Tibetan Buddhism, bearing such titles as Death Trilogy or Elimination of Desires. They’re best confronted in darkness, without distractions, allowing the mind and ear to absorb their long timeframe (from 17 minutes to well over an hour) and complex sonorities. – Michael Schell


Third Coast Percussion: Paddle to the Sea
Released Feb. 2018 on Cedille Records

Paddle to the Sea was a book that was made into a movie that was made into a live show and album by Third Coast Percussion. In Holling C. Holling’s original 1941 children’s book, a First Nation boy in Ontario carves a wooden canoe and on its side, he writes “Please put me back in the water. I am Paddle-to-the-Sea.” He puts the boat into the Great Lakes where it begins its adventure, and the book follows it on its journey. (Spoiler alert: years later, the boat winds up in a newspaper story that ends up in the hands of the boat’s original creator, who is by then a grown man.) The film, which was released in 1969, added a focus on water pollution to the original story.

Third Coast Percussion composed a new score to perform live alongside the film, including existing works by Philip Glass and Jacob Druckman, plus traditional music from Zimbabwe. Third Coast broadens the focus of the story a little more, asking us to think about our relationship to water and waterways on a grander scale. Their addition to the story doesn’t moralize; it instead draws listeners’ attention to the fact that the water is us—we are Paddle to the Sea. – Dacia Clay


Nordic Affect: He(a)r
Released Oct. 2018 on Sono Luminus

“Hér” is the Icelandic word for here. That idea of being present—of listening, of connecting here and now through music is at the heart of Nordic Affect’s newest album. He(a)r is a collection of seven world premiere recordings penned by women composers and performed by women musicians. Wide-ranging sound worlds from Halla Steinunn Stefánsdóttir, Anna Thorvaldsdottir, María Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir, Mirjam Tally, and Hildur Guðnadóttir comprise the album, each offering a distinct perspective on the ways in which we hear and create sound—our individual voices and the ways in which they interact. – Maggie Molloy


Invisible Anatomy: Dissections
Released March 2018 on New Amsterdam

Drawing inspiration from the experiments of Leonardo da Vinci, facial polygraphs, and more, Invisible Anatomy’s Dissections uses medical metaphors to explore the risks and joys of opening yourself up to others. The avant-rock ensemble combines the theatricality of performance art with the drama of jazz and classical music, creating haunting songs of danger, intimacy, and dissection.

Fay Wang’s vocals layer and weave into intricate composite melodies and eerie disonances, asking powerful questions about the ways humans interact. With its thought-provoking text and complex, dramatic texture, Dissections is an impressive, hauntingly beautiful debut. Gabriela Tedeschi


My Brightest Diamond: A Million and One
Released Nov. 2018 on Rhyme & Reason Records

Few artists inhabit both pop and classical worlds so freely and convincingly as Shara Nova, the operatically-trained singer and composer behind the art rock band My Brightest Diamond. A Million and One tilts further into electronic and pop worlds than her previous albums, her lustrous voice dancing above synth-laden backdrops and pulsing drumbeats. While the drama and dynamic range of the songs hint at her operatic background, the vulnerability of the lyrics and the sheer danceability of the tracks bring a pop music immediacy to her work. The resulting album is visceral, unconventional, and free—emblematic of the modern day dissolution of genre. – Maggie Molloy

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.

ALBUM REVIEW: ‘All Melody’ by Nils Frahm

by Maggie Molloy

Photo by Alexander Schneider.

More than perhaps any other aspect of music, melody is what captures our hearts and gets stuck in our heads. Be it classical, jazz, pop, or rock—nearly all styles of Western music hold melody to be paramount.

Simple in theory but endlessly expansive in its possibilities, melody is at the heart of Nils Frahm’s newest album, out now on the Erased Tapes label. It is a collection of 12 songs in which not only all the music but also the entire recording space were created in service of that greatest musical jewel: melody. 

