Seattle is no stranger to new music.
Whether it’s Seattle Symphony commissioning and recording new works, Wayward Music Series programming adventurous and avant-garde music concerts, or your good friends at Second Inversion providing a multimedia platform for all of it—Seattle prides itself on being one of America’s strongest cultural centers for new and unusual music.
(Photo credit: Kimberly Chin)
But here are two of the newest Seattle new music groups you may not know about: the Universal Language Project and Scrape. You can catch both of them this weekend when they team up to present an innovative concert of new works by Seattle composers Brian Chin and Jim Knapp.
But first things first—who are these guys?
Brian Chin is the artistic director of the Universal Language Project: an innovative concert series rooted in the commissioning and performance of 21st century music and interdisciplinary collaboration. Jim Knapp is the artistic director and resident composer of Scrape: an original music string orchestra with harp and guitar.
The Universal Language Project recently commissioned Knapp and Chin to create a new sound for Scrape featuring soprano soloist Chérie Hughes—the results of which will be performed in two concerts this weekend: one at Soma Towers in Bellevue and the other at Velocity Dance Center on Capitol Hill.
So what’s on the program? Well, let’s just say it’s a new music mashup featuring an imaginary letter, an Eckhart aphorism, an Obama song cycle, and a meditation on Ives. We sat down with Brian Chin to get all the details.
Second Inversion: In many ways contemporary music transcends specific timeframes and concrete qualifiers; the definition tends to be abstract and often subjective. What does “new music” mean to you?
Brian Chin: I actually don’t like the phrase classical because it is confusing. The classical era was over 200 years ago, yet most people think of anything with strings as classical. I think that this is very confusing now, as instruments and genre lines are almost meaningless. I like the phrase “music” better—yet, I see the problems here too. Perhaps we get more general with our use of “orchestral,” “acoustic string,” or “mixed chamber ensemble;” and we all know what “indie band” means. But “contemporary classical” is, by definition, an oxymoron!
SI: Seattle is one of few major U.S. cities that is really blossoming in the contemporary classical music sphere—what do you think makes our music scene here so unique, and in what areas do you think there is potential to improve?
BC: Seattle is a geographic island. This makes for great music to grow, evolve, and emerge in relative isolation. This is great so long as we hit the tipping point of boiling over to the ‘mainland’—as grunge did. The reality is that this is a double-edged sword: I think this is both why we have such great stuff here, but it is hard to find—gone once you do—and difficult to build a following, as you can’t just keep playing the same repertoire over and over. The growing community of practitioners and the “We’re all in this together” spirit is our key to growing Seattle New Music!
SI: What are you most looking forward to with this concert collaboration between Universal Language Project and Scrape?
BC: Scrape is a very diverse ensemble that walks the line between several genres. The music of Jim Knapp is mature, smart, and flippin’ beautiful. As you know, the key aspect of the ULP series is that we strive to bring together diverse musicians and artists in order to create something generative and new. For this show, we added a soprano to Scrape, which brings in a whole new element of text and color. Both Jim and I have contributed pieces for this.
SI: Can you tell me a bit about your piece “The Obamatorio” being performed at this concert?
BC: “The Obamatorio: A Song Cycle for Soprano and Scrape” sets four quotes from Barak Obama to music. Rather than select text that are overtly political, I have chosen Obama words that speak to the universal truths of the human condition. I have brought in a multitude of tools to tell the story.
For example: one movement is set in Central Park and I merge the grinding obstinate of mechanical city music with the nature motives of birds. I used “Messiah’s” bird calls for this. In the moment “Strangers” referencing immigration, I use a smash up of world music styles form Irish jigs to African ostinatos and Middle Eastern vocal techniques to paint Obama’s words.
SI: What composers, artists, or styles of music most influence your work?
BC: Bach, Miles Davis, Stravinsky, John Hollenbeck, Bartók, and Charles Mingus.
SI: What do you hope audiences will take away from this concert?
BC: I hope they have a ton of fun are inspired to do great work!
Performances of this ULP and Scrape collaboration are this Friday, March 11 at 8 p.m. at Soma Towers in Bellevue and Saturday, March 12 at 8 p.m. at Velocity Dance Center on Capitol Hill. For additional information and tickets, click here.