New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: indie classical

Slashing, Richly Acerbic New String Music and Reinvented Film Noir Sounds in the West Village

This past evening at Greenwich House Music School, the Sirius Quartet wound up their two-day annual festival of category-defying music with an incendiary, dynamic set, followed eventually but the historic live debut of a trio legendary for a classic of film noir music from two decades ago.

The quartet’s latest album, New World is a searing portrait of the here and now, focusing on discrimination and terror experienced by immigrants and minorities as well as the fascist assaults and bigotry of the Trump administration. While artistic communities as a whole have mobilized against the Trumpies, there are few ensembles in any style of music, let alone new serious concert music, who’ve been writing as consistently and acerbically as this group.

Violinist Fung Chern Hwei’s slashing downward cadenza early on in the night’s opening number, Beside the Point, reaffirmed that commitment, terrorized but still defiant. This piece came across as even more epic live than on album, cellist Jeremy Harman alternating between stark washes and a catchy, trip-hop flavored pizzicato bassline, Fung delivering a couple of mighty crescendos with tantalizingly brief, shivery solos. The tersely conversational interplay between violinist Gregor Huebner and violist Ron Lawrence provided sobering contrast.

They vividly brought to mind the great Kurdish composer Kayhan Kalhor with To a New Day, rising from relentlessly tense, sustained close harmonies to a fluttering, soaring theme punctuated by spare, similarly suspenseful pizzicato passages and a grimly sardonic Vivaldi quote from Lawrence. A little later, they reinvented Radiohead’s Knives Out as a spare, swinging. quasi-baroque string-rock anthem, diverging toward chaos for an instant before reconfiguring with a wary intensity.

The centerpiece was the new album’s savagely colorful title track, a portrait of the aftermath of the 2016 Presidential election. Quoting from Dvorak’s New World Symphony as well as Shostakovich’s shattering, horrified String Quartet No. 8, the group shifted grimly from anxious, massed, chattering voices, to mournful sustained passages spiced with sarcastic faux-pageantry and a buffoonish accent or two. Huebner took centerstage, finally rising to a frenetic, terrorized crescendo over the rest of the group’s plaintive, doomed ambience in Still, based on the Billie Holliday hit Strange Fruit and its grisly, surreal portrait of a lynching.

Theremin Noir – the trio of thereminist/keyboardist Rob Schwimmer, pianist Uri Caine and violinist Mark Feldman – put out a single 1999 album that’s become revered as a classic of film noir composition. The three seemed especially psyched to finally stage this material, a mix of reinvented Bernard Herrmann Hitchcock themes and originals. Schwimmer drew chuckles from the crowd, acknowledging the challenges of trying to lead a band, let alone turn pages, with both hands on the theremin:.. Throughout the trio’s hour onstage, a lot of head signals were involved.

They opened with Herrmann’s bookstore scene from Torn Curtain and its haunting, plaintive variations on a melancholy, neoromantic piano theme, Schwimmer switching between theremin and a touch-sensitive synth full of patches evoking everything from a choir to a wind tunnel to a bell tower, as well as a theremin. That enabled him to sit at the keys for long periods without having to leap up and switch back.

An enveloping, echoingly industrial tone poem brought to mind the lingering, metalloid menace of Philip Blackburn’s electronic tableaux. Schwimmer explained that his melancholy Waltz for Clara was a homage to the late, great theremin pioneer Clara Rockmore. His more film noir-inspired originals were spot-on, full of furtive, stairstepping motives, a wry interlude of door creaks amid angst-fueled, subtly shifting neoromantic piano-and-violin themes.

Feldman opened his original, Real Joe with a moody solo before Caine’s piano and Schwimmer’s increasingly surreal synth flourishes joines the mix. Two pieces from Herrmann’s Vertigo score – Carlotta’s Portrait and Scene d’Amour – were the highlights of the night. The former was rich with aching, increasingly enigmatic piano from Caine and morose violin from Feldman as Schwimmer put the quavering icing on the cake. The latter made an apt closer for the evening, with an unexpectedly playful, tongue-in-cheek, loungey jazz interlude midway through, before a return to ineluctable grimness. If the trio had the presence of mind to record their set, and the quality is even remotely usable, they’ve got a brilliant live album to follow up the original studio release.

