New Music: There’s an App for That!

by Maggie Molloy

New Music AppsThe average American spends nearly five hours a day on their smartphone. That’s about a third of their waking life.

What could we possibly be doing for all that time? Well, usually we’re just wasting it—we’re scrolling through our Facebook feed to pass the time on a long bus ride, Snapchatting our friends from across the room during a TV commercial break, Instagramming our afternoon coffee, or checking for new matches on Tinder.

So much time wasted swiping left, right, upside down, right-side up—which is why I figure if we’re going to spend hours on our phone each day, we should at least make it worth our while. Why not spend that time improving our rhythm, enhancing our musical knowledge, exploring new music, or listening to some of the greatest artists and thinkers of our time?

Next time you find yourself stuck on a long bus ride, bored during a commercial break, or sitting alone in a crowded café sipping your coffee, turn off your social media and engage with these new music apps:

Second Inversion App

Okay, so this one’s an obvious pick—but here’s why: our app gives you on-the-go access to our carefully-curated 24/7 live stream, expansive video archive, on-demand concert recordings, new music event calendar, Joshua Roman blog posts, album reviews, and much more. You can also create a “Favorites List” of pieces you hear on the stream, or even set a custom alarm clock so that you can start each day with the latest in contemporary classical!

SI AppAnd rest assured, there are no commercials, no top 40, no corny talk radio—just 24/7 new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre. Oh, and did I mention it’s FREE?

John Cage Apps

The 20th century composer and iconoclast John Cage is most famous for two main contributions to the classical canon: 1) his “silent” composition, titled 4’33”, and 2) his prepared piano pieces. The John Cage Trust has created apps out of both.

John Cage 4'33"Cage’s three-movement 4’33″ is perhaps his most famous composition, teaching audiences that there is really no such thing as “silence,” but rather, the sound of the world around us is music in and of itself. In the app, you can capture your own three-movement performance of the ambient sounds in your environment, then upload and share that performance with the world. You can also listen to others’ performances, and explore a worldwide map of ever-growing performance locations. But here’s the coolest (read: geekiest) part: the app features a recording of the ambient sounds at play in Cage’s last New York apartment, which he found a source of constant surprise, inspiration, and delight.

John Cage Prepared Piano

Cage threw a wrench in the Western classical tradition (literally) when he invented the prepared piano in 1940. By placing everyday objects such as screws, bolts, and pieces of rubber between the strings of a grand piano, he created an entire percussion orchestra within a single instrument. Now, you can create your own entire percussion orchestra—within a single smartphone. Choose from dozens of sampled sounds of a piano prepared with the actual materials used by John Cage in the preparations for his Sonatas and Interludes, then record your performance and share it with the world!

bitKlavier Prepared Digital Piano App

Composer and electronic musician Dan Trueman gave the original 20th century prepared piano a 21st century facelift last year when he created the prepared digital piano. Instead of bolts and screws stuck between the piano strings, virtual machines adorn the virtual strings—transforming the piano into an instrument that pushes back, sometimes like a metronome, other times like a reverse delay. The virtual strings also tighten and loosen on the fly, tuning in response to what is played. And in true 21st century fashion, you can download the prepared digital piano as an app, plug it into your MIDI keyboard, and create your own compositions.
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Third Coast Percussion Apps

John Cage Quartet AppPercussionists are on their game when it comes to new music apps. Third Coast Percussion actually has three: John Cage Quartet, the Music of Steve Reich, and Resounding Earth.

The John Cage app is based on his 1935 Quartet, which is scored for “any four instruments or sounds.” With this app, you can choose from a variety of pre-recorded sounds or record your own sounds to create a custom version of the piece!

The Steve Reich app allows you to create your own music using compositional techniques made famous by this minimalist composer, including phasing, additive processes, and canons. You can even record and sample your own sounds to make it truly your own!

Steve Reich App

Resounding Earth is the title of a 2012 composition written by composer Augusta Read Thomas for Third Coast Percussion. In the piece, the group performs on over 125 bells from all over the world. This app allows you to explore the incredible sounds and history of many of the bells featured in the composition, enriching your own knowledge of percussion practices around the world!

Resounding Earth

Unsilent Night App

Unsilent NightPhil Kline’s Unsilent Night is an electronic composition written specifically for outdoor performance in December—but you and your friends can perform it anytime of year (as long as you have smartphones). Participants each download one of four tracks of music which, when played together, comprise the ethereal Unsilent Night.

Gather up as many friends as you can around a pile of boomboxes, speakers, or any other type of portable amplifiers, and instruct everyone to hit “play” at the same time. Then walk through the city streets creating an ambient, aleatoric sound sculpture filled with shimmering bells and time-stretched hymnal melodies.

