Second Inversion’s Top 10 Albums of 2017

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

ALBUM REVIEW: Orpheus Unsung by Steven Mackey with Jason Treuting

by Rachele Hales

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

Jayme Halbritter Photography.

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

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

Jayme Halbritter Photography.

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

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

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

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

STAFF PICKS: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from their playlist. Tune in during the indicated hours below on Friday, February 3 to hear these pieces. In the meantime, you’ll hear other great new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre 24/7!

Glenn Kotche: Drumket Quartet No.51; So Percussion (Cantaloupe Music)

A few weeks ago, I decided to take a nice urban hike on a gorgeous, clear, sunny day here in Seattle. I didn’t feel like wasting any of that time in a car driving to a trail head, so I stayed local and used the power of my legs to circumvent Lake Union – a healthy handful of miles. I put my iPhone on shuffle and this piece came on in the mix. To me, it definitely has the tinkling sound of rain – which was no where in sight – but nonetheless set a perfect soundtrack for my walk. I enjoyed this piece so much that I put it on repeat and listened to it 3 times in a row because it’s just that good – Maggie Stapleton

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


James Taylor: You Can Close Your Eyes (arr. Philip Lawson); The King’s Singers (Signum Classics)

James Taylor offered the world a peak into the gray area of a relationship when he wrote “You Can Close Your Eyes.”  The couple is stuck somewhere between a love ballad and a blues song as they remain in love but see the end edging nearer.  It’s a tricky tone for one man to negotiate, so how do the six men of The King’s Singers sound in their arrangement of this song?  Precise & layered with tight harmonies; it’s like a beautiful song woke up one morning and decided to put on its best crisp suit. – Rachele Hales

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


Philip Glass: Piano Étude No. 10; Bruce Levingston, piano (Sono Luminus)

Composed over the course of two decades, Philip Glass’s 20 Piano Études offer a fascinating retrospective of his musical progression—a rare chance to see his style grow and change through one single, controlled variable: the piano étude.

Pianist Bruce Levingston presents one in the exact middle: the dense and relentless No. 10. A friend and frequent collaborator of Glass, Levingston is quite at home amidst the cyclical harmonies and motoric rhythms, his fingers dancing nimbly through a kaleidoscopic soundscape of restless and repetitious motives. Suffice it to say: Glass’s Étude No. 10 is in very good hands. – Maggie Molloy

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


Charles Wuorinen: Big Spinoff; Alarm Will Sound

Charles Wuorinen’s Spinoff for violin, bass, and bongos of 1983 was a sort of ode to the harsh music of New York City: imagine if a violinist and bassist were having a chamber music rehearsal, and the sounds of their jamming wafted out the apartment window and mingled with the percussive physical sound of the city. Big Spinoff is essentially a spinoff of Spinoff, with a small chamber orchestra joining the musical fray. We get a lot of short, unison licks that propel the music forward and seem to capture the spirit of a chamber music rehearsal, which for some groups is more chaotic than others. At least Alarm Will Sound seems to be having a good time, and it’s a fun listen as well. I especially love the rapid-fire shifts of loud and soft music, an exciting contrast that is punctuated with toms and pounding piano. – Geoffrey Larson

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

ALBUM REVIEW: Drumkit Quartets by Glenn Kotche featuring So Percussion

by Maggie Molloy

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Glenn Kotche. Photo by Zoltan Orlic

Every rock ‘n’ roll fan loves a good drum solo—but for some percussionists, one drumkit simply isn’t enough. Enter Glenn Kotche, composer, percussionist, and rock drummer extraordinaire.

Best known as the drummer in the alt-rock band Wilco, Kotche is a Grammy award-winning artist with a colorful palette of collaborators. Over the past 20 years, he’s worked with artists as diverse as Andrew Bird, the Bang on a Can All-Stars, Phil Selway (of Radiohead), the Kronos Quartet, eighth blackbird, and John Luther Adams. His latest collaborators, though, take contemporary percussion to the next level.

Sō Percussion is an experimental percussion quartet dedicated to creating and performing collaborative, cross-disciplinary, and unapologetically contemporary musical works. Comprised of percussionists Eric Cha-Beach, Josh Quillen, Adam Sliwinski, and Jason Treuting, Sō Percussion can make music out of just about anything.

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So Percussion. Photo by LiveWellPhoto.

Whether they’re playing quijadas and conch shells for a John Cage piece, crotales and timbales for a Paul Lansky commission, or even just blocks of wood with strings for a Bryce Dessner work, Sō Percussion’s wide-ranging repertoire stretches from the “classics” of the 20th century up through most innovative new works drummed up just last week.

So it should come as no surprise that Sō Percussion wanted to get their hands on some Kotche originals. Thus, “The Drumkit Quartets” were born.

“I originally conceived of writing a suite of drumkit quartets after finishing a string of commissions and projects for mixed instrumentation,” Kotche said. “I wanted to write without any concern for tonality and really just explore new possibilities for my primary instrument—the drumkit—in an ensemble setting.”

“The Drumkit Quartets” came about while Kotche was touring with his band—he decided to write a quartet in each city he visited, inspired by the sounds and spirits of that specific place.

