PHOTO GALLERY: Second Inversion Showcase at NW Folklife Festival

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by Maggie Molloy

Here in Seattle, we pride ourselves on our imaginative and innovative new music scene. Second Inversion is proud to be a part of that community, where so many hard-working and creative artists and musicians come together to create, support, and share new and unusual sounds from around the Pacific Northwest and beyond.

This past weekend, we came together to celebrate these sounds in our 2nd annual
Second Inversion Showcase at the Northwest Folklife Festival, which featured performances by the bi-coastal brass quartet The Westerlies, the innovative and always-interactive Skyros Quartet, and the boundary-bursting Sound of Late.

All photos by Maggie Molloy.

We would like to give a tremendous THANK YOU to everyone who came out to support new music over the weekend, both as performers and as audience members. Together, we make the Northwest new music something truly special.

ALBUM REVIEW: Traffic Quintet Plays Alexandre Desplat

by Maggie Molloy
Most music and film fans are familiar with the music of Alexandre Desplat. After all, eight Oscar nominations (including one win), two BAFTA awards, a Golden Globe, and two Grammys tend to put you on the map.

But even if you’ve never heard of Alexandre Desplat, you’ve almost certainly heard his music. Do movies like The Queen, The Golden Compass, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button ring a bell? How about The Danish Girl, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Godzilla, and The Grand Budapest Hotel? Desplat composed the music for all of them, and for many more.

But you don’t have to be a movie buff to appreciate the music of Desplat—in fact, you don’t even have to watch the movies.
The Traffic Quintet recently released an album titled “Traffic Quintet Plays Alexandre Desplat,” which reimagines 13 of Desplat’s famous film scores for piano quintet, with occasional interventions from the composer himself on flute, glockenspiel, and celesta.

Led by director and violinist Dominique Lemonnier (better known as Solrey), the Traffic Quintet is committed to revisiting iconic soundtracks which have entered into the musical canon. The ensemble, which features violinists Solrey and Constantin Bobesco, violist Estelle Villotte, cellist Raphaël Perraud, and bassist Philippe Noharet, made their debut in cinema in 1997 when they performed Desplat’s music for Jacques Audiard’s film Un héros très discret. After their first encounter with the silver screen, they kept their film-inspired name, a tribute to filmmaker Jacques Tati, and began to explore the world of film music. For this latest project, the quintet is joined by the pianist Alain Planes.

Traffic Quintet Alexandre DesplatAfter working on Un héros très discret,
Solrey became Desplat’s favorite soloist, concertmaster, artistic director, and eventually, his wife.

“Solrey’s influence on my music is crucial,” Desplat said. “When I heard her sound for the first time, the rich palette of her bow technique, the energy or tenderness she could convey with her instrument, I was under her charm, I was hooked: I had to inject this special and modern conception of violin playing into my compositions.”

Solrey supervised all the transcriptions on “Traffic Quintet Plays Alexandre Desplat,” and was also the one who persuaded Desplat to perform on the album. But with such a vast library of musical scores to choose from, how could they possibly pick which to perform?

“Closely,” Desplat said, “Solrey and I would spend hours listening to my collection of soundtracks to decide which piece had the potential required: a strong musicality and an original orchestration, which offered many transcription options, a technical challenge for the five musicians.”

Solrey also came up with the musical program for the album. Given the ensemble’s strong ties to cinema, the Traffic Quintet’s performances feature original video projections which tie into the colors and themes of the music in order to create an immersive experience for the audience. For this album, Solrey uses Desplat’s native city Paris as the storyline, musically portraying a leisurely stroll along the banks of the River Seine, capturing the changing light and the mysterious secrets of the river.

“Alexandre’s music invites you on a walk, wraps you up and lulls you gently into contemplation,” Solrey said. “The beauty of the banks and the ever-flowing streams of the Seine become a source of inspiration. I have been steeped in his music for so many years that when I came to go through the many scores I had recorded as a solo violinist, creating a sequence that would trace Alexandre’s musical evolution came quite naturally to me.”

The stroll begins with a twinkling piano theme from The King’s Speech. Soft strings accent the sweetly circling piano melody in this charming rendition of the movie’s warm, minimalist soundtrack.

Then, as if walking past the open window of a riverside apartment, the listener is suddenly transported into a daydream. A gorgeous, haunting flute and violin theme takes the listener into the mid-17th century world of Girl with a Pearl Earring. The two instruments intertwine over a bed of strings, balancing passionate lyricism with restraint, evoking musical images of the the young maid and her painter.

Yearning strings then travel through tales of love, death, and heartbreak in the music from Love Etc. and Le plus bel âge. The Traffic Quintet amps up the drama for the syncopated melodies and the textured pizzicato and col legno harmonies of Un héro très discret, a movie about a French man who sets out to Paris to find adventure and make himself a hero.

But like any slow stroll along the water, the listener soon encounters the shadows and hidden secrets of the flowing river. Aggressive, bold bowings and relentless rhythmic drive build suspense in the music of the political thriller, The Ghost Writer, before the listener returns to the calm, contemplative piano melodies of the existential, experimental drama film The Tree of Life.