New Music Duo andPlay and Cello Rocker Meaghan Burke Put on a Serious Party at the Edge of Chinatown

How do violin/viola duo andPlay manage to create such otherworldly, quietly phantasmagorical textures? Beyond their adventurous choice of repertoire, they use weird alternate tunings. Folk and rock guitarists have been doing that since forever, but unorthodox tunings are a relatively new phenomenon in the chamber music world. At the release party for their new album Playlist at the Metropolis Ensemble‘s second-floor digs at 1 Rivington St. last night, violist Hannah Levinson and violinist Maya Bennardo – with some help from their Rhythm Method buds Meaghan Burke and Leah Asher, on harmonica and melodica, respectively – evoked a ghost world that was as playful and bracing as it was envelopingly sepulchral. Anybody who might mistakenly believe that all 21st century serious concert music is stuffy or wilfully abstruse needs to check out the programming here.

The party was in full effect before the music started. A sold-out crowd pregamed with bourbon punch and grapefruit shots. As the performance began, Levinson sent a big bucket of fresh saltwater taffy around the audience, seated in the round. The charismatic Burke opened with a brief solo set of characteristically biting, entertainingly lyrical cello-rock songs. Calmly and methodically, she shifted between catchy, emphatic basslines, tersely slashing riffs, starry pizzicato and hypnotic, loopy minimalism. The highlights included Hysteria, a witheringly funny commentary on medieval (and much more recent) patriarchal attempts to control womens’ sexual lives, along with a wry, guardedly optimistic, brand-new number contemplating the hope tbat today’s kids will retain the ability to see with fresh eyes.

Dressed in coyly embroidered, matching bespoke denim jumpsuits, andPlay wasted no time introducing the album’s persistently uneasy, close harmonies  with a piece that’s not on it, Adam Roberts‘ new Diptych. Contrasting nebulous ambience with tricky polyrhythmic counterpoint, the duo rode its dynamic shfits confidently through exchanges of incisive pizzicato with muted austerity, to a particularly tasty, acerbic, tantalizingly brief coda.

Clara Ionatta’s partita Limun, Levinson explained, was inspired by the Italian concept of lemon as a panacea. Playful sparring between the duo subtly morphed into slowly drifting tectonic sheets, finally reaching a warmer, more consonant sense of closure that was knocked off its axis by a sudden, cold ending.

The laptop loops of composer David Bird‘s live remix of his epic Apochrypha threatened to completely subsume the strings, but that quasar pulse happily receded to the background. It’s the album’s most distinctly microtonal track, Bennardo and Levinson quietly reveling in both its sharp, short, flickeringly agitated riffs and misty stillness.

The next concert at the space at 1 Rivington is on Oct 11 at 7:30 PM with composer Molly Herron and the Argus Quartet celebrating the release of their new album “with music and poetry that explore history and transformation.” Cover is $20/$10 stud.

A Bracing, Slashing New Album and an October Release Show by Violin/Viola Duo andPlay

Maya Bennardo is one of the violinists in the perennially ambitious Mivos Quartet. Hannah Levinson is the violist of indie classical chamber group the Talea Ensemble. Together, the two musicians call themselves andPlay. With a similar ambition and, yeah, playfulness, they’re advocates for exciting new repertoire for their two instruments. Their debut album Playlist is streaming at Bandcamp. They’re playing the release show at the Metropolis Ensemble‘s intimate second-floor digs at 1 Rivington St. on Oct 4 at 7:30 PM. Cover is $15; the entrance is a few steps past the southeast corner of Rivington and Bowery

The new record features four new compositions which explore the many ways that string players can employ sharp, fleeting figures: most of it is the opposite of atmospheric music. Frequent, it seems that there are more than two instruments playing.

There are two David Bird works: the first, Bezier has brief scrapes, coyly stairstepping riffs, chirpy microtones and grimly intertwining tritones contrasting with wanly sepulchral washes. It brings to mind Messiaen’s experiments in evoking birdsong. The epic Apochrypha, which closes the album, has flitting electronic bits that blend with and then fight the alternately still and agitatedly flickering strings.