All Melody is Frahm’s ninth solo album, featuring the composer himself on his usual keyboard collection of pianos, synthesizers, and pipe organs—but here expanded to feature an ethereal choir of vocalists along with subtle strings and percussion. The album was recorded in the historical East German Funkhaus, a 1950s recording complex where Frahm spent the past two years renovating a studio with hand-crafted and hand-picked studio gear, including a custom mixing console.

The album itself is an ambient mix of minimalist melodies, mid-tempo dance grooves, and broad, synth-laden washes of sound. Though each song is expertly crafted in iridescent detail, the individual pieces also fit together into a larger whole, the album unified in its wistful melodies and muted colors.

Wordless vocals from the chamber choir Shards sing the first melody of the album in the atmospheric overture “The Whole Universe Wants to Be Touched.” Floating atop the whispering bellows of an organ, the choir intones a circling theme that beckons the listener into musical hypnosis. Pieces like “Sunson” and “A Place” feature more groove-oriented melodies, each its own intricately textured overlay of synth sounds and drum machines embellished with subtle strings, mellow percussion, and ambient vocals.

Other melodies on the album hint toward jazz in their poignant dissonances and wandering discoveries. Tunes like “My Friend the Forest” and “Forever Changeless” are intimate piano lullabies punctuated by the soft stir of the piano hammers and the gentle resonances of a bass marimba. A metallic trumpet melody weaves through an atmospheric trance in “Human Range,” while “Fundamental Values” paints a liquid wash of piano melodies swimming in a whisper of cello and bass marimba.

The album’s title track is an endless melody swirling through ever-transforming musical textures, infectious in its pulse and hypnotic in its repetitions. Equally mesmerizing is the relentless rhythm of “#2,” decorated with clipped choral melodies, synthesizers, and percussion. It’s followed by “Momentum,” a piece which echoes with the solace and solemnity of a church hymn, the choir and organ blending together into an expansive soundscape before eventually giving way to a slow and steady groove.

The aptly titled “Kaleidoscope” layers many, many melodies into dense clouds of sound, the distinctive details of each just waiting to be discovered with each additional listen. It’s contrasted against the album’s closing piece “Harm Hymn,” a gorgeously simple harmonic progression that brings melody back to its most basic form.

It’s a tenderness felt throughout the entire album, wrapped up in the immersive soundscapes and melodic orbits of each and every piece. Yet there’s something so vital and nuanced about that closing track—with each quiet, measured breath of the harmonium we’re reminded of both the simple pleasure and the intimate perfection of a good melody.

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.

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REVIEW: Trance Frendz by Olafur Arnalds and Nils Frahm

by Maggie Molloy

trancefrendz-teaser

Some people like to go out on Friday nights. Ólafur Arnalds and Nils Frahm like to stay in and make music.

Though both are prominent composers, pianists, producers, and performers in the new music world, they prefer to spend their evenings off creating, well, even more music. I guess you could say they’re more than just musical collaborators—they’re best friends. Or rather, best “frendz.”

“Trance Frendz” is the title of the pair’s newest set (the term “album” is firmly rejected by both Frahm and Arnalds), which features music from an evening of improvisation at Berlin’s Durton Studio. It began as a video session of the two performing an improvised duo, in promotion of a different album titled “Collaborative Works: An Evening with Ólafur Arnalds and Nils Frahm.”

But instead of ending the session after the first take, the two continued to improvise throughout the night, ending up with a number of new pieces written and recorded on the fly, with no overdubs and no edits.

What started as a short promo video quickly turned into a 45-minute studio film titled “Trance Frendz,” and the music was included as a second disc in their “Collaborative Works” album.

And now, “Trance Frendz” has officially been released as its own separate CD and vinyl.

Each piece in the set is named after the time in the night when it emerged, with the mood clearly modulating throughout the hours. And yet, the pieces all blur together, unified by the relaxed mood, organic movement, striking intimacy, and genuine honesty behind each one.

“We meet because we’re buddies and we’ve known each other for a long time,” Frahm said in an interview with the Boiler Room. “We eat pizza, drink some beers, stay up way too long and try new things for fun. Everything that we put out is basically just a byproduct of us spending time together and geeking out on music.”

