Wang Lu: Urban Inventory

, composer


Composer Wang Lu brings a wide range of influences to her work, ranging from her background growing up and studying in China to the prism of contemporary instrumental techniques and new sonic possibilities. Throughout this debut portrait recording, featuring performances by Ensemble Intercontemporain, International Contemporary Ensemble, Alarm Will Sound, Third Sound Ensemble, and Ensemble Nouvel Moderne, Wang Lu's openness, curiosity, and joie de vivre is balanced with her deft craft and command over orchestration, harmonic color, and gesture.


# Audio Title/Composer(s) Performer(s) Time
Total Time 67:19

Urban Inventory

The Third Sound Ensemble, Sooyun Kim, flute, Joshua Rubin, clarinet, Karen Kim, violin, Michael Nicolas, cello, Orion Weiss, piano, Patrick Castillo, conductor
01city park
city park
The Third Sound Ensemble, Sooyun Kim, flute, Joshua Rubin, clarinet, Karen Kim, violin, Michael Nicolas, cello, Orion Weiss, piano, Patrick Castillo, conductor3:15
02once upon a time, in another lifetime, (dream of the) red detachment
once upon a time, in another lifetime, (dream of the) red detachment
The Third Sound Ensemble, Sooyun Kim, flute, Joshua Rubin, clarinet, Karen Kim, violin, Michael Nicolas, cello, Orion Weiss, piano, Patrick Castillo, conductor4:19
03gifts of gab
gifts of gab
The Third Sound Ensemble, Sooyun Kim, flute, Joshua Rubin, clarinet, Karen Kim, violin, Michael Nicolas, cello, Orion Weiss, piano, Patrick Castillo, conductor2:10
04two voices of the people
two voices of the people
The Third Sound Ensemble, Sooyun Kim, flute, Joshua Rubin, clarinet, Karen Kim, violin, Michael Nicolas, cello, Orion Weiss, piano, Patrick Castillo, conductor1:46
05tell you softly
tell you softly
The Third Sound Ensemble, Sooyun Kim, flute, Joshua Rubin, clarinet, Karen Kim, violin, Michael Nicolas, cello, Orion Weiss, piano, Patrick Castillo, conductor2:48
Holland Symfonia, Hans Leedners, conductor9:13
Alarm Will Sound, Alan Pierson, conductor7:23
Le Nouvel Ensemble Moderne, Lorraine Vaillancourt, conductor10:14
09Cloud Intimacy
Cloud Intimacy
International Contemporary Ensemble, Katie Schoepflin, clarinet, Ryan Muncy, saxophone, Kyle Armbrust, viola, Daniel Lippel, electric guitar, Jacob Greenberg, piano, Nathan Davis, percussion, Ross Karre, conductor9:55
10past beyond
past beyond
Ensemble Intercontemporain, Susanna Mälkki, conductor16:16