Ashkan Behzadi’s Crescita Plastica, the opening track,, begins with a slithery downward swipe followed by suspensefully spaced, shivery phrases and troubled call-and-response. As the two instruments shriek and scrape fitfully, it strongly evokes the work of Michael Hersch. Clara Ionatta‘s Limun comes across as a couple of friendly ghosts in a game of peek-a-boo and then gives way to drifting horizontality. For the most part, this isn’t easy listening, but it’s an awful lot of fun for people who gravitate toward stark, edgy harmonies and textures.

Thrills and Chills From Major Contemporary Composers at the Miller Theatre

If you could see the world premiere of a major new John Zorn suite for free, would you make the shlep up to 116th St.? A whole lot of people did that last week to watch pianist Steven Gosling navigate the thorny harmonies, Messiaenic poignancy and vast dynamic expanse of the composer’s 18 Studies from the Later Sketchbooks of JMW Turner.

For obvious reasons, Turner’s sketches aren’t exhibited frequently since they rarely if ever hint at the epic proportions of his oil paintings. Zorn’s suite matched the raw, translucent essence of those works while occasionally reaching for epic grandeur as well. There were innumerable moments where it gave Gosling a real workout, yet its central themes were strikingly straightforward:.

An enigmatically clustering lefthand motif and variations, plaintive belltones that strongly evoked Messiaen and Mompou, and grittily intricate caterpillar-tractor interweave contrasted with moments of pure freakout. It wasn’t clear whether that was simply Gosling blooping and blipping on his own, or whether Zorn had actually bothered to write all that down.

Considering how rigorous and sometimes abrasive Zorn’s work is, he doesn’t get enough credit for his sense of humor, and this piece had some devastatingly funny moments. The first was a simple, repetitive chord with a descending and then rising bass, a cliche that’s been used ad nauseum over the years by singer-songwriters and emos. Zorn employed it as a stepping-off point for some increasingly sardonic riffage. The second was a surreal, hammering, chattering series of close harmonies, a crowd of twistoids who wouldn’t shut up and grew increasingly sinister.

Those moments weren’t even the most difficult ones. Gosling faced the greatest challenges of the evening with Zorn’s long sequence of righthand suspended chords where the inner notes shifted around like a three-card monte dealer on meth, and managed to pull them off with stunningly clear articulation. The incessant stylistic shifts, between quasi Second Viennese School acidity, moodily opaque minimalism and crazed, hyperactive kitten-on-the-keys moments weren’t easy to shift between either, but Gosling made it all seem contiguous, no easy feat.

The Miller Theatre has long been one of Manhattan’s focal points for some of the most interesting and invigorating developments in new music. Director Melissa Smey, who described herself this particular night as the “president of the John Zorn fan club,” was hip to both Missy Mazzoli and Anna Thorvaldsdottir before they were all the rage, but she also brings in plenty of longstanding pillars of the avant garde for her ongoing “composer portrait” series. The next one, on Sept 25 at 8 PM features Anthony Braxton music played by the Jack Quartet and indie classical chamber group Either/Or. You can get in for $20, at least as of today.

Mystical, Dynamic Rainy-Day Korean Sonic Exploration with Kim So Ra at Lincoln Center

Last night Lincoln Center partnered with the Korean Cultural Center to bring janggu drummer and innovator Kim So Ra and her band to make their debut here. She’s one of the great innovators in Korean sounds, having founded the country’s first all-female traditional percussion ensemble, Norikkot, as well as cinematic art-rock instrumentalists nuMori. She was clearly psyched to be at “One of the finest musical theatres in the world,” as she put it. “Cool! I brought some rain from Korea for this perfect day,” she grinned, alluding to the stormy, watery themes on her latest album A Sign of Rain. The result was as psychedelic a storm as you can possibly imagine.

There’s a tradition in janggu drumming that’s feral and shamanic, but the duo of Kim and fellow percussionist Hyun Seung Hun,opened the night with otherworldly, mysical ambience, blending delicate gongs and a singing bowl punctuated by spare, resonant beats and rainlike washes. Then the bandleader kicked into a brisk, syncopated 10/8 beat that was no less hypnotic for being a lot louder.

