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.

02 Oct, 2020

New Focus releases on 2020 Grammy Ballot

Several New Focus releases are on the first round ballot for the 2020 Grammy awards. The relevant albums/tracks are all currently streamable on their New Focus album pages, please take a listen and if you are a voting member, consider voting for these albums! ACRONYM: Cantica Obsoleta on the Olde Focus imprint (Best Chamber Music Performance/Best Engineered Album) John Aylward: Angelus (Best …

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San Francisco Chronicle Datebook

The six arresting and varied pieces included on this release find composer Ted Hearne constantly torn between gentleness and aggression, between lyricism and straight-up dissonance. The struggle manifests itself in different ways, all of them beautiful and unsettling.

Hearne doesn’t make things easy, either for himself or the listener, by starting with the fierce assault of “For the Love of Charles Mingus.” Here violinist Miki-Sophia Cloud, playing simultaneously live and on tape, creates a bruising onslaught of acerbic harmonies that only later coalesce into something more inviting.

By that point, you can start to tune in to Hearne’s creative strategies, which then recur in other guises. In “Furtive Movements,” cellist Ashley Bathgate and percussionist Ron Wiltrout debate whether to launch a ferocious freak-out or settle into an ingratiating rhythmic groove before deciding that the best answer is “why not both?” The viola solo “Nobody’s” takes a riff from Stravinsky’s “L’Histoire du Soldat” and turns it into a breathless country dance, accompanied by roof-shaking foot stomps.

But the glory of this record comes at the end, with the magnificent string quartet “Exposure” performed by the Argus Quartet. The piece’s four movements are an illuminating blend of dissonant scrapes across the strings and instrumental chorales of unearthly beauty — now one, now the other, now both intertwined. There’s a moral here, but it’s not one you could put into words; you have to live it.

-Joshua Kosman, 12.4.19, San Francisco Chronicle Datebook



Of all the words that might be used to describe Hazy Heart Pump, demure isn't one of them; it would be more accurate to call it aggressive, raw, and discomfiting. Ted Hearne's subtly subversive: while he doesn't overturn classical convention, he challenges it by branding his works with an uncompromising personal signature and grounding them within contemporary social and artistic milieus. Stated otherwise, the six pieces on this recording don't exist within a vacuum; on the contrary, ideas and issues relevant to our times infuse the material, be it the music of jazz great Charles Mingus or the “Stop and Frisk” policy associated with the New York Police Department. Hazy Heart Pump doesn't rise to the anarchistic level of a Rite of Spring or Four Organs, but it's definitely provocative.

The LA-based composer's pieces are performed in various combinations by the Mivos and Argus string quartets, poet Saul Williams, violinist Miki-Sophia Cloud, violists Diana Wade and Anne Lanzilotti, cellist Ashley Bathgate, and drummer Ron Wiltrout. A diverse presentation naturally results, even if string instruments are connecting threads between the pieces. Indicative of the album's tone is the opening piece, For the Love of Charles Mingus, whose six violin parts are performed by Cloud alone. Hearne cites the bassist's seminal recording The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady as a source of inspiration, but allusion is emphasized over direct quotation, the earlier work emerging as a trace alongside layers of distortion and white noise. Following the wail of a blues-tinged theme, Cloud generates a scratchy, skin-crawling cocktail of harmonics, creaks, scrapes, and glissandi. Rhythmic elements regularly shift to destabilize the listener's grasp of regulated pulse, and the rawness of the presentation lends the material an earthiness far removed from the polite salon.

Two other pieces are as memorable, the first, The Answer to The Question That Wings Ask, a setting pairing Williams' spoken text with playing by Mivos. His obsessive questioning and self-examination about the way we live now gives the piece an urgency verging on palpable. Though his delivery is controlled, anxiety nevertheless comes through, especially when the emotional dimension's amplified by Hearne's quartet writing. In one passage, the strings sympathetically support the speaker's questioning with lush chords; in another, the cello mirrors Williams' voice with furious unison phrases. In general, the string elements mutate in accordance with the text content; after his “What if it is not enough to be sincere in your actions and deeds?” utterance, for example, the quartet responds with an outpouring as emphatic. A resolution of sorts is achieved at the end of the ten-minute performance when the work's sole directive, “Dance,” is uttered, followed by a plaintive passage by the quartet, but it hardly alleviates the unease induced by what comes before.

In another audacious move, the four-part Furtive Movements pairs cellist Bathgate with drummer Wiltrout in the least conventionally classical piece of the six. Its title derived from the aforementioned “Stop and Frisk” policy and the discord between perception and reality that can colour a police officer's assessment of a possible suspect, the piece is at times understandably abrasive and its sound world rendered unusual by having Bathgate play with a wine cork between the cello's inner strings; a xylophone cameo enhances listening engagement, as does an explorative application of cello pizzicato and scrapes. Furtive Movements is hardly inaccessible, however, as shown by the funky interplay during the third movement, and the rather Crimson-oid quality that surfaces in the fourth when Bathgate and Wiltrout seemingly channel David Cross and Bill Bruford.