Steve Reich Clapping Music App

In 1972, minimalist composer Steve Reich composed a piece using very minimal musical means: just two people, clapping. Sounds simple, but it’s actually pretty difficult: two people clap the same short rhythmic pattern, with one repeatedly shifting their pattern by a beat until the two patterns align again. This app allows you to test your own rhythm by tapping in time with Reich’s constantly shifting pattern, gradually progressing through all of the variations.

Steve Reich Clapping MusicChoose from “easy,” “medium,” “hard,” or “practice” modes to up your rhythm game—if you achieve a high score, you can enter into a competition for the chance to perform the work live. And, you can also take part in a research project which investigates how people learn rhythm.

PhonoPaper App

Okay, so this one is about 30 percent Russian spy cryptology but 100 percent awesome nonetheless. The idea was inspired by old Soviet technology that uses visual codes for sound synthesis. Here’s how it works: PhonoPaper is essentially a graphical representation of sound (this can be music, a human voice, etc.); in other words, it is the two-dimensional audio barcode of the sound.

PhonoPaper

This app allows you to 1) generate your own PhonoPaper by converting a recorded sound into image, and 2) use your phone camera as a real-time PhonoPaper-code reader, to convert the image back into sound. How cool is that? You can even use the code reader to convert graphical representations of musical scores back into music—check out their site for some examples using pieces by Bach, Mozart, Lully, and more!

So whether you’re secret coding your latest symphony, clapping through a Steve Reich simulator, or just kicking back and listening to the Second Inversion stream, there’s so much music to be heard! Why waste time on social media when you have all these incredible new music apps at your fingertips?

EVENT PREVIEW: An Unsilent Seattle Night

by Maggie Molloy

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I love Christmas carols as much as the next girl—but I have to admit, after years of attending, listening to, and performing in Christmas concerts every December, the holiday hymns do tend to run together. But whether you’re the world’s biggest Santa-fan, a grouchy Ebenezer Scrooge, or even just an avant-garde enthusiast looking to expand your holiday music horizons, composer Phil Kline’s got just the carol for you—and it’s coming to Seattle this Saturday night.

Kline’s “Unsilent Night” is a contemporary twist on holiday caroling that is celebrated annually around the globe. But don’t worry, there’s no singing involved. In true 21st century fashion, all you have to do is download an app.

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This nontraditional holiday carol is an electronic composition written specifically for outdoor performance in December. Participants each download one of four tracks of music which, when played together, comprise the ethereal “Unsilent Night.”

Countless participants meet up with boomboxes, speakers, or any other type of portable amplifiers and each hit “play” at the same time. Then they walk through the city streets creating an ambient, aleatoric sound sculpture that is unlike any Christmas carol you have ever heard.

And yes, I can say that from experience. Last December I dragged two of my siblings and one of my best friends out of the warmth of my Capitol Hill apartment and out onto the icy cold streets of Lower Queen Anne for “Unsilent Night.”

I’ll admit, they were a bit skeptical at first. Upon arrival, they proceeded to ask me a number of preliminary questions: “Wait, where are we?” “Is this another one of your weird new-music things?” “Will there be any alcohol?”

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Honestly, I didn’t have the answers to any of those questions—and that’s exactly why I wanted to attend the performance in the first place. I am fortunate enough to live in a city that is constantly pushing the boundaries of what music is and what music can be—and I want to experience as much of it as I possibly can. I saw “Unsilent Night” as an opportunity to share in a new and unusual holiday tradition with some of my closest friends and family.

And as soon as we stepped out into the cold, surrounded by friends and strangers, all of us holding our phones and making music together, we were mesmerized. There we were, wandering the city streets of Seattle, immersed in an intricately woven electronic sound world of subtly Christmas-themed recordings. Together, we were walking through a new kind of winter wonderland: an experimental soundscape full of shimmering bells and time-stretched hymnal melodies.

It was a performance that captured the sparkle and the whimsy of the holidays in a new way—without any of the corny sing-alongs, the ill-fitting Santa hats, or the sugary candy canes.

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For me, “Unsilent Night” was a beautiful reprieve from the chaos of the Christmas season. It was a time to silently connect with my friends and loved ones, immerse ourselves in shimmering, metallic music, share a smile and ultimately, have a new and memorable musical experience together. Because after all, that’s what the holidays are all about, right?

Five Pro Tips to Maximize your Unsilent Night:

  • Download the app ahead of time to make sure your phone or electronic device has enough storage space.
  • Bring portable speakers for a bigger sound—the louder, the better!
  • Invite all your friends and loved ones to share in the moment with you—the more, the merrier!
  • Wear gloves. And a scarf, a hat, a poofy marshmallow jacket, if you have one—and more gloves.
  • Keep your heart, your mind, and your ears open!

Seattle’s rendition of Phil Kline’s “Unsilent Night” will take place this Saturday, Dec. 19. The procession begins at 5 p.m. at On the Boards’ Merrill Wright Mainstage Theater Lobby in Lower Queen Anne.

On the Boards | Facebook Event

LIVE CONCERT SPOTLIGHT: December 10-13

by Maggie Molloy

Ethereal Christmas carols and a sensational clarinetist are just two of the events on this week’s captivating music calendar.

Joshua Roman with the Seattle Symphony

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Cellist Joshua Roman first stole Seattle’s heart when he became the youngest principal player in Seattle Symphony history at age 22. Though he left the position after two years to pursue a remarkably diverse solo career, he still visits Seattle frequently to perform and to serve as the artistic director of the Town Hall TownMusic series.

In his latest musical venture, Roman is heading back to Benaroya Hall to perform the world premiere of symphonic composer Mason Bates’ Cello Concerto. The piece, which was written for Roman, combines melodic lyricism with elements of modernism and jazz. The concerto has a distinctly American character, and its pulsing rhythms are suggestive of Bates’ experiments in electronic music.

The concert will also feature Prokofiev’s Suite from “Lieutenant Kijé” and selections from Tchaikovsky’s “Sleeping Beauty.”

The performances are at Benaroya Hall this Thursday, Dec. 11 at 7:30 p.m., Friday, Dec. 12 at 12 p.m., and Saturday, Dec. 13 at 8 p.m. A pre-concert talk will be presented one hour prior to each performance.

 

Sean Osborn

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The clarinet has the largest pitch range of all common woodwind instruments—and Seattle clarinetist and composer Sean Osborn is proving that it might also be one of the most musically versatile.

Osborn is a critically acclaimed clarinetist whose music combines extended clarinet techniques with rock music energy for a sound that incorporates post-minimalism, New Age, Celtic, folk, and many other musical styles. This Wednesday, he is presenting four new works of chamber music for unusual instrumentation, including a sextet for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano, and percussion as well as three new pieces for violin, clarinet, cello, and piano. He will also perform one solo clarinet work.

The performance is this Wednesday, Dec. 10 at 7:30 p.m. at the Chapel Performance Space at the Good Shepherd Center in Wallingford.

 

Phil Kline’s “Unsilent Night”

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If you’re sick of classic Christmas carols, perhaps Phil Kline’s “Unsilent Night” might be a little more your style. This contemporary twist on holiday caroling is celebrated annually around the globe. But don’t worry, there’s no singing involved—all you have to do is download an app.

Kline’s “Unsilent Night” is an electronic composition written specifically for outdoor performance in December. Participants each download one of four tracks of music which, when played together, comprise Kline’s ethereal “Unsilent Night.”

Countless participants meet up with boomboxes, speakers, or any other type of portable amplifiers and each hit “play” at the same time. Then they walk through the city streets creating an ambient, aleatoric sound sculpture that is unlike any Christmas carol you have ever heard.

The interweaving of electronic recordings creates an experimental soundscape full of shimmering bells and time-stretched hymnal melodies, capturing the magic and enchantment of the holiday spirit without any of the corny Christmas classics.

Seattle’s rendition of Phil Kline’s “Unsilent Night” will take place this Saturday, Dec. 13. The procession begins at 5 p.m. at On the Boards’ Merrill Wright Mainstage Theater Lobby in Lower Queen Anne.

 

People. Make. Awesome. (Music + Moving Image)

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Why limit yourself to just music when you can combine it with other artistic disciplines? Earlier this season we saw the Frank Agency and Nonsquitur present a series of artistic pairings rooted in music and sound, then music and dance as part of their three-part series “People. Make. Awesome.” Now, for the series’ final installment they are exploring the possibilities of music and moving image.

The featured artists are experimental animator and performance artist Stefan Gruber, composer and videographer Leo Mayberry, video editor and multimedia artist Melissa Parson, composer and trumpeter Samantha Boshnack, guitarist Jason Goessl, and multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Jessica Lurie. With so many diverse artists in one place, it’s sure to be an awe-inspiring performance.

“People. Make. Awesome.” will take place this Thursday, Dec. 11 at 8 p.m. in the Chapel Performance Space at the Good Shepherd Center in Wallingford.