Ted Hearne: Hazy Heart Pump

, composer


Composer Ted Hearne releases "Hazy Heart Pump," a portrait album of chamber works that radically combine and layer various sources of inspiration to create music that pulls both emotionally and intellectually, placing known quantities in unfamiliar settings and confronting our comforts with disquieting associations. The album features committed performances by renowned poet Saul Williams and the Mivos and Argus string quartets, as well as Miki-Sophia Cloud, Ashley Bathgate, Ron Wiltrout, Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti, Diana Wade and Hearne himself on piano.


Composer Ted Hearne is a searching artist, unafraid to scour the landscape of his own psyche and experiences. Of this latest release, he writes:

"I’m obsessed with what happens when known quantities are placed in unfamiliar settings. When our comfort is confronted with a whole new range of disquieting associations. When sounds you recognize are used in a different way, when your viewpoint changes, when the boundaries that defined your thinking are exposed. Hazy Heart Pump is music about context and origin, familiarity and displacement. It’s about the thing that made the thing that’s in front of you, the bones that you don’t see."

This album, featuring performances by a range of collaborators (renowned poet Saul Williams and the Mivos and Argus string quartets, as well as Miki-Sophia Cloud, Ashley Bathgate, Ron Wiltrout, Anne Lanzilotti, Diana Wade and Hearne himself on piano), mines the music of Charles Mingus and the American folk tradition, the poetry of Saul Williams, the NYPD’s fraught record on brutality, and his own insights into the nature of memory. Taken together, these departure points speak to each other in thought provoking ways that frame “Hazy Heart Pump” as a cohesive statement by a composer who has not given up on trying to come to terms with what it means to make art in a fractured era.

The album opens with Miki-Sophia Cloud’s multi-track recording of For the Love of Charles Mingus for six violins. Citing Mingus’ album “The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady” as a source of inspiration, Hearne builds a soundworld out of a scratchy, time-keeping ostinato, interlocking soulful melodic fragments, and a range of harmonics, glissandi, and other non-pitched techniques. He writes, "The title comes from the name of a particular string playing technique heard on the first and last tracks. It’s a faint gesture, pitches and contour barely heard over the white noise created by a bow playing on a string that’s almost fully (but not entirely) deadened. Violinist Miki-Sophia Cloud and I found this sound after months of searching for the perfect texture to communicate a soulful pulse in the distance. Miki coined it a hazy heart pump, a term which rings true for me in many contexts." Hearne shifts rhythmic figures around, toying with the listener’s perceived sense of pulse. As the work’s intensity grows, melodic fragments are layered in several high register parts. A lone violinist is the only voice left at the close of the piece, performing virtuosic music that hints at the restrained blues from earlier with a last burst of energy.

Saul Williams’ poem, “The Answer to the Question that Wings Ask” engages with existential issues about the ways we participate, interact and dream in a world with others, posing questions such as, “Is it self-actualization or self-image actualization?”, “What if nothing you are convinced of is actually the case?”, and “Is it about self-sacrifice or having to sacrifice nothing?” Hearne wrote his setting of the text with string quartet with Williams’ voice in mind, dividing the work into sections that explore different relationships between speaker and ensemble, supporting Williams’ litany with lush chords, playing in unison with the rhythm of Williams' speech, responding to the words with ecstatic, urgent responses. In response to Williams’ only directive in the poem, “Dance”, Hearne finishes the piece with a haunting passage for quartet alone.

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Furtive Movements for cello and drum set tackles the discrepancies between assumed expectations and reality. The phrase itself is taken from reports by the New York Police Department in which they cite a suspect’s “furtive movements” as their rationale for detainment under the controversial “Stop and Frisk” policy. As a musical response, Hearne establishes roles for the cellist and drummer which they alternately struggle with and flaunt. The cello is prepared with a wine cork between the inner strings, and elements of the drum part call for expressive pitch-bending. Taut rhythmic unisons between the instruments, glitchy repeated cells with quirky found sounds, eerie sustained overpressure sonorities in the cello, industrial grooves over a pedal point, and an unexpected cameo from a xylophone all paint a charged musical scene, evocative of the distrustful urban environment in which snap decisions are made that have lifetime implications.

Nobody’s, played here by violist Diana Wade, was first written for violinist Nicholas DiEugenio to premiere as part of a concert for US Army veterans at Brooke Army Medical Center. Hearne’s piece refracts American folk music, as an homage to the avant garde and quasi-minimalist musician Henry Flynt. Stomping articulates the rhythmic organization around which fiddling patterns and gestures are turned around, twisted, and stitched into this short fabric of deconstructed Americana.

The last two works on the album explore the nature of memory. Hearne writes, "What happens when you hear two familiar songs at the same time, or when something you thought was beautiful lies underneath a few layers of dirt and grime? When a rhythm is disembodied from its source? When the associative powers of reference and abstraction are pit against each other? What happens when musical blocks are arranged in a lineup — stripped of all adornments so all parts can be subject to scrutiny? Can repetition be a form of learning and unlearning?"

Vessels for piano trio opens delicately, with harmonic trills in the violin and viola, and the material accumulates and overflows into vigorous bursts of sound before retreating back into obscured sounds. The viola’s lowest string is detuned, and occasionally subjected to registral displacement through the use of an octave pedal, forcing the performer to find the notated pitches in a different place on the instrument than they are found ordinarily. The piano, silent for two-thirds of the work, enters for the final section of the piece with most of its pitches muted, while selected single notes ring out as if to peak through the fog of remembrance.