The improvisations are slow-moving and patient, at first led primarily by twinkling piano melodies. But as the night wears on, the delicate piano motives gradually expand to feature growling organ basslines, rumbling drones, and some serious synth.

As the pair continues wandering into the early hours of the morning, the shimmering hum of the piano returns to the forefront with a series of whimsical music-box-worthy melodies, complimented by sweet, subtle vocal humming atop the creaking of antique piano lids and tape recorders. The set comes to a close with soft, hazy piano melodies sparkling amidst a nocturnal calm.

“This music is not the most catchy, not the most hit-you-in-the-face festival-kicking song of the year, or a declaration of: ‘Look at me. Watch how great I am,’” Frahm said. “It unfolds over time, is a little more rich—and I like that kind of humbleness about it.”

It’s the perfect soundtrack for a quiet night in with a friend—charming, sincere, organic, and ambient.

“Ultimately, the fun is in there,” Arnalds said. “The video is a testament to that. It’s in those sessions, in the recordings, and in our friendship.”

Cocolas in Cascadia: Q&A with Madeleine Cocolas

by Maggie Molloy

It was 2012 when the Australian composer and sound artist Madeleine Cocolas first moved away from the warm, sunshiny beaches of Australia and onto the cold, rainy waterfronts of Seattle. After settling into her new home in South Lake Union, Cocolas challenged herself to write a new piece of music every week for 52 weeks—and thus was born the “Fifty-Two Weeks” project.
Madeleine_Cocolas

Over the course of one year, Cocolas composed a series of 52 pieces wrapped up into a year-long blog chronicling her artwork, her travels, her successes, her struggles, and above all, her music. In the process, not only did she discover a lot about herself and her artwork, but she also discovered a lot about the beauty and mystical splendor of the Pacific Northwest.

download (24)Cocolas recently revisited her “Fifty-Two Weeks” project with a new debut album aptly titled “Cascadia,” which was released through the experimental music label Futuresequence this past December. A clear vinyl of the album comes out this Monday, January 11—and trust me, you’ll want to hear it on vinyl.

The album is a beautifully amorphous blend of ambient, experimental, electronic, and contemporary classical sound worlds with plenty of Pacific Northwest whimsy. In the span of just under 45 minutes, Cocolas explores new sonic lands, shimmering seascapes, twinkling piano melodies, textured lullabies, toy accordions, tape cassettes, and so much more.

We recently featured it as our Album of the Week on Second Inversion—but since we just can’t get enough of Cocolas’s ethereal and ambient dreamscapes, we invited her back to the station to talk about art, music, creativity, and all things “Cascadia.”

Second Inversion: What is the inspiration for the album’s title?

Madeleine Cocolas: The album’s title was directly influenced by Seattle and our beautiful surroundings, including the Cascades.  Living in Seattle and the Pacific Northwest for the past 3.5 years has influenced my music immeasurably, and I feel like the music on “Cascadia” and my “Fifty-Two Weeks” project is a direct response and reaction to my surroundings here.  It is impossible for me to listen to “Cascadia” and for it not to evoke feelings of my time here in Seattle.

SI: How would you describe the sound of “Cascadia”? What composers, artists, or styles of music most influenced your compositions?

MC: In terms of a genre, I would describe “Cascadia” as a bit of a mixture between ambient, experimental, electronic and modern classical. Whilst there are a range of styles and instrumentation on the album, I think the overall aesthetic falls under the ‘ambient’ umbrella.  Artists that I have been influenced by would include Jóhann Jóhannsson, Julianna Barwick, Nils Frahm, The Dirty Three, Tim Hecker and Ben Frost amongst others.

SI: How is “Cascadia” similar to and/or different from your “Fifty-Two Weeks” project?

MC: “Cascadia” is essentially a refinement of my “Fifty-Two Weeks” project, with the exception of “The Sea Beneath Me” and “Moments of Distraction,” which were written after “Fifty-Two Weeks” had been completed.  A big part of “Fifty-Two Weeks” was to explore and better define my compositional style, and to me, “Cascadia” best represents my “Fifty-Two Weeks” project and current compositional style.

