From the Artist

Crepuscular Rays and Sun Propellers by Liquid Music

Composer Nina Young

Composer Nina Young

Miranda Cuckson is giving a solo show on November 14th, and I’m thrilled to be joining her on electronics. Miranda has programmed an exciting evening of music by Dai Fujikura, Kaija Saariaho, Ileana Perez-Velasquez, and Richard Barrett. Most of these works have a live, interactive electronic component. The violin’s (or viola’s) live sound is picked up with a microphone, sent to my computer, and then different “patches” (software packages programmed by the individual composers) process the sound. Finally, a new altered version is sent out into the venue’s speakers and mixes with Miranda’s live performance. My role is that of quasi performer / engineer / trouble shooter: I’m running the patches, following the scores, and responding to and with Miranda’s playing – sometimes more like a chamber musician, and sometimes like an orchestra following a concerto soloist. It’s an honor to work with Miranda – she is a really unique, sensitive, and versatile musician who presents a wide aesthetic variety of new music. In fact, I think she’s so great that I flew in from Rome to do this concert with her.

Nina's  Sun Propeller  'patch' - the custom build electronic software that will accompany Miranda's detuned violin.

Nina's Sun Propeller 'patch' - the custom build electronic software that will accompany Miranda's detuned violin.

The unifying thread behind Miranda’s programming choice revolves around elements of nature, specifically light and air. SPCO’s Liquid Music series is billing this concert as Sun Propeller and that happens to be the title of my violin and electronics that you’ll hear on the 14th! So now I’ll tell you a little bit about it. The term “sun propeller” refers to the propeller-like rays of light that occur when sunbeams pierce through openings in the clouds. For those that want to rush over to Wikipedia, crepuscular rays is the scientific name for these columns of light that radiate from a single point in the sky. Returning to “sun propeller”, the phrase is the literal translation of the Tuvan word for these special sunbeams, “Huun-Huur-Tu”. This also happens to the name of a famous Tuvan folk group that I was introduced to in college, and have been obsessed with ever since.  

For those unfamiliar with Tuvan folk music, stop everything (after reading this) and check it out. The tradition is perhaps best known for the practice of throat singing – a vocal technique that produces multiple tones at the same time. A singer begins with a low drone-tone and then accentuates the different overtimes of the harmonic series to create radically beautiful timbres. The changing emphasis of the harmonic series allows some quasi melodies to pierce through, but the music really values timbre (tone color) and vertical relationships rather than traditional western melody and harmony. As a fan of electronic music, I was really intrigued by this sound world and immediately began to draw relationships to different studio filtering and synthesis techniques.  

Diagram of bow placement options that create "organic filters"

Diagram of bow placement options that create "organic filters"

To be clear, my piece is not trying to emulate Tuvan music in any way, but I was drawing inspiration from the physical and poetic principles behind the Tuvan sound world. For example, I call for the violin to be scordatura – a musical term for retuning a string instrument in unusual ways. Miranda tunes her lowest string down a 4th to a D, and the upper string down a step to a different D. The final tuning of the violin is D-D-A-D (rather than G-D-A-E) and this totally changes the way the instrument resonates.  The lowest string now provides a textured, low growling D drone upon which the rest of the music emerges. The piece then organically grows out of this initial sound. I also asks for Miranda to place her bow along the strings in some unusual positions. Sun Propeller starts with the bow unusually far along the fingerboard. This allows for subtones (notes lower than the string is typically capable of producing) to emerge. Later on you’ll notice that the bow moves across the violin, all the way from where the left-hand fingers usually play, to right on top of the bridge. In one part of the piece Miranda does this while she repeatedly plays 16th note “A”s. Even though the pitch repeats, its timbre entirely changes. She’s creating an organic filter – very similar to what the throat singers do.

Another interesting thing about Tuvan throat singing is that it is a direct imitation of the sounds of nature (babbling brooks, wind brushing through tall grasses, sounds reverberating between mountain faces, etc). The music is often performed outdoors and is used to pay respects to the spirits of nature. This means that the music has a location/space-specific element to it. Suddenly the sound source, and the way it interacts with the objects around it (reverb and spatilization characteristics) becomes very important. This is paralleled in my piece through the use of multi-channel electronics. The number and placement of speakers can fundamentally reshape the concert hall and expand the sound capabilities of the performer. You’ll get to hear different spatilization tehcniques in my piece, the Saariaho, and Fukijura’s.

The JACK Quartet performing Phase I of Nina C. Young's "Memento Mori" on March 12, 2013 at the DiMenna Center for Classical Music in New York City. Phase I: "ut cuspis sic vita fluit dum stare videtur" (life flies on like an arrow, while it seems to stand still)

Additional Info:



Twitter/Instagram:        @composernina


I'm not exactly sure how this happened... by Liquid Music

by Michi Wiancko

...but during the month of October, Saint Paul will become the most Michi-friendly place on the planet.