The two made disorientingly clipped variations out of a distantly majestic processional before really picking up with a staggered gallop. Piri player Lee Hye Joong blew white noise and then increasingly animated, quavering calls through her little wooden oboe over a steady janggu riff; gayageum player Lim Ji Hye joining quietly underneath.

The irresistibly warptoned gayageum (a fretless zither that sounds like a low-register hybrid of the Egyptian oud and the Indian surbahar, minus the reverberating strings) took centerstage, ripping and leaping over percussive flurries, long, surprisingly low, sax-like sutained lines from the piri and an eventual return to a stately, swaying rhythm. Meanwhile, deep-space photography drifted across the screen behind the stage. Somebody give this band a residency at the Hayden Planetarium: they’d pack the place!

A janggu solo meant to depict a heartbeat came across as a pretty strenuous expedition, drama giving way to a hypnotic groove and back, with some serious sprinting involved as well. Then the two percussionists brought the thunder and eventually some dancefloor thud, entreating the crowd for some boisterous call-and-response. The full quartet closed with a mighty, swaying theme punctuated by wailing piri and spiky, rippling volleys of upper-register gayageum, and encored with an even more turbulent piece.

The next concert at the Lincoln Center atrium space on Broadway just north of 62nd St is tomorrow night at 7:30 PM with latin jazz drummer and bandleader Bobby Sanabria leading a mighty 21-piece unit paying tribute to the great Palladium-era salsa bands. Get there early if you’re going: it’s going to be a dance party.

An Acerbic, Darkly Allusive New String Quartet Album and an Upper East Side Gig from Viola Titan Jessica Pavone

Jessica Pavone is one of this city’s most formidable violists. Her work as a bandleader spans from moody, allusive art-rock – her 2012 album Hope Dawson Is Missing is a classic of its kind – to the scary reaches of improvisation. Her latest release, Brick and Mortar, with her two-violin, two-viola String Ensemble is streaming at Bandcamp and arguably her most rapturously minimalist release yet. Her next New York gig is a solo set on Sept 15 at 7 PM with two other intense improvisers: pianist Cat Toren,and saxophonist Catherine Sikora at the ground-floor El Barrio Art Space at 215 E. 99th St (between Second and Third Ave.). It’s not clear what the order of the musicians is, but each is worth hearing; cover is $20.

The new album opens wth Hurtle and Hurdle, a catchy, hypnotic, acerbic tableau with long, resonant notes soaring and eventually hitting a series of wary cadenzas over a Philip Glass-like backdrop of echo phrases. The group are seamless to the point where it’s impossible to tell who’s playing what – Pavone and Joanna Mattrey on violas, Erica Dicker and Angela Morris on violins. They take it out with a strolling pizzicato riff.

With simple, acidically harmonic sustained tones over a pulsing, repetitive G note and a keening forest of variations, Lullaby and Goodnight is the album’s most minimalistic track. The players’ slow attack and subtly shaded echo effects are a cool enhancement: Glenn Branca’s symphonic work seems to be an influence. The drone picks up without the rhythm in the title cut, its layered shadings creating an effect like a parking lot full of cars with their horns all more or less stuck, combining to play a seventh chord. The punchline is too good to give away.

Sooner or Later is a diptych: a series of hypnotic, cell-like variations like Caroline Shaw through a funhouse mirror at halfspeed, then a surreal reel. The final number is By and Large, its fleeting echoes and doppler effects growing lusher and more disquieting as the individual voices close harmonies branch out. Play loud to max out the increasingly rich wash of overtones.

The Visionary, Sardonically Hilarious, Grimly Dystopic New Opera Looking at You Debuts in the West Village

Kamala Sankaram and Rob Handel’s new opera Looking at You is as funny as it is dystopic – and it’s extremely dystopic, and just as visionary. George Orwell predicted that people would become so enamored of technology that they’d willingly let it enslave them, and so far western society seems to be on the express track. The premise of this outlandish multimedia extravaganza extrapolates from that observation, and although it’s a grimly familiar story, it keeps the audience guessing, adding layer upon layer of meaning until the inevitable, crushing coda. The New York premiere was last night; the show continues at Here, 145 Sixth Ave. south of Spring, and west of the park in the middle of the block, tomorrow night, Sept 8 at 4 PM and then Sept 11-14 and 17-21 at 8:30 PM. Cover is $25