Composer Wang Lu’s debut full length recording opens with a sonic portrait of a late afternoon in the life of a Chinese city park, with pre-recorded sounds of conversations layered on top of ephemeral gestures in a mixed instrumentation ensemble. It is the perfect opening of a recording featuring the music by an artist whose ears and mind are always observing the interface between life and music with openness and wonder. Wang Lu is wonderfully adept at painting a scene through sound, using several small gestures that heard together add up to a unique world unto themselves. The ensemble writing that follows in the subsequent movements of Urban Inventory, performed here by the recently formed Third Sound Ensemble, is both virtuosic and also often tongue in cheek, displaying a refreshingly dry sense of humor. We hear more interspersed “found sounds” from the Chinese urban environment, creating an expressive world that is both quotidian but also indicative of endearment and a touch of nostalgia. Wailing, written for and performed by the Holland Symfonia, is a bombastic work for orchestra that is indicative of Wang Lu’s colorful approach to orchestration. She employs glissandi and pitch smears liberally, evoking the “wails” of Northern Chinese peasants mourning a funeral and celebrating a wedding (the wails are the same despite the drastic contrasts between events). This piece is characteristic of a hierarchy in Wang Lu’s music — she favors expressive gesture that communicates narrative and shape over the overt projection of calculated compositional techniques. However, Backstory, written for Alarm Will Sound, seems to subvert the tendency in her music to project narrative and “plot”, instead providing the suggestion of contrasting sections of material rubbing against each other, holding out the possibility of being fleshed out in a more substantial way in another work (perhaps one entitled “Story”?). Cross-Around, written for Nouvel Ensemble Moderne, is a musical portrait of human intersection and mystical connection. On Cloud Intimacy, Wang Lu explores the murky realm of internet dating. By quoting the “Tristan chord” from Wagner’s “Liebestod” within the piece and including the sounds of cell phone notifications and visual gestures of “swiping” left or right on someone’s profile picture, Lu pits a purist notion of romantic love against our utilitarian, sometimes impersonal contemporary online reality. The instrumental writing in this mixed ensemble sextet dips into the world of "downtown" extended techniques, with screeching saxophone passages, electric guitar whammy bar shakes, and long clarinet smears and glissandi. past beyond for Ensemble Intercontemporain opens with a technique heard in some of the other pieces on the disc reflecting Wang Lu’s interest in imbedding linguistic tendencies into instrumental writing, or as she describes, “expanding speech-like properties of rhythm and contour into more heavily massed textures.” These quasi-spoken passages are balanced with sections inspired by Tibetan and Thai ritual incantations, gongs, and cymbals. The result is a ritualistic texture that blends very human and otherworldly sounds. Wang Lu’s music is dynamic, colorful, and expressive, drawing from influences that reflect her background without being defined by them. Hers is an important compositional voice for the current generation of artists shaping the contemporary music scene, and this recording is a pivotal document of her recent work for ensembles.

  • Cover Design: Polly Apfelbaum, Dan Cole
  • Package Design & Layout: Marc Wolf
  • Recording, Editing and Mixing: Ryan Streber (Urban Inventory), Jim Moses (Cloud Intimacy), LinderVox Sound, Rob Boullion (Backstory), Martha de Francisc (Cross-Around)
  • Tracks 1-5 recorded at Oktaven Audio, Mt. Vernon, NY, 9.30.2017
  • Track 6 recorded live on 9.11.2010 at the Gaudeamus Festival, Holland
  • Track 7 recorded live on 7.27.2017 at Mizzou International Composers Conference, Columbia Missouri
  • Track 8 recorded live on 11.26.2010 at Le NEM Forum 2010, Montreal, Canada
  • Track 9 recorded at Martinos Auditorium, Granoff Center, Brown University, Providence, RI, on 2.26.2017
  • Track 10 recorded live on 10.4.2012 at Centre Pompidou, Paris, France
  • Mastering and Editing: Jim Moses
  • Executive Producer: Wang Lu
  • Assistant Producers and Advisors: Anthony Cheung, Daniel Lippel
  • All music copyright Wang Lu. All rights reserved.

Alarm Will Sound:
Erin Lesser, flute
Christina Robinson, oboe
Bill Kalinkos, clarinet 
Elisabeth Stimpert, clarinet 
Michael Harley, bassoon
Philip Browne, horn
Sam Jones, trumpet
Michael Clayville, trombone
John Orfe, piano
Chris Thompson, percussion
Matt Smallcomb, percussion
Yuki Numata Resnick, violin 
Courtney Orlando, violin 
Nadia Sirota, viola
Stefan Freund, cello
Miles Brown, bass

Jocelyne Roy, flute
Normand Forget, oboe
Mark Bradley, clarinet 
Simon Aldrich, clarinet 
Michel Bettez, bassoon
Jocelyn Veilleux, horn
Lise Bouchard, trumpet
Angelo Muñoz, trombone
Jacques Drouin, piano
Julien Grégoire, percussion
Alain Giguère, violin 
Johanne Morin, violin 
Brian Bacon, viola
Julie Trudeau, cello
Yannick Chênevert, bass

Sophie CHERRIER, flute, piccolo 
Emmanuelle OPHÈLE, flute, piccolo
Didier PATEAU, oboe
Philippe GRAUVOGEL, oboe
Alain DAMIENS, clarinet
Alain BILLARD, clarinet
Paul RIVEAUX, bassoon
Pascal GALLOIS, bassoon, contrabassoon 
Jean-Christophe VERVOITTE, horn
Jens McMANAMA, horn
Jean-Jacques GAUDON, trumpet 
Antoine CURÉ, trumpet
Benny SLUCHIN, trombone
Jérôme NAULAIS, trombone
Jérémie DUFORT, tuba
Samuel FAVRE, percussion
Vassilena SERAFIMOVA, percussion
Victor HANNA, percussion
Géraldine DUTRONCY, piano
Frédérique CAMBRELING, harp
Diégo TOSI,violin
Hae-Sun KANG, violin
Jeanne-Marie CONQUER, violin
Odile AUBOIN, viola
Grégoire SIMON, viola
Pierre STRAUCH, cello
Eric-Maria COUTURIER, cello
Nicolas CROSSE, contrabass

Wang Lu

Composer and pianist Wang Lu (born 1982, Xi’an, China) writes music that reflects a very natural identification with influences from traditional Chinese music, urban environmental sounds, linguistic intonation and contours, and freely improvised traditions, through the prism of contemporary instrumental techniques and new sonic possibilities. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Music at Brown University, after receiving her doctoral degree in composition at Columbia University and graduating from the Beijing Central Conservatory of Music. Wang Lu’s works have been performed internationally, by ensembles including the Ensemble Modern, Ensemble Intercontemporain, Alarm Will Sound, Minnesota Orchestra, American Composers Orchestra, Orchestre National de Lille, Holland Symfonia, Shanghai National Chinese Orchestra, Taipei Chinese Orchestra, Musiques Nouvelles, Le Nouvel Ensemble Moderne, International Contemporary Ensemble, Third Sound, Curious Chamber Players, Ensemble Pamplemousse, Argento, and Momenta Quartet, among others. Her most recent works have been written for the Stony Brook Contemporary Chamber Players, violinists Miranda Cuckson and Jennifer Koh, and pianist Joel Fan. Wang Lu received the Berlin Prize in Music Composition (Spring 2019 residency) and was a 2014 Guggenheim Fellow. She won the first prize at Le Nouvel Ensemble Moderne’s Young Composers Forum in 2010 and shared the Tactus International Young Composers Orchestra Forum Award in 2008. She was selected for a Tremplin commission by IRCAM/Ensemble Intercontemporain in 2010 and the International Composition Seminar with the Ensemble Modern in 2012, and has also received two ASCAP Morton Gould awards. Her music was programmed on festivals such as the 2014 New York Philharmonic Biennial, MATA Festival, Cresc. Biennale in Frankfurt, Gaudeamus Music Week, Tanglewood, Cabrillo Music Festival, Beijing Modern, Pacific and Takefu festivals in Japan, Mostly Mozart, Aspekte Festival in Salzburg, Mizzou International Composers Festival, and the Havana New Music Festival. She has also been a resident at the Civitella Ranieri Foundation. Collaborations have included an installation at Brown University’s Cohen Gallery with artist Polly Apfelbaum and an evening of poetry and music with Ocean Vuong.



The title composition with which Wang Lu's debut full length recording begins is in many respects representative of the sixty-seven-minute release. Teeming with life, the five-part evocation of an afternoon in a Chinese city park blends sounds of real-world elements, including pre-recorded conversations, with the playing of an instrumental ensemble. Much like the experience one would have in the park, the music is often turbulent, even at times chaotic and cacophonous, though an occasional moment of calm also arises to ease the impression of vertigo, and dizzying degrees of activity likewise permeate the other five settings on the composer's arresting collection. If Lu's music is anything, it's kaleidoscopic.

Though the acclaimed ensembles that appear on the release, namely Ensemble Intercontemporain, International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), Alarm Will Sound, Third Sound Ensemble, and Ensemble Nouvel Moderne, recorded their pieces in different parts of the world across a seven-year span, what unifies the material on the release is Lu's distinctive sensibility and the sonic richness of her writing. Now an Assistant Professor of Music at Brown University, she's comfortably ensconced in America. But prior to that she graduated from the Beijing Central Conservatory of Music and grew up in China, and thus her music naturally reflects the influence of both cultures. In her material, elements of traditional Chinese music and contemporary classical music entwine, resulting in music of striking harmonic design and melodic shape.