“These ideas ranged from conceptual blueprints to fully realized and notated pieces,” Kotche said. “Many were conceived but not finished, and when Sō Percussion approached me, I thought these would be a nice addition to their repertoire and would be a perfect fit for their personalities.”

But Kotche didn’t just limit himself to the drumkit—or even four drumkits, for that matter; the quartets actually include percussion instruments as varied as marimbas, triangles, hi-hats, and hand-crank sirens.

“Since I’ve learned to trust the music when it deviates from a preconceived plan, I didn’t resist leaving drumkits out of some of ‘The Drumkit Quartets,’” Kotche said.

The album begins with “Drumkit Quartet No. 51,” inspired by Kotche’s travels in Toyko, Brisbane, and Berlin. Minimalist melodies drip like raindrops through the static tonalities, directing the focus toward the uncoiling rhythmic cycles. Across the 10-minute work, the musical texture slowly shifts and expands to include backing sound collages comprised of field recordings from Kotche’s travels. An accompanying haiku recited by Yuka Honda adds a stark contrast to the immersive musical textures.

The group then backtracks to “Drumkit Quartet No. 1,” a short work with more of the traditional, aggressive arena rock feel. The three-movement “Drumkit Quartet No. 3,” by contrast, is orchestrated entirely on metallic instruments, exploring a number of diverse melodic timbres ranging from dry cymbal work to more resonant pitched percussion.

“Drumkit Quartet No. 6” is another exploratory piece in which Kotche breaks down the drum kit to focus on the individual voices (such as the bass drum, tom-toms, cymbals, and snare). The result is a 5-minute work which showcases the personalities and expressive qualities of each part of the kit and highlights how the individual voices converse and interact to create a unified sound.

“The four members of the group serve as a model of how four limbs operate both independently yet in concert when playing the drumkit,” Kotche said of his inspiration for the piece.

“Drumkit Quartet No. 50” takes another decisive turn: it is actually completely free of physical drumming, instead focusing on the wide-ranging timbral and textural aspects of the instrument. Kotche heavily features his own customized implements and preparations for drumkit, including hand-crank sirens and jingly, jangly metallic elements. Written in collaboration with Sō Percussion, the piece is a malleable music collage exploring the relationship between the performer, the performance space, and the audience.

The group gets into a somewhat more traditional percussive groove with “Drumkit Quartet No. 54,” a work inspired by field recordings Kotche made in Vienna. The piece examines the traditional rock beat in a very propulsive, powerful, and surprisingly danceable 4-minute rhythmic mashup.

The album ends with another rendition of “Drum Quartet No. 51”: this one a Chicago realization of the original. Denser background recordings and more daring musical textures highlight the delicate marimba melodies, and the entire work echoes with an ethereal shimmer.

But whether performing dry and precise percussive melodies or richly textured marimba motives, throughout the album Sō Percussion doesn’t miss a beat. The group brings power, precision, personality, and innovation to whatever they set their drumsticks to.

The album is over too soon, but hopefully this won’t be the last collaboration between Kotche and Sō Percussion—because these five guys are on a roll.

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EXTRA BONUS FEATURES!

So Percussion was in Seattle for a residency with the UW World Series and the UW School of music last month. We presented their performance at Meany Hall as a live broadcast and welcomed them into our studios for a video session. Here are the fruits of those endeavors!

Want more videos? Hop over to our video page! Want more live concert recordings? Go to our live concerts page!

 

FREE COMMUNITY EVENT: So Percussion presents Steve Reich’s Drumming

by Maggie Stapleton

If you’ve been following what’s going on in Seattle this week, I think you’d agree it’s been an incredible showcase of new music performances. There’s more to come, it involves So Percussion, and it’s FREE!

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Photo Credit: David Andrako

So Percussion kicked off a week long residency with UW World Series and UW School of Music at Meany Hall on Sunday evening. In a presentation on UW World Series’ International Chamber Music series, music of Steve Reich, Glenn Kotche, John Cage, and Bryce Dessner filled the hall with hypnotic precision, leaving a percussion-hungry audience satisfied.

Since then, they’ve been busy working with students, performing impromptu pop-ups around campus, talking shop, and to bookend their visit, So Percussion will offer a collaborative performance of Steve Reich’s “Drumming” with University of Washington School of Music Students on Thursday, February 4 at 6pm in the Meany Studio Theatre. This event is free & open to the public and presented by the UW World Series in partnership with The UW School of Music and Henry Art Gallery.

They also made a stop by our studios to shoot a couple of videos, which will be up and running in a couple of weeks. Look how much fun these guys are!

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We put tomorrow’s “Drumming” performance in the “you better not miss this!” category. We’ll see you there!

LIVE BROADCAST: So Percussion presented by UW World Series

by Maggie Stapleton

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On Sunday, January 31 at 7:30pm PT, Second Inversion will present a LIVE Broadcast of Sō Percussion, presented by the UW World Series! This performance kicks off a week-long residency with UW World Series and UW School of Music at Meany Hall. 