Billed as a mashup of the Edward Snowden affair and Casablanca, this satire of Silicon Valley technosupremacists falling for their own bullshit is ruthlessly spot-on, right from the first few seconds. The first of many levels of meta occurs as the audience becomes the crowd at a breathless product launch for the app to kill all other apps. See, it connects not only your Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Tinder, ad nauseum, but also your phone camera, Amazon Alexa, the spycams outside your door, inside your apartment and your bathroom…and presumably every other spycam in existence. Access is universal: the miracle of face recognition technology gives you unlimited data on everyone, and vice versa. Full disclosure: as an April Fool joke several years ago, this blog published a spoof which reached the same conclusion that Sankaram and Handel do here.

The Snowden stand-in (Brandon Snook) sees where all this is leading and decides to spill the beans. His ex-girlfriend (Blythe Gaissert) isn’t convinced: her refrain, heard over and over from several voices throughout the show, is “But I’ve got nothing to hide!”A brief media circus ensues – Kristin Marting’s haunting backdrop leaves no doubt what’s behind those cold, flickering screens – followed by a long cat-and-mouse game with Homeland Security.

In a delicious stroke of irony, Gaissert’s get-out-of-jail-free card turns out to be the enterprise’s crown jewel: it erases every electronic footprint you’ve ever left (mirroring the the real-life Silicon Valley cynicism of how it’s considered bad form to give children screen time until they reach school age), This little gizmo is bestowed on Gaissert by her wide-eyed, relentlessly exuberant, boundaryless boss, played with relish by Paul An. His supporting cast – Adrienne Danrich, Eric McKeever and Mikki Sodergren, in multiple roles – are just as cluelessly dedicated to the cult of Big Data, spouting ditzy homilies in perfect techno-speak about how benign it all is.

Snook imbues the Snowden standin with a steely determination: he seems less interested in reigniting the relationship with his careerist girlfriend than simply persuading her to come over from the dark side. Beyond the acting, we get to watch their affair unravel – in reverse, via text message. An aborted clandestine meeting between Snook and a reporter brings Homeland Security in for the first time; the black-jacketed team’s interview technique stops short of torture but is eerily accurate.

Meanwhile, at many intervals throughout the narrative, Instagram photos and Facebook posts made by audience members play on several screens behind the stage. In a brief Q&A after the performance, the directorial crew explained that they promise not to show anything embarrassing they discover about those in attendance. As an incentive to share your “socials,” you get a free drink for signing into the system operating from the tablet at your table. It takes about an hour to datamine everything available on a given individual, legally, the opera company’s head spy explained. If you don’t want your mug and your stupid pix and who knows what else up onscreen for everyone to see, show up on the night of the show and pay cash like a sensible person.

Beyond the suspense involving the characters, we all know how this is going to end. It’s been said that humankind’s ability to reason is what differentiates us from animals, but in this tale it’s denial that makes us unique among the species. Although the dialogue doesn’t address it, the computer-generated alerts flashing across the many screens reinforce, over and over, how the most seemingly innocuous online or social media interaction has sinister consequences. After all, there’s no human reason involved with this dystopia’s magic algorithm. As Gaissert finally screams, contemptuously, “It’s a fucking computer!”

Trouble is, that computer was programmed by people with a very specific agenda. Big Data was not devised to exonerate anyone. It’s a snare. And as Sankaram and Handel remind, again and again, it’s working better than ever. More than anything, Looking at You reaffirms how its creators’ bleak vision is as vast and shattering as Sankaram’s five-octave vocal range.

Her original score, played by a diversely talented ensemble of keyboardist Mila Henry with saxophonists Jeff Hudgins, Ed RosenBerg, and Josh Sinton, is fantastic, from the cartoonish faux-techno of the opening scene, through ominous noir tableaux, snarky pageantry and brooding neoromantic interludes. It isn’t until the end that Sankaram draws on the Indian raga themes that she mashes up with cumbia when leading her slinky, surfy rock band Bombay Rickey. Even Kate Fry’s costumes are priceless: these true believers sport shimmery pseudo-lab outfits with circuitboards embedded in the fabric. And while the quasi-disguise that Snook wears in the next-to-last act is hardly subtle, it might be the opera’s cruellest and best joke.