Traffic, nature, animals, and people sounds intermingle with The Third Sound Ensemble's expressions during the fifteen-minute title suite, a vivid sound portrait that dazzles the senses with its evocation of park activity. The acoustic instruments—flute, piano, clarinet, violin, and cello—weave gracefully in and around the real-world elements, making for a collage that's unpredictable, stimulating, and often disarmingly pretty. With memory-based details also working their way into the presentation, the mass grows dense when sounds from the immediate environment fuse with sounds of a propagandist dance troupe, conversations, and pop singing. If the sound field flirts with cacophony in isolated moments, the piece ultimately conveys affection and nostalgia for the world captured in the piece.

In contrast to the electro-acoustic collage style of the opening work, Wailing, performed by Holland Symfonia, hews to a more conventional symphonic line, comparatively speaking. It's as expressive and bold, however, in keeping with a piece designed to evoke the wailing that Lu overheard as a child expressed by Northern Chinese peasants in response to both betrothal and death. Orchestral colour in all its glory is called upon during the ten-minute setting, with horn blasts and glissandi effects deployed to convey the forcefulness of the remembered experience. As clearly different as it is from the opening suite in many respects, Wailing shares with it an emphasis by Lu on expressive flourish over standardized compositional form.

An orchestral jazz dimension emerges in Backstory, attributable to Lu's writing but also to the sonorities of Alarm Will Sound, the sixteen-member ensemble for which the piece was written. Passages featuring percussion, piano, woodwinds, horns, and strings fluidly overlap, the impression created of elements woozily seeping into one another. Commissioned and performed by Montreal's Le Nouvel Ensemble Moderne, Cross-Around is Lu's attempt to distill into musical form the notion of interaction in all its variegated splendour, be it human, cosmological, or otherwise, and once again instrumental forces are marshaled to convey the complexity of such experience. Here and elsewhere, Lu's combustible material seems less music and more life force, a dynamic energy field rendered into physical form using instrumental means.

More earthbound in its subject matter, Cloud Intimacy draws for inspiration from the practice of internet dating. In this realization by ICE, Lu references Wagner's Tristan und Isolde alongside ambient sounds of cell phones, cameras, and other noises, and with Dan Lippel's electric guitar, Katie Schoepflin's clarinet, and Nathan Davis's percussion prominently featured, the piece begins to sound a bit like a performance by the Bang On A Can All-Stars. The album concludes with the longest and perhaps most ambitious of its pieces, the sixteen-minute past beyond, which the Ensemble Intercontemporain brings into being with poise and sensitivity. For this composition, she drew upon ceremonial practices associated with Tibetan and Thai rituals and threaded brass sonorities, cymbals, and strings into a shape-shifting design whose scope is as deep and wide as an ocean. Scored for twenty-eight musicians, the piece is emblematic of Lu's approach in the way it integrates multiple strands into a dynamic sound field. Regardless of the differences from one piece to another, the six settings testify to the boldness of Lu's vision and serve as a collective argument on behalf of her vitality as a compositional voice.

— Ron Schepper, textura, 5.2018

The New Yorker

I’ve listened at least a dozen times to the composer Wang Lu’s new album, “Urban Inventory” (New Focus Recordings), and remain happily lost in its riotous maze of ideas and images. Every moment is vividly etched, drenched in instrumental color, steeped in influences that range from ancient Chinese folk music to the latest detonations of the European avant-garde. A starry array of ensembles, including the Ensemble Intercontemporain, Alarm Will Sound, and the International Contemporary Ensemble, bring the music to rambunctious life. The flow of events is so rapid and so variegated that nothing settles into the groove of the familiar.

Some listeners might find this aesthetic overloaded, but Wang Lu is not some facile mixmaster of a kind that was too prevalent at the end of the last century. Beneath the tumult of sounds is a more contemplative, integrative layer—one that becomes fully audible in “Past Beyond,” the piece with which the album ends. Before that comes “Cloud Intimacy,” in which she offers a richly sardonic instrumental portrait of Tinder and other dating apps—what she calls the “frantic digital reality” of “endless notification sounds” and the “theatrics of swiping.” Brooding behind the scene is the Liebestod from “Tristan und Isolde,” the ultimate music of restless, unfulfilled longing. The sense of loneliness that emerges at the end of “Cloud Intimacy” lurks behind all of Wang Lu’s meticulous frenzies: it is of a piece with the essential solitude of composing, of sitting in silence and dreaming of a music that has never been heard.

-- Alex Ross, The New Yorker, 5.17.2018

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