Tune in to our 24/7 live stream to hear:

Steve ReichMallet Quartet
Glenn Kotche: Drum Kit Quartet #51  
John CageThird Construction 
Bryce DessnerMusic For Wood and Strings

If you’re in Seattle, come hear and see this show in person! Tickets are available here.

Concluding their residency, Sō Percussion will offer a collaborative performance of Steve Reich’s Drumming with UW School of Music Students on Thursday, February 4 at 6pm. This performance is free and open to the public! Second Inversion will be there, too – RSVP via Facebook.

For information on other upcoming events where Second Inversion will be in the future, check our Community page!

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More about Sō Percussion:

For over a decade, Sō Percussion has redefined the modern percussion ensemble as a flexible, omnivorous entity, pushing its voice to the forefront of American musical culture. Praised by The New Yorker for their “exhilarating blend of precision and anarchy, rigor and bedlam,” Sō Percussion’s career now encompasses 16 albums, touring around the world, a dizzying array of collaborative projects and several ambitious educational programs.

ALBUM REVIEW: Nostalgic Synchronic by Dan Trueman

by Maggie Molloy

download (11)The avant-garde and always-iconoclastic composer John Cage shocked and intrigued audiences around the world when he invented the prepared piano in 1940. Presented with the challenge of writing dance music for a small stage with no room for a percussion group, Cage discovered it was possible to create an entire percussion orchestra with just a single instrument: a grand piano.

His creation was the prepared piano: a piano that has had its sound altered by placing everyday objects such as screws, bolts, and pieces of rubber on or between the strings.

“With just one just one musician, you can really do an unlimited number of things on the inside of the piano if you have at your disposal an exploded keyboard,” he famously stated.

And it was precisely this notion of an exploded keyboard that inspired composer, fiddler, and electronic musician Dan Trueman to create a 21st century version of the instrument: the prepared digital piano.

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“Like the prepared piano, the prepared digital piano feels like a piano under the hands and often sounds like one,” Trueman said. “But it is full of surprises; instead of bolts and screws stuck between the piano strings, virtual machines of various sorts adorn the virtual strings, transforming this new piano into an instrument that pushes back, sometimes like a metronome, other times like a recording played backwards. The virtual strings also tighten and loosen on the fly, dynamically tuning in response to what is played.”

His new album, “Nostalgic Synchronic,” explores the vast possibilities of the instrument through a series of eight etudes performed by percussionist and pianist Adam Sliwinski of Sō Percussion.

“My set of etudes, called ‘Nostalgic Synchronic,’ are inspired by the tradition of etudes by composers like Ligeti, Bach, Chopin,” Trueman said, “In that they’re meant to demonstrate the technical range of the instrument and the player, but also to stand on their own as compositions.”download5

The etudes make use of three major types of preparations designed by Trueman: synchronic, nostalgic, and tuning. And in true 21st-century fashion, Trueman has made these preparations available as an app (or as standalone software) for listeners to download and use on their own digital keyboards at home.

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In the synchronic preparations, any notes struck within a given chord are gathered and automatically struck on every tick of the keyboard’s digital metronome—until the player strikes a new chord, then the keyboard resets its metronome to that new time and new chord. The entire keyboard can function this way, or particular keys may be selected to be “synchronic,” allowing for an infinite number of accent patterns, melodies, beats, and chord combinations.

The nostalgic preparation is a reverse delay that is shaped and constrained by the prevailing metronome pulse: essentially, when a pitch is struck and released, the keyboard samples the note and plays it backwards so that it reaches its mirrored attack in sync with the next click of the metronome.

Last is the tuning preparation, which allows the player to switch freely between three different types of tunings during performance: standard equal temperament, just-intonation temperament, and what Trueman calls “partial tuning,” which is based in part on intervals drawn from the overtone series.

Sound complicated? Here’s a video with some simple examples: 

Dan Trueman – The Prepared Digital Piano from Troy Herion on Vimeo.

As you can imagine, these preparations allow for infinite musical possibilities—many of which are demonstrated in Trueman’s collection of etudes. From the persistent rhythm and the spacey, sliding sonic structures of “Prelude” to the repetitive melodic figures and jagged chord clusters of “Song,” each piece explores the breadth of textural and timbral possibilities on the instrument.

In fact, “Undertow” sounds almost as though the pianist is exploring the instrument for the first time—with fingers curious and gentle, listening intently to each note as the tunings echo and shift. By contrast, “Marbles” is a glitchy, jittery little jig that sounds almost like a toy piano or a vintage video game—that is, until the growling bass rolls in.

“Wallumrød” mixes jazzy riffs with the sonic sway and reverse fade-attack of the nostalgic preparations, while “Systerslått” takes its mysterious tunings, wobbly groove, and folky ornamentation from a Norwegian fiddle tune. The album ends with “It is Enough!” a slow and gentle tune that twinkles like a music box—you know, if that music box was filled with echoes of electronically-manipulated melodic fragments.

So forget what you know about classical harmonic progressions—you’ll find no reassuring V-I on “Nostalgic Synchronic.” But what you will find is someone willing to start all over, to rediscover a tried-and-true instrument and create something entirely new. After all, who says piano keys have to be just black and white?