A Colorful, Dynamic Debut Album and a West Village Show by the New Thread Quartet

Bands with multiple musicians all playing the same instrument can be academic and fussy. Obviously, there are exceptions. Battle Trance live up to their name and then some. The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain are ridiculously entertaining. The cuatros of the C4 Trio will give you goosebumps. Likewise, the saxophonists in the New Thread Quartet – soprano player Geoffrey Landman, altoist Kristen McKeon, tenor player Erin Rogers and baritone playe Zach Herchen  – have a sense of fun to match their formidable chops.

They love to commission new works and have impeccable taste in their choice of composers. Their  debut album, Plastic Facts – streaming at Bandcamp – comprises four diverse, dynamic new compositions. They’re playing the release show for their second and as-yet-unreleased second album, Explorations Vol. 4, Attacca on Sept 12 at 8:30 PM at the Tenri Institute. Cover is $10; $20 will get you admission, plus a copy of the new cd., which features works by James Ilgenfritz, Len Tetta, Jude Thomas, and Amy Beth Kirsten.

The debut album’s first track, Michael Djupstrom‘s Test shifts swiftly from moody ambience to increasingly agitated overlays, close harmonies and bagpipe-like flourishes. Bubbly pageantry quickly gives way to ominous resonance, noirish trills, poltergeist leaps and flickers and sharp-fanged close harmonies. Bernard Herrmann would have been proud to have assembled this deliciously sinister tableau.

Ser – Spanish for “being” – by Marcelo Lazcano begins with fragmentary phrases dispersed among the four musicians, then shifts back and forth between steady, intertwining, busily anticipatory riffs and calmer interludes. There’s a lot of whispering and a surprise ending.

With its slow, doppler-like tectonic shifts, the album’s title cut – by Anthony Gatto – draws more heavily on the group’s massed extended technique – harmonics, duotones, and textural grit – than the other pieces here. And yet, its persistent, warm optimism becomes a fanfare of sorts: John Zorn’s work for brass comes strongly to mind.

The epic final cut is Harmonixity, by Richard Carrick. It’s a series of variations on two contrasting tropes. To open the piece, waves roll in across a long expanse, in succession, nimbly handed off between the group’s individual members. Then fluttery intonation mimics a strobe effect: the collective precision is stunning. Then it’s back to the beach, and then the strobe, and so on. Like the rest of the material here, it’s both playful and keeps the listener guessing what’s going to happen next. No spoilers! Count this among the most enjoyable instrumental albums of the year in any style of music, and good reason to look forward to the next release.

A Starkly Relevant New Album and a Governors Island Show by the Very Serious Sirius Quartet

The album cover illustration for the Sirius Quartet‘s latest release, New World – streaming at Spotify – has the Statue of Liberty front and center, against a backdrop that could be a sunset with stormclouds overhead…or smoke from a conflagration. She’s wearing a veil. The record’s centerpiece, New World, Nov. 9, 2016 won the Grand Prize in the the New York Philharmonic’s New World Initiative composition competition a couple of years ago. The message could not be more clear. It’s no wonder why the group are so troubled by the events since then: both of their violinists are immigrants.

They’re playing a free concert featuring their own materal plus original arrangements of Radiohead and the Beatles this Sept 7 at the park in the middle of Governors Island, with sets at 1 and 3 PM. You can catch the ferry from either the old Staten Island Ferry terminal at the Battery – to the east of the new one – or from the Brooklyn landing where Bergen Street meets the river.

Violinist Fung Chern Hwei’s Beside the Point opens the album. In between a wistful, trip hop-flavored theme, the group chop their way through a staccato thicket capped off by a big cadenza where the violin finally breaks free, in a depiction of the struggle against discrimination.

Currents, a tone poem by cellist Jeremy Harman has stark, resonant echoes of Irish music and the blues: it could be a shout out to two communities who’ve had to battle bigotry here. The epic title track sarcastically juxtaposes contrasting references to Dvorak’s New World Symphony and Shostakovich’s harrowing String Quartet No. 8: look how far we haven’t come, violinist/composer Gregor Huebner seems to say.