Let me preface this by explaining that my musical universe and career is a patchwork of all the different ways of music-making that I love the most. I feel very lucky that way. Performing chamber music with some of my most favorite classical musicians? HELL YES. Writing music for groups that are looking to branch out and like the idea of a performer/composer? CHECK. Arranging both classical and non-classical works for both classical and non-classical musicians? BINGO.

"You Are the First" —the result of thousands of jumps over the course of 6,000 miles.

"You Are the First"—the result of thousands of jumps over the course of 6,000 miles.

I come from an intensely classical background: I got an early start on the violin, went straight to private lessons and competitions after school, graduated from conservatories, and had classical performance managers who pinned down as many recital and concerto performance opportunities for me as they could. But there was a discontent I started feeling in my early twenties that grew steadily each year. I wanted to be a part of other kinds of creative scenes, to MAKE music, not just play it. I was also becoming disillusioned with the soloist path - it was so lonely and stressful.

So, I started by joining other people’s bandsgypsy jazz, folk, country hick-hop, indie rock. I will never forget the time that I got a last-minute call to replace a violinist-in-labor for a solo performance with the New York Philharmonic. 90 minutes after stepping off the stage of Avery Fisher, I stepped onto another stage in the east village (in very different clothing, but with a heart still racing from my big NYP moment) to play alt-country versions of Cypress Hill songs for an audience of mostly SantaCon revelers. I could write a whole separate essay about this surreal moment in my career, but suffice it to say that this was a turning point for me when it came to accepting myself for who I was. I needed to make my own path.

Eventually I started writing music for my own band, Kono Michi, and collaborating with as many kindred spirits as I could find. Composing and arranging music for others feels like a natural outgrowth from that, and now that my discontent has disappeared, I have incorporated classical performance back into my life with gratitude and passion.

I love working with people who come from a completely different musical background from me. Oftentimes it’s the people who don’t read music or didn’t go to music school who have the most to teach us conservatory geeks, and who have the most profound and honed relationship with aural expression - the kind you can’t necessarily get from Juilliard.

I also love working with people like me who come from a classical upbringing but have itched for something MORE and NEW. It turns out that some of us grew up strictly classical, practicing our instruments for your standard 4 to 6 hours a day, while sneaking off to blast music that couldn’t be further from the kind we were making ourselves. Goth and new wave (my first loves), shoegaze and post rock, punjabi and rap and electro-pop and lo-fi indie folk… the list of what I identified with during my formative years goes on and on. I kept my passion for this “other” music locked up in a separate compartment for fear it would make me appear less than serious about my Brahms Concerto or Bach Chaconne to my peers and mentors.

Fast-forward to October 2015. Now everybody likes everything!* I think the opportunities that are in play for me here would blow the mind of my 20-year-old self.

Let’s start with Liquid Music. On October 14th, I get to collaborate with the incredible powerhouse duo that makes up the band Wye Oak. Theirs is a harmonically, rhythmically, lyrically, and artistically brilliant kind of pop music that I have taken and arranged for Wye Oak + myself + a musical crew comprised of people I love. Their pop songs trigger the obsessive fangirl in me, so orchestrating it for an electro-acoustic bunch with mega-chops is a project that I’ve found exceptionally fulfilling, and we haven’t even gotten to the live performance part of it yet.

On the same concert, we’ll present the premiere of a new piece I’ve written for violin, cello, bass, and synthesizer called I Have a Map. It’s the kind of piece that one might be inspired to write while going back and forth between Greenwich Village in New York and a serene hilltop farm in the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts. And then. As if that was NOT enough to rock my (and, hopefully, eventually, both of your) socks off, I get to perform a bunch of new music by one of my FLC’s** and most innovative souls out there, Bill Brittelle.

View from Michi's hilltop studio/shack

View from Michi's hilltop studio/shack

The same day that this all goes down, I’ll be starting rehearsals with The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, with whom I’m performing for two weeks in mid-October (in addition to a November tour to Taipei, Singapore and Jakarta). As their “arranger-in-residence” this season, I’ve created an orchestral version of a piece that happened to already be close to my heart: Sergei Prokofiev’s lush, romantic violin and piano masterpiece, Five Melodies.

It’s really an honor to get to dig deep into this incredible music as both a violinist and as an arranger with one of the greatest chamber orchestras out there.

Finally, in other, SPCO-unrelated news, on October 11th, the acclaimed cross-genre string quintet, Sybarite5, will be premiering a piece I wrote for them called Blue Bourrée at the Schubert Club. I just found out about this. Life, right?

So, why this blog entry? 3 things:

  1. Kate Nordstrum, Liquid’s illustrious matriarch, asked me to, and one feels compelled to never say no to Kate.
  2. I want to get you to come to any or hopefully all of these concerts. (And if you do, please come say hello.)
  3. In my experience, it’s quite rare that an organization can engage so many different sides of my musical personality at once, so I wanted to acknowledge how this particular moment in Saint Paul’s musical offerings is a unique marker in the evolution of my own musical life. It’s also one that points to a larger musical renaissance that I feel deeply fortunate to be a part of.

See you in October!

      * This isn’t actually true.
      **Favorite Living Composers