The final work on the recording, Exposure for string quartet, is also a meditation on memory, in this case, as embodied in reminiscences of an earlier Hearne setting of poetry of Dorothea Lasky. Snippets of this setting are heard throughout the piece, interrupted, shrouded, and overlaid to place the memory within the context of the complex act of remembering. In the opening movement, we first hear insistent airy, non-pitched triplets before Hearne introduces the nostalgic theme, scored in lush four voiced texture. As we hear more of the remembered melody, it is heard with foreign elements, as if the temporal distance between the present and the past is provoking momentary misfires in the synapses. The creaking sounds that open movement two, slowly opening the attic of our memories, infect the melodic fragments heard shortly after. Gradually the theme is heard in purer form, as the mind becomes temporarily free from the intervening present. Movement three juxtaposes two bits of material taken from music by David Lang, one of Hearne’s teachers. In the fourth movement, we hear the song interrupted, but now, as Hearne writes, it is “glacial, and still out of context.” Memory can give us such a powerful link to the past, but it will always be transformed. The final sounds of the recording are of a more immediate memory - the “hazy heart pump” from the opening track, quietly prodding us ever forward.

– D. Lippel


  • Producers: Nick Tipp and Ted Hearne
  • Engineers: Nick Tipp (tracks 1, 2, 7, 9, 10, 12); Ryan Streber (tracks 3-6, 8); Adam Abeshouse (track 11)
  • Editing: Mike Tierney, Nick Deyoe, Ryan Streber, Adam Abeshouse and Nick Tipp
  • Mixing: Nick Tipp
  • Liner Notes: Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti
  • Artwork: Seth Gadsden
  • Graphic Design: Traci Larson

Ted Hearne

Composer, singer, bandleader and recording artist Ted Hearne (b.1982, Chicago) draws on a wide breadth of influences to create intense, personal, and multi-dimensional works. His creative strategies are fresh and sophisticated; his messages, heartfelt and urgent.

The New York Times has praised Mr. Hearne for his "tough edge and wildness of spirit," and "topical, politically sharp-edged works." Pitchfork called Hearne's work "some of the most expressive socially engaged music in recent memory -- from any genre," and Alex Ross wrote in The New Yorker that Hearne's music "holds up as a complex mirror image of an information-saturated, mass-surveillance world, and remains staggering in its impact." Hearne's Sound From the Bench, a cantata for choir, electric guitars and drums setting texts from U.S. Supreme Court oral arguments and inspired by the idea of corporate personhood, was a finalist for the 2018 Pulitzer Prize.

Hearne most recently collaborated with poet Saul Williams and director Patricia McGregor to create Place, a fiery meditation on the topic of gentrification and displacement, through music. Hearne's oratorio The Source sets text from the Iraq and Afghanistan War Logs, along with words by Chelsea Manning (the U.S. Army private who leaked those classified documents to WikiLeaks), and was premiered to rave reviews at the 2014 BAM Next Wave Festival. The New York Times called The Source "a 21st Century masterpiece," noting that the work “offers a fresh model of how opera and musical theater can tackle contemporary issues: not with documentary realism, but with ambiguity, obliquity, and even sheer confusion.” During the 2016-17 season, the original production of The Source (directed by Daniel Fish) was presented by both the LA Opera and San Francisco Opera.

Hearne’s piece Katrina Ballads, another modern-day oratorio with a primary source libretto, was awarded the 2009 Gaudeamus Prize in composition and was named one of the best classical albums of 2010 by Time Out Chicago and The Washington Post. A recent collaboration paired him with legendary musician Erykah Badu, for whom he wrote an evening-length work combining new music with arrangements of songs from her 2008 album New Amerykah: Part One.

Law of Mosaics, Hearne’s 30-minute piece for string orchestra, has been performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony and Los Angeles Philharmonic. His album of the same name, with Andrew Norman and A Far Cry, was named one of The New Yorker’s notable albums of 2014 by Alex Ross.

A charismatic vocalist, Hearne performs with Philip White as the vocal-electronics duo R WE WHO R WE, whose debut album (New Focus Recordings, 2013) was called “eminently, if weirdly, danceable and utterly gripping.” (Time Out Chicago). R WE's sophomore release I Love You was named one of the Best Albums of 2017 by The Nation. Other recent albums of vocal music of various stripes include The Source and Outlanders (New Amsterdam Records) and The Crossing's acclaimed recording of Sound From the Bench (Cantaloupe Music).

Ted Hearne was awarded the 2014 New Voices Residency from Boosey and Hawkes, and is a member of the composition faculty at the University of Southern California.

Ted's many collaborators include poets Dorothea Lasky and Jena Osman, visual artists Sanford Biggers and Rachel Perry, directors Daniel Fish and Patricia McGregor, and filmmakers Bill Morrison and Jonathan David Kane, and his works have been conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas, John Adams and Gustavo Dudamel. He recently conducted the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, and appeared as a vocal soloist with the National Symphony Orchestra.

Recent and upcoming commissions include orchestral works for the San Francisco Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, New World Symphony, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and A Far Cry, chamber works for Eighth Blackbird, Ensemble dal Niente and Alarm Will Sound, and vocal works for The Crossing and Roomful of Teeth.


Midwest Record

The experimental composer and his co-conspirators take you to some wild places on this set of most commissioned pieces. Impressionistic in execution, this is for the contemporary classical fan that doesn’t like to define himself with easy labels. Restless music that really does fit in with restless times.

Chris Spector, 10.1.19, Midwest Record

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