Ringmasters: Dominic Johnson

I remember meeting Dominic Johnson when I was 14 years old. We are both from the Pacific Northwest, you see, and wound up at the same summer chamber music camp, the Olympic Music Festival. Run by former members of the Philadelphia String Quartet on a farm on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State, it was a magical, unforgettable summer for me in which I experienced all those wonderful, cringy "band camp" moments you see in the movies (well, maybe not all...) and, more importantly, where I first really fell in love with playing string quartets.

Dom was 17 at the time - a few years older, a hotshot violist, and therefore, in my mind, the coolest kid in school. I recall losing miserably to him in ping-pong matches, following along in late night boys-cabin-vs-girls-cabin practical jokes, and (ok now this is a little embarrassing) even trying to glean whatever adolescent wisdom I could from his suave interactions with the ladies.

Flash forward almost 20 years and I am in Chicago looking for a good violist for a banquet gig. Someone recommended this guy Dom Johnson. "Wait... that Dominic Johnson?!?"

It's been great to be running in the same musical circles as Dom for these past 5 years. In addition to his sensitive and dynamic viola playing, he is the executive director of the innovative New Millennium Orchestra, and performs regularly as a DJ as Dojo. Check out his 2010 collaborative album with Abominable Twitch here: Dojo vs. Twitch

And for more recent music, check out this set with Searchl1te for the MusicNOW series:

With his vast experience as a string player and a DJ, I am particularly excited to see what he comes up with for this project!

Ringmasters: Mason Bates

Mason Bates is just starting his fifth year of residency with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, "the Ferrari of orchestras" in his words.  This is no faint praise from someone whose work is performed constantly by some of the top ensembles in the world, and is in constant demand both as a composer and in his alter-ego form, DJ Masonic.

Make sure to check out his website for his regularly updated blog and his Facebook page for tons of interesting updates about his high-flying musical activities.  He's been a driving force behind "Mercury Soul" which has brought some tradition-breaking genre-crossing to the Chicago Symphony's season.  The high-energy evenings of Mercury Soul have some of the same sense for freeing up audience expectations for contemporary classical music and bringing a level of familiarity to peoples' surroundings that we aim for in our Sampler Packs, so we hope to count Mason as a kindred spirit in his aims to open up the possibilities and venues for new music.

If you're looking to energize your day, check out his orchestral lift-off, Mothership:

Ringmasters: Nico Muhly

I remember my first encounter with Nico Muhly mostly because it coincides with the beginning of my torrid love affair with new music. I had recently been added to the Chicago Symphony's MusicNow roster and the series had the good sense to program Nico's Step Team for its 2007 season. I remember being sucked in by the magnetic groove of the piece, with its metric expansions and contractions providing a steady dose of adrenaline during late-night rehearsals. What I remember even more vividly, though, is how gracious Nico was throughout the process.

Also, that he had a better haircut than me.

If you've perhaps been living in a WiFi-less dirigible for the past seven years or so, and haven't heard his music, check out Mother Tongue or I Drink the Air Before Me or 2012's Drones and get ready for some gorgeously sculpted sound.

Nico has a new opera, Two Boys, going up at the Met next month, so Spektral is especially grateful and excited that he's making the time to pen us a ringtone for Mobile Miniatures. Prepare to be the envy of the subway the next time your phone rings with a swanky Nico jam. Prepare to be John the Baptist, Salome-style if you neglect to silence it before heading into your local opera house...

Ringmasters: Jenna Lyle

Jenna Lyle's inventiveness never ceases to stun me.  The last time she collaborated with Spektral, she strapped a mic'ed stethoscope to Austin's chest, using his heartbeat as an amplified guide for the quartet.  The result was her strange and visceral miniature Inkblot.

Not only does Jenna have a knack for intriguing musical gestures, she's aware of how those gestures will be embodied by a player.  It's what makes the realization of her compositions so enthralling; you don't know exactly what you're hearing and you can't stop watching.

She's also really good at making diagrams in Microsoft Paint:

Ringmasters: Ben Hjertmann

Ben Hjertmann is no newcomer to writing for Spektral.  In fact, his electrifying second String Quartet No. 2, "Étude" will be featured on the quartet's debut album! The composer also  just released an epic album of his own, howling his fair share of angular melodies and doling out some unexpected rhythmic jabs.  You can listen to the whole thing below:

Ben is in a variety of "avant-pop" projects which no doubt contribute to his intriguing voice as a composer of chamber music.  He continues to find ways to merge his craft of composition and songwriting, creating unusual results both on the record and in the concert hall.

Ringmasters: Augusta Read Thomas

Augusta Read Thomas' latest works have been gargantuan, to say the least.  Last year, she composed 30 minutes of music for Third Coast Percussion consisting of nothing but bells (300 of them, BTW).  What's even more impressive is that she was writing another half hour-long work at the same time, her Mahler-inspired Earth Echoes for solo vocalists and chamber orchestra.

Thomas seems to have maximized the Mahlerian spirit, incorporating in both of these works a conglomeration of cultures from around the world, be it instruments or poetry for the libretto.  But out of that plethora of material comes extreme conceptual and compositional precision and cohesion.  Take, for example, the beautifully interwoven timbres from the second movement of her Resounding Earth.

Ringmasters: Greg Saunier

 I've been in love with Greg Saunier's music since before I knew he wrote it.  I was introduced to his band Deerhoof after my freshman year of college with their album Holdypaws and I've been a fervent fan of ever since.  A dream came true when I got to play with Deerhoof in a brand new piece written by Marcos Balter for the band and Ensemble Dal Niente.  To say that playing with such dynamic musicians was a joy is an understatement...it was truly life changing.

Greg plays the drums like nobody else.  He attacks the set with abandon, limbs flying to sculpt a fury of sonic activity that always grooves in the deepest way.  Seriously, check out Deerhoof live:

That is unbelievable playing...he doesn't need a huge kit to make a world of sound.  And, the best part is he's a composer in his own right, having arranged his Deerhoof tunes for Dal Niente and working with yMusic.

Ringmasters: Sarah Kirkland Snider

 What fascinates me, listening to Sarah Kirkland Snider's 2010 album, Penelope, is that it is even more enchanting today than when I first heard it three years ago...and given how often I had it on rotation back then, that is saying something.

Penelope has an expedient way of slipping the listener immediately into the warm solitude of melancholy, and I am ecstatic that a composer capable of such magnetism has partnered with Spektral Quartet for Mobile Miniatures. 
The mission of Mobile Miniatures is to explode a supernova of new-music across the world using phones as the transmitters. I am inspired by the thought of a fellow el passenger hearing Sarah's ringtone and asking, "That's beautiful. Who wrote that?" I love the idea of striking up a conversation while boarding an international flight and having an auditory launch point to tell my seat-mate about Sarah's catalogue, or the new-music label she co-directs, New Amsterdam Records.
- Doyle

Ringmasters: Jonathon Kirk

Chicago-based Jonathon Kirk traverses a variety of mediums for his musical output.  Whether it's a chamber ensemble with live electronics or a rock outfit with a brass section, he finds a way to discover intriguing sound worlds through myriad formats.  Discover seems like an appropriate word for his music, implying less of an acting upon of the sounds he uses and more of an observation of them.  His awe-inspiring Lost Bird Environment, for instance, comes off as a natural sonic phenomenon that we happen to be witness to rather than a thoroughly composed piece of music.

This spirit of observation plays perfectly into Kirk's work as an installation artist.  Check out his stunning collaboration with Lee Weisert in which the composer placed a series of microphones into bowls of frozen water, capturing the slow, solemn sound of ice melting:

Cryoacoustic Orb from PAML on Vimeo.

Ringmasters: Anna Thorvaldsdottir

When Anna Thorvaldsdottir accepted our invitation to write a ringtone for Mobile Miniatures, I did a fist pump that nearly dislocated my shoulder. Ever since listening to her 2011 breakout album, Rhizoma, I've been fascinated with Anna's ability to push the horizon of sound far beyond what one might expect from a recording. It's like being chopper-lifted to a remote mountain valley, left with no company but the surrounding landscape and one's own ruminations. It's collosal and miniscule at the same time:
See what I mean?
I can't wait to set Anna's miniature as my wake-up alarm. The only problem is that with sounds this mesmerizing, I might not believe I am yet awake...
- Doyle