On the other hand, “Cascadia” differs from “Fifty-Two Weeks” in that I was able to obsess over the details of this album in a way that I wasn’t able to when I was writing a piece of music a week.  Even though much of “Cascadia” is based on “Fifty-Two Weeks,” I spent a lot of time reworking and rearranging the tracks, and I had it mastered by Rafael Anton Irisarri, so in that respect “Cascadia” is much more polished and refined than “Fifty-Two Weeks.”

SI: After writing music for 52 weeks and looking back at this large body of work, did you learn anything unexpected or interesting about your compositional style, musical taste, or creative process?

MC: When I started “Fifty-Two Weeks” I had no real expectations from the project apart from setting myself the challenge of writing 52 pieces.  Looking back, the project achieved so much more than I anticipated and I did learn some incredible lessons.

In terms of creative process, I had previously been very stifled when it came to actually ‘completing’ compositions, and I didn’t really have many completed pieces that represented what I wanted to convey.  Having weekly deadlines was an incredibly liberating way of being forced to finish a piece and move on to the next without overthinking things and obsessing over small, unimportant details, and I was really able to hone in on my creative process and unblock a lot of restrictions that I had unconsciously placed on myself.

In terms of my compositional style and musical taste, prior to “Fifty-Two Weeks” I had written a lot of piano and small chamber-based music without too much experimentation.  During the project, I really challenged myself to listen to a much wider range of music, and found that I absolutely loved experimenting with found sounds, noise and electronic elements, and these have since become an integral part of my compositional style.

SI: How did you keep each week’s composition fresh, new, and exciting?

MC: Because” Fifty-Two Weeks” was such a long-running project, I knew the only way I was going to get through would be to try different things each week, otherwise I would get bored. I set myself certain challenges each week (e.g. using vocals, incorporating found sounds or collaborating with other artists) so that I wouldn’t fall into a rut.  There were definitely some phases in the project where I did feel that I was lacking in inspiration (and I was honest about it in my accompanying blog), but I was generally able to think of new and interesting ways in which to challenge myself.

SI: Outside of composition you are also interested in printmaking, collage, photography, fashion, and street art—do these wide-ranging creative interests come out at all in your music?

MC: I often think that my visual and musical styles and tastes are quite different.  My music is quite introspective and reflective, and when I imagine it in a visual sense, I think that it would be best represented by subtle, muted colors and fine textural details.  On the other hand, I’m often drawn to visual art and fashion that is very bold, bright and loud, and I do wonder how the two relate and how one affects the other.  In both musical and visual contexts though, I appreciate layered textures and unexpected combinations, so perhaps that’s the common underlying theme!

SI: I particularly enjoyed your experiments into found sound, samples, and more ‘collage’ style music (i.e. kitchen sounds in Week 28 and radio clips in Week 50). Have you explored any more of these musical ideas outside of the “Fifty-Two Weeks” project?

MC: I really enjoyed using found sounds during my project, and it is something I have continued with subsequently.  I recently collaborated with Australian textile artist Monique Van Nieuwland on her exhibition “Ocean Forest,” whereby Monique recorded sounds of her weaving and I reworked and processed those sounds to create an oceanscape sound design to accompany her work.  I actually ended up using the oceanscape I created for Monique as the basis of the first track of “Cascadia,” “The Sea Beneath Me.”

SI: What do you hope audiences will gain from listening to “Cascadia” and the “Fifty-Two Weeks” project?

MC: The music I have written for “Cascadia” and “Fifty-Two Weeks” is very personal to me, and evokes very specific feelings and emotions about my time in Seattle.  I’m always interested to hear what feelings my music evokes in other people, which I imagine are different to mine, but I would love if “Cascadia” was able to convey a feeling of connection between my music and the beautiful and ethereal Pacific Northwest as well as feelings of tranquility, isolation and melancholy.

SI: What is next on the horizon for you?

MC: I spent the last half of 2015 re-scoring Alfred Hitchcock’s film “The Birds” as part of the Northwest Film Forum’s ongoing series “Puget Soundtrack,” and I performed the score live in December, which was fantastically fun!  I’m hoping to polish that up a bit and release it as either an album, or a continuous score that can be played alongside the film (interestingly, the original film didn’t have a conventional musical score, so I was able to include all the original dialogue and sound effects when I re-scored it).

Currently I’m collaborating with choreographer Angelica DeLashmette on her evening-length dance performance “Being” which will be performed at Velocity in 2016.  I’m also collaborating with musician Mathias Van Eecloo (Monolyth & Cobalt) on an ongoing 12-part series based on my “Fifty-Two Weeks” which I hope will be released sometime in 2016.  And lastly, I’m looking forward to working on some more solo work and starting to think about my next album!

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LIVE CONCERT SPOTLIGHT: November 1, 5, 6

by Maggie Molloy

Whether you’re looking for an otherworldly saxophone quartet, a genre-bending septet, or an avant-garde piano soloist, this week’s music calendar has something for everyone.

Battle Trance at the Earshot Jazz Festival

BattleTrance_byMichaelAzerrad

The Earshot Jazz Festival has no shortage of talented saxophonists; however, this weekend one group of musicians is taking saxophone to a new level. Battle Trance is a tenor saxophone quartet that combines the best of contemporary classical music, avant-garde, jazz, black metal, ambient, and world music.

The result is a surprisingly spiritual soundscape that immerses its listeners in dense textures and whirling musical motifs. Through techniques such as multiphonics, circular breathing, ethereal melodies, and innovative articulation, Battle Trance seeks to erase the barrier between audience and music, transporting their audience into a new musical world where the listener and the sound are intricately linked.

Battle Trance will be performing this Saturday, Nov. 1 in the Chapel Performance Space at the Good Shepherd Center in Wallingford. The concert begins at 8 p.m.

NOW Ensemble at Town Hall

Stephen_Taylor1

If you’re looking for the latest in contemporary classical music, what could be more current than an ensemble titled NOW? True to their name, NOW ensemble is a dynamic seven-member group committed to pushing the boundaries of the classical chamber music tradition, often crossing into new genres and artistic media.

With an eclectic instrumentation of flute, clarinet, electric guitar, double bass, and piano, the ensemble is unlike any septet you have heard before (though admittedly, there aren’t very many septets out there to begin with). The group cements its status as a unique and innovative ensemble by infusing their sound with elements of indie rock, rap, hip hop, jazz, pop, minimalism, and other musical genres.

NOW ensemble will perform at Town Hall next Wednesday, Nov. 5 as part of the Town Music series. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and the concert begins at 7:30 p.m.

….and you can listen LIVE on Second Inversion! Partial funding for this broadcast is made possible by the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture.

Nils Frahm and Dawn of Midi at the Showbox

Nils Frahm

Berlin-based contemporary composer Nils Frahm is a classically-trained pianist with a musical approach that is anything but traditional. The experimental composer has made a name for himself internationally as an introspective composer, a captivating performer, and an imaginative improviser. His music has captured the ears and minds of many fans with its gentle, calming soundscapes and soft melodies.

Next week, he will perform in Seattle in promotion of his new live album, “Spaces.” Unlike most live albums, “Spaces” was filmed over the course of two years in different locations and on various mediums including old reel-to-reel recorders, cassette tape decks, and more. The recordings were then pieced together into an album, capturing the magic, spirit, and distinctiveness of each location.

dawnomNils Frahm will be joined by Dawn of Midi, a Brooklyn-based trio composed of bassist Aakaash Israni, pianist Amino Belyamani, and percussionist Qasim Naqvi. Their minimal, acoustic music is strikingly rhythmic, fully immersing the listener in each groove and each carefully-crafted sonic landscape.

Nils Frahm and Dawn of Midi will perform next Thursday, Nov. 6 at the Showbox Market as part of Decibel Festival. Doors open at 8 p.m. and the concert begins at 9 p.m.