Cello and double bass ground the foreboding music of Un prophète, a film about an imprisoned Algerian criminal who rises in the inmate hierarchy. Subtle glockenspiel flourishes and persistent col legno bowings create texture beneath the dramatic violin melodies. Tragedy, mystery, and discovery shine through in the pensive melodies and arresting climaxes of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, with introspective melodies shifting through flute, violin, piano, and cello.

The walk along the river eventually takes the listener through tales of forbidden love, transitioning through the ominous and slow-moving crescendos of the espionage erotic thriller Lust, Caution followed by the soaring, palpably passionate (and sometimes mischievous) violin and cello melodies of Chéri.

Layered strings shift slowly through colorful harmonies in the music of Sur mes lèvres, and the Parisian stroll comes to a close with the whimsical lyricism and silvery shimmer of Coco avant Chanel, a tribute to French film, fashion, and music.

And although Desplat and the Traffic Quintet traverse the music of 13 wildly different films in just over an hour, all the individual stories blend together in the beautiful wash of the River Seine.

ALBUM REVIEW: Preamble by Qasim Naqvi

by Maggie Molloy

Standard Western music notation is made up of five lines, four spaces, and a whole lot of dots and symbols. But contemporary composer and drummer Qasim Naqvi was looking to make classical music that was a little less traditional.

Qasim Naqvi PicPerhaps best known as the drummer for the Brooklyn-based modern acoustic trio Dawn of Midi, Naqvi is also an accomplished composer in his own right. In his new album, titled “Preamble,” he combines graphic notation and traditional notational forms to inject a little aleatory into his compositions. Expanding upon the musical innovations of composers like Ligeti and Xenakis, these aleatoric components allow for the musicians to make spontaneous choices within a structured framework.

“Some of the graphic components deal with dynamics and expression, while others deal with duration and rhythm or ranges that are unique to the particular instruments in the ensemble,” Naqvi said. “This symbolic language is fused into a more conventional style of notation.”

“Preamble” is comprised of a series of short works for mixed acoustic instruments. Released this fall on NNA Tapes, the album features the Contemporary Music Ensemble of NYU and Naqvi himself as the conductor. The work was originally commissioned by the media artist Mariam Ghani, the choreographer Erin Ellen Kelly, and the St. Louis Art Museum as a score to a film installation loosely based on China Miéville’s sci-fi noir novel “The City & the City.”

“One aspect of the book involves two cities that essentially inhabit the same space, but because of the mindset of the citizenry and the threat of a Big Brother-type power known as the Breach, they are perceived as two separate geographic spaces,” Naqvi said. “Even though both cities are intertwined, in a sense, the citizens must unsee the people, buildings, and events of the other city. This, among many other plot elements from Miéville’s book, was used as a conceptual framework that was then mapped onto the real places and histories of St. Louis.”

The result is a suite of seven short pieces weaving in and out of time to explore the principles of chance and intention—in both music and history. Clocking in at just over 30 minutes, the scope of Naqvi’s album is nothing if not ambitious. But without a minute wasted, Naqvi manages to explore the power of music in all of its complexity, with special concern taken to St. Louis’s cultural, geographical, and political histories.

“It’s very much about the city’s history and as well the tragic and fracturing events of Ferguson, sort of raising the question of what a city chooses to see and unsee in times of tragedy,” he said.

The first piece on the album is the title track, which immediately introduces Naqvi’s unusual timbral palette: flute, clarinet, strings, vibraphone and piano. Metallic dissonances and abstracted harmonies ebb and flow in a fascinating textural landscape that seems to exist outside of time and space altogether.

It’s followed by the resonant plucking, sparse harmonies, and hollow textures of “Meg Erase Meta,” a piece inspired by St. Louis’s complex network of underground caves—a city beneath a city, so to speak. With modest forces of strings and piano, Naqvi explores these hidden places and the musical magic to be found within them.

But Naqvi also explores the city’s more somber mysteries. The duality and disjointed melodic fragments of “Children of the Drawer” give way to the sharp and, at times, jarring woodwinds of “Imagined Garages,” wherein long pauses punctuate metallic clamor and fragmented melodic flutters.

“Beyond Stars” takes on a more meditative atmosphere, with sliding strings in the lower registers swaying fluidly back and forth across a softly shimmering harmonic backdrop. A more frantic and unsettling “Aero” builds into the drama of the closing piece: “Esc.” Flute, clarinet, and strings swell into different colors and shapes, transforming and shifting across the soundscape until we are left with an unexpected silence.

Throughout “Preamble,” Naqvi colors outside the lines—he takes his bold textural and timbral palette and smears the rules of time, space, and traditional composition. He explores the notion of chance and intention throughout music and throughout history—and ultimately, by leaving some of the musical elements up to the performers, he ensures that this tale of two cities is never told the same way twice.

“What happens as a result is that you have these moments of the music being in control, and then you have moments where the music starts to fall over onto itself,” Naqvi said. “Those types of moments really interest me because they’re inexplicable. You can’t transcribe or write those moments down or recreate them. And there’s something kind of amazing about that.”

PS – for a special bonus, here’s a recent installment of The Takeover, hosted by Qasim Naqvi, introducing all of the tracks on Preamble: