Sir Mix-A-Lot, Pickwick to Perform at Seattle Symphony's Sonic Evolution

Sonic Evolution gives popular music the symphonic treatment

!--paging_filter--pOne of the many cool things about the Seattle Symphony’s groundbreaking Sonic Evolution program, according to maestro Ludovic Morlot, is that it brings people to Benaroya Hall who’ve never been there before. People such as, say, Sir Mix-A-Lot, who, before the photo shoot for this magazine, had never set foot inside the phenomenal concert hall (he was visibly wowed by the acoustics), but who will take the stage there this month—with the symphony playing backup on a new orchestration of his songs “Posse on Broadway” and “Baby Got Back.” brbrSurprising new takes on much loved Seattle music is the whole point of Sonic Evolution, an innovative program Morlot first dreamed up for the 2011–2012 season—his first as music director of the symphony. “The best way to grow is through unusual and unexpected collaborations,” he says. “They give a different perspective on so many things.” brbrIn the case of Sonic Evolution, the collaboration takes two forms. First, world premieres by acclaimed young composers from all over the world, whom the symphony commissions to write entirely new pieces that pay tribute to Seattle’s ongoing music heritage. Past events have featured stunning original work based on the music of Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Quincy Jones, Alice in Chains and Blue Scholars. Next year’s plans include a composition based on Pearl Jam’s oeuvre, and Macklemore is on the list of options for future iterations. brbrThis year’s inspirations are jazz pioneer Bill Frisell (reshaped by Portuguese composer Luís Tinoco), Ray Charles (tackled by Shanghai native composer Du Yun) and Sir Mix-A-Lot (remixed a lot by English composer Gabriel Prokofiev, grandson of the legendary Sergei Prokofiev). But don’t expect to hear glorified Muzak versions of the music. For the composers, Morlot explains, “The rule is it can’t just be an orchestration of the songs. They need to look at the whole landscape of the work, the style of sounds used, even the messages in the lyrics. They can’t quote material. We don’t want the audience to recognize any of the songs.” brbrWhile this might sound counterintuitive to fans (“Just play the hits!”), at previous Sonic Evolution shows, the tactic has proved a huge success—thanks especially to Morlot’s selection of highly inventive composers. Listeners are treated to complex new soundscapes that honor and echo the source material (a familiar chord here, a scrap of reminiscent rhythm there) without being enslaved by it. brbrThe second component of Sonic Evolution is live performance by an up-and-coming local band, which plays several of its own songs as orchestrated for the full symphony. Star Anna and Hey Marseilles received this honor at the previous two installments, and this year is a special case—with both Sir Mix-A-Lot (whose real name is Anthony Ray) and soul-inflected indie rock band Pickwick performing songs (orchestrated by Prokofiev and composer David Campbell, respectively) upstage as the Grammy-nominated orchestra plays along right behind them.brbrThe intention of all this, Morlot says, is to “expand the symphonic repertoire by commissioning young composers, and give attention to the Seattle music scene by collaborating with local bands.” He emphasizes that all the musicians involved—the composers, invited performers and symphony players—benefit in this scenario, because everyone brings some piece of the experience back to their own music making. Sir Mix-A-Lot knows exactly what he means. “You hear things really differently when you’re coming from a different genre,” he says. “And I always incorporate the new sounds I hear into my music.” Sir Mix-A-Lot is thrilled by what he’s heard so far of Prokofiev’s orchestration. “The integrity of the song is there, but it sounds huge,” he marvels.brbrA portion of the crowd will attend Sonic Evolution specifically to hear Sir Mix-A-Lot—in whatever form—which is, of course, part of the impetus behind the program: to bring new audiences to the symphony. “It’s exciting because some people will come for Sir Mix-A-Lot, some will come for Pickwick, some will come because they are eager to hear the new voices of the young composers,” says Morlot. “These audiences are always very mixed.” The symphony reports that single-ticket buyers, which include new attendees, make up about 22 percent of the Sonic Evolution audience. Approximately 29 percent of these new attendees will return for other symphony concerts.brbrBut in addition to making the symphony compelling to new (and younger) crowds, Morlot believes Sonic Evolution comes closer to symphonic concerts of yore. “It’s important to remember that the concert hall was originally a place where music making happened collaboratively, sometimes improvisationally. We’ve lost this idea over the years,” he says. “But when you come to the concert hall, you should be able to hear music written by living composers, who share the stage with all kinds of different artists.”brembrSonic Evolution. 6/6. 8 p.m. $19–$29. Benaroya Hall, 200 University St.; 206.215.4747; a href="" target="_blank"

Band of the Week: Heatwarmer

Band of the Week: Heatwarmer

Recommended if you like: Herbie Hancock, Michael McDonald, Nirvana
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With so much happening in Seattle's bustling music scene these days, how do you even know where to start? Allow the highly trained culture curators of to help with Band of the Week. This week, we catch up with indie jazz jammers Heatwarmer, an eclectic three-piece ensemble comprised of Luke Bergman (bass, vocals), Aaron Otheim (keys, vocals) and Evan Woodle (drums, vocals), inexhaustible players who also rotate through many other Seattle rock, indie, blues and jazz outfits, from Thousands and Lonesome Shack to Chemical Clock. Heatwarmer plays Barboza this Thursday (1/19); here, Bergman tells us what else is new.  

In three sentences, tell us the story of your band: Luke recorded a handful of songs and put them up on his Myspace page called, “Heatwarmer.” Luke and Aaron met in college and began collaborating and Heatwarmer the real band started. Luke and Aaron became big fans of Evan from his work in local band Chemical Clock and other bands, and when Heatwarmer’s original drummer left, they asked Evan to join and he said “yes.”

What have you been working on these days? We have been fine tuning a collection of new songs and are now only one iota away from finishing an album of said songs which we are very excited about! For this set of stuff we pulled a lot of inspiration from things like commercial music from the '70s (there’s so much good stuff on YouTube) as well as Steven Spielberg-style movie soundtrack stuff. You might hear some Michael McDonald or Herbie Hancock references in there too. There’s also a couple of bratty rock songs. Hopefully there’s a little something for everybody. The theme that connects it together is just whatever feels good to play and makes us giggle which is always changing. The record also features several very excellent horn and string players that make the music sound way better than what the three of us could do alone. You can expect the album to arrive in the next year, and there will be a few little extra presents leading up until that. 

What does being an artist/musician/band in Seattle mean to you?
It means whatever kinda music you make, just call it grunge! Just kidding. We’ve all been very lucky to be able to do music for a living in one way or another. There are lots of musicians in Seattle and so there’s always stuff to go see. It’s a bummer that a lot of the cool DIY spaces have such a hard time staying open, both because it’s a labor of love for the people who run them and because it’s so expensive to rent a place. It would be nice if the people who create these cool spaces for art to happen could be helped out by the city or some rich people or something! But Seattle is great overall. There is lots of good music happening here! My new years resolution is to jam more with new people.

What BIG question should we ask, and what's the answer? Will we expland the band with a big horn section this year? Yes!

What’s next? January 19th at Barboza with two of our favorite local bands, Invisible Hand and Just Chatting. We will be playing some of our new songs!