Still, another Huebner composition, is based on Strange Fruit, the grisly chronicle of a lynching and a big Billie Holiday hit. Ron Lawrence’s viola chops at the air along with the cello over an uneasily crescendoing violin haze, the group coalescing somberly up to a horrified, insistent coda. Their version of Eleanor Rigby has a bittersweet, baroque introductory paraphrase and some bluesy soloing, finally hitting the original melody over a propulsive, funky beat. As covers of the song go, it’s one of the few actually listenable ones.

The album’s second epic, More Than We Are rises slowly through allusions to Indian music to a persistently wary, chromatic pulse fueled by Harman’s bassline: you could call parts of it Messiaenic cello metal. To a New Day is even more somber, flickering pizzicato passages alternating with a brooding sway grounded by a hypnotically precise, stabbing rhythm.

The Chinese-inflected 30th Night has a dramatic vocal interlude amid quavering cadenzas as well as phrasing that mimics the warpy tones of a pipa. The album’s second cover, Radiohead’s Knives Out is louder and more jagged than Sybarite5‘s lush take on the Thom Yorke catalog. The group return to the neo-baroque with the album’s rather sentimental closing cut, simply titled Cavatina. Contemporary classical protest music doesn’t get more interesting or hauntingly diverse than this.

Looking Back on a Surreal Interpretation of One of the Ugliest Periods in American History

By reflecting humanity back on itself and questioning the status quo, isn’t art subversive by definition?

Are those who merely mimic the inherently questioning nature of art selling themselves short…or, even worse, perpetuating an evil system by evading their duty to subvert it?

Was Emma Goldman any less of a revolutionary because she had limousine liberal friends who helped her out in a pinch?

Woody Guthrie and Roger Waters, two of the most popular antifascist artists of the past hundred years, dedicated themselves to concretizing their messages in the simplest, most impactful terms. Is an artist whose message is less straightforward missing an opportunity to create a powerful movement, or contribute to it?

Ted Hearne’s 2015 album The Source – streaming at Bandcamp – raises all of those questions. He’s singing as part of this year’s Resonant Bodies Festival of avant garde vocal music at Roulette on a triplebill on Sept 4 at 7:30 PM with enigmatic singer/percussionist Anais Maviel and indie classical star Kate Soper. Advance tix are $20.

There seems to be more autotune on this record than there is in the entire Disney pop catalog from the last two decades. But maybe Hearne is using autotune subversively – or at least sarcastically. Introduced slowly as a way for a rapidly shrinking corporate music industry to completely eliminate humans (other than computer programmers) from what was then salable product, autotune can also be used by used to evade speech recognition technology.

Mark Doten’s lyrics are a primarily a pastiche of Wikileaks Iraq War transcriptions and quotes from whistleblower heroine Chelsea Manning, set to Hearne’s sometimes kinetic, sometimes uneasily fragmentary art-rock, which often recalls the Bang on a Can All-Stars. The two grab the rope left behind by the (mostly) nameless war criminals exposed by Manning and Julian Assange and lets them hang themselves.

For those who’ve kept up with the news, this is a familiar, ugly story. The suite shifts dissociatively from Pink Floyd-style channel-surfing samples, to a verbatim account of failed American diplomacy in Asia, a fleeting mention of American troops buying prisoners from human traffickers, and graphic references to torture.

There’s a cruelly prophetic interview with Assange over stark, maddeningly syncopated strings and more than a hint of sarcastic rock bombast; a slowly cantering, quasi-metal dirge fueled by Taylor Levine’s guitar and Greg Chudzik’s bass; and a bit of faux disco floating from Nathan Koci’s keys along with  the trio of violinist Courtney Orlando, violist Anne Lanzilotti, and cellist Leah Coloff. A similarly brief detour into quasi-renaissance polyphony is just as savagely snarky. The album winds up with an angst-fueled, crescendoing mini-epic told in Manning’s voice, tracing her life from preschool ousider to increasingly imperiled freedom fighter.

Obviously, Hearne and the rest of the crew on the record deserve credit for having the guts to tackle the issue at all. Whether they could have spread the word further if the music was more accessible is open to debate. However, it’s also important to consider that the indie classical audience Hearne has enjoyed for more than decade is largely Republican. Maybe this record has done more work for a vital cause that might seem apparent.