LIVE BROADCAST: So Percussion presented by UW World Series

by Maggie Stapleton


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!


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.


“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?

ALBUM REVIEW: Unremembered by Sarah Kirkland Snider

by Maggie Molloy

sksnider unremembered

Childhood is a time of youthful innocence, joyous discovery, and wondrous possibility—but along with that unbridled and enchanting sense of imagination can also come dark creatures, mysterious horrors, and haunting memories.

Composer Sarah Kirkland Snider braves these mystical terrors and takes on the full beauty and vast musical scope of childhood imagination in her latest release, “Unremembered.” The album is a 13-part song cycle, and each piece is its own narrative—a tender memory, a ghostly mystery, or a haunting message. Together, the cycle is a rumination on memory, innocence, imagination, and the strange and subtle horrors of growing up.

Composed for seven voices, chamber orchestra, and electronics, the songs were inspired by the poems and illustrations of writer and artist Nathaniel Bellows, a close friend of Snider. The poems depict poignant memories of Bellows’ own childhood upbringing in rural Massachusetts—tales which in turn triggered memories from Snider’s own childhood, giving shape to her musical settings of the text.

The album was released on New Amsterdam Records, a label Snider co-created with Judd Greenstein and William Brittelle in 2008 to promote classically-trained musicians who create outside the confines of the classical music tradition. The album features vocalists Shara Worden (of My Brightest Diamond), Padma Newsome (of Clogs), and singer-songwriter DM Stith gliding above the instrumental talents of musicians from contemporary ensembles like ACME, Alarm Will Sound, ICE, The Knights, and Sō Percussion.

A follow-up to Snider’s critically-acclaimed 2010 song cycle, “Penelope,” the new album lives somewhere in the mystical, mythical world between classical and pop genres. Each song is its own vividly colored vignette, a mesmerizing narrative brought to life through Snider’s rich textural and temperamental palette.

“I think that all of my music is narrative driven—that’s what I’m the most interested in musically—mood and storytelling and atmosphere,” Snider said in an interview with Molly Sheridan of NewMusicBox. “I’m fascinated by complex emotions—the places where affection crosses over and merges with dread, or regret merges with gratitude.”

From the ghostly echoes and somber lyricism of “Prelude” to the surreal dark carnival dance of “The Barn,” each piece tells a different tale of childhood; a memory embellished, ornamented, and altered over the years. In a way, Snider also embellishes memories of the classical genre—musically she recalls the strict rules and structures of the classical tradition, but she does so in a way that is blurred, broken, and beautifully contorted. Her collaboration with Worden helped breathe life into this eclectic collection of musical influences.

“Shara [Worden] had become my closest friend and we’d had so many conversations about classical versus pop music, and all of the frustrations that we had dealing with the lack of infrastructure to support music written in the cracks between those worlds,” Snider said in her interview with NewMusicBox. “She also just so comfortably can inhabit both worlds, which is something that so few singers can do, so I felt like I could really let it rip.”

Worden’s operatic voice drifts above the restless woodwind motives and dreamlike themes of “The Guest,” glides gracefully above the delicately swelling orchestral backdrop on “The Swan,” and echoes just as sweetly above the subtle, soft strings of “The Song.”

The album climaxes with “The Witch,” a ruthless and rhapsodic witch hunt played out across a programmatic musical arc. Worden’s low voice hisses against the aggressive strings and militant drums of the orchestra. She sings the ghostly tale of a witch hunt while the strings and percussion chase after her, brewing with melodrama and theatrical orchestral nuances. The piece ends with twinkling celeste motives as the haunting witch hunt fades back into a distant memory.

“The Slaughterhouse” is similarly grim, though it begins with a sweet reprieve: a gorgeous, achingly tender solo piano melody. The gentle rumination gives way to a somber tale of slaughtered animals, a collection of beasts buried beneath the winter ice—the cold memory and throbbing melodies sending shivers down the listener’s spine.
“The Girl” tells of a tragic small-town suicide—a girl hanged in an entire forest of musical timbres. Snider paints a vivid musical picture of the wind blowing through the trees, birds chirping in the early morning sky, and inquisitive animals peeking out behind woven beds of flowers. “The River” tells another solemn tale, with somber vocals flowing above fragmented melodies and a slowly rumbling bass.

The album comes to a close with “The Past,” a fractured montage of childhood memories echoing musical fragments from earlier songs in the cycle. But this time, the piece sounds hopeful—like a lullaby alive once again with the warmth and sweetness of childhood.

And just like that, the melancholy requiem of “Unremembered” evaporates into a softly twinkling silence, like an enchanting music box tenderly closing—and while the exact details of the memories may fade with time, the album itself is unforgettable.

ALBUM REVIEW: “Music for Wood and Strings” by Bryce Dessner + So Percussion

by Maggie Molloy

So Percussion 0125So Percussion 0131 copy

To say that guitarist and composer Bryce Dessner thinks outside the box would be a bit of an understatement. After all, why limit yourself to the dimensions of a typical hollow-bodied acoustic string instrument when you can create your very own amplified hammered dulcimer?


Though perhaps best known as the guitarist for the indie rock band the National, Dessner is also a distinguished composer and innovator in his own right. He recently released “Music for Wood and Strings,” a 36-minute piece scored for amplified, dulcimer-like “Chordsticks” and performed by the experimental percussion quartet Sō Percussion. Dessner designed the instruments with the help of instrument builder Aron Sanchez of Buke and Gase, a Brooklyn-based musical duo.

Each Chordstick resembles two electric guitar necks laid out next to each other in opposite directions, though the instrument is played more like a hammered dulcimer. Each instrument has eight double-course strings and is tuned to a pair of chords. Using sticks or violin bows, the percussionists can sound either of the two harmonies, play individual strings, melodies, drones, and tremolos, or create a wide range of percussive sounds. The Chordsticks vary in pitch range, and the group is anchored by a bass instrument that can play fretted chromatic lines, as well as by occasional, muted interjections from a bass drum and woodblocks.

Commissioned by Carnegie Hall, “Music for Wood and Strings” seamlessly combines elements of post-minimalism, avant-garde, and folk musical influences. The effect is mesmerizing. Dessner creates a remarkably rich range of musical timbres within a circling, post-minimalist framework, crafting a beautiful and kaleidoscopic sound world through his dense contrapuntal rhythms and constantly shifting musical textures.

“I thought the instruments are so beautiful, I’m going to make [the piece] a really rich sound world—very consonant, also inspired by American folk songs, which are based on these open chords and open tunings,” Dessner said. “So the piece itself has that sound about it, where it’s played by these percussionists and the rhythm is incredibly difficult and layered and precise, but then it’s done with harmonies that are really sweet, actually.”

The work is charming and sincere, employing the perfect balance of silence and sound to create a fully captivating sonic meditation. Dessner’s colorful musical palette features hocketed rhythms, mirrored inversions, drones, tremolos, rhythmic repetition, contrapuntal textures, and a primarily tonal musical language, creating a vivid and distinctive sound that pulls the listener in from start to finish.

Writing the piece for four of the most renowned percussionists in contemporary classical music also doesn’t hurt. Sō Percussion’s perfect blend of rhythmic precision and organic expressivity brings the score to life, immersing the listener in an unforgettable soundscape filled with sweet strings and shimmering rhythms.

Who knew you could craft such an entrancing and intricate sound world from just a few pieces of wood and some strings?