As much as the opening three settings stand out, the remaining three aren't without interest. Nobody's, a four-minute piece performed by violist Wade, pays homage to Fluxus associate Henry Flynt with a twisted take on American folk music, replete with stomping and fiddling. Hearne himself contributes piano to Vessels alongside violist Lanzilotti and violinist Cloud, even if the keyboard doesn't appear until the end of the eight-minute performance; for the most part, the piece focuses on the interplay between the strings, moving as they do from fragile, high-pitched harmonics to agitated outbursts and back again. Bold incursions into microtonality are flirted with, the gesture in part resulting from the deliberate detuning of the viola's lowest string and the deployment of an octave pedal. The album concludes with its longest work, Exposure, whose four string quartet movements total twenty minutes. A meditation on memory, Hearne instates the theme by having snippets of an earlier setting emerge but in interrupted and shrouded form, thereby referencing the way life events are reconfigured in later rememberings. A theme initially stated with clarity grows cloudier through the addition of creaking sounds, while the third movement incorporates music by David Lang, one of Hearne's teachers, as if to accentuate the impact of external interference all the more pointedly.

It makes sense that the character of the album's six pieces would reflect an abundance of influences and approaches, given Hearne's interest in distilling contemporary Western experience into musical form; he's not, in other words, the kind of composer dedicated to writing music of a purely formal kind free of any programmatic dimension. And that album title? It derives from a string playing technique heard in For the Love of Charles Mingus and the concluding movement of Exposure. That faint bowed string gesture was conjured by Cloud and Hearne to convey the impression of a soulful, distant pulse, the violinist the one credited with coining it a “hazy heart pump.”

-Ron Schepper, 12.23.19, textura



Composer/performers don't come much more polyglot than Hearne, who is equally at home deconstructing Madonna songs or composing a choral dissection of the Citizens United ruling. But I think his personality (personalities?) as an artist have never been as searingly committed to a single album as they are here. You can almost visualize the funnel going into his brain, with Charles Mingus pushing past poetry (Saul Williams and Dorothy Lasky) and jockeying for space with David Lang and, say, Bela Bartok, where it's transmuted into his own particular art. The wonder of this album is in the full package, too, thanks to the liner notes from Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti, which not only describe their friendship but also superbly explicate the background to each piece. Lanzilotti is present as a performer as well, adding her viola to Hearne's piano and the violin of Miki-Sophia Cloud for Vessels (2008), which employs alternate tunings and muted strings to arrive at a chopped and screwed vision of Neue Weiner Schule serialism. At least that's what happens in my head - your results may vary.

The album kicks off with For The Love Of Charles Mingus (2016), which finds Cloud layering six violin parts for an oblique response to the universe of the great jazz bassist. Williams joins forces with the Mivos Quartet for The Answer To The Question That Wings Ask (2016), a series of questions ("What time is it? Who set the clock? Who coded/decoded time? Are there different ways of keeping it?) with the Mivos either following or competing with the poet's intense recitation. The four jagged and funky parts of Furtive Movements (2015) will have you questioning why more works aren't written for cello and percussion - then again, not everyone has Ashley Bathgate and Ron Wiltrout at their disposal to make those dreams a reality. Nobody's (2009) is wisely at the center of the album, a short bit of shattered Appalachia for solo viola (Diana Wade - and her stomping feet) that leads perfectly into Vessels. The album closes with the Argus Quartet's reading of Exposure (String Quartet No. 1) (2017) and you would be correct in thinking that the subtitle indicates a confrontation with the storied tradition of string quartets. Hearne's pen is more than up to it, too, resulting in a piece that should be played far and wide in halls big and small. Trust me, Hearne's latest will have your heart pumping in ways that are not at all hazy.

-Jeremy Shatan, 11.30.19, AnEarful


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



Ted Hearne’s music resists classification. Often political in topic, it is variously experimental and accessible, drawing on a dizzying array of contemporary styles. On this album, Hazy Heart Pump, he brings together the Mivos and Argus Quartets, as well as a slate of guest artists to present anthology of chamber works of the last decade or so. Opening the program, For the Love of Charles Mingus is scored for six violins, all recorded by Miki-Sophia Cloud. The piece is held together by complex rhythmic interplay that gradually reveals itself, cacophony giving way to symphony; Cloud’s playing is exuberant and nuanced. The Answer to the Question the Wings Ask is a collaboration with poet Saul Williams for narrator and string quartet. Williams’s text is a series of probing questions under which the quartet plays (and continually reinterprets) a cyclic chord progression that moves in and out of phase, rhythmically. Williams himself serves as the narrator on this recording, offering a subdued reading juxtaposed with the sometimes jarring, gritty strings. Cellist Ashley Bathgate and percussionist Ron Wiltrout continue the program with Furtive Movements, essentially four movements played attacca. An example of Hearne’s politically charged music, the title comes from a common phrase found in New York City Police Department reports as justification for an individual’s detention under the controversial “stop and frisk” policy. Hearne requires a number of extended techniques for the cellist, and the piece confounds the musical identities of each instrument as part of a larger philosophical statement. Whether this is effective or not, the piece remains one of the most stimulating on the entire album.

Nobody’s is perhaps the most accessible work on the program, inspired by Henry Flynt’s approach to Appalachian fiddling, bluegrass music, Minimalism, and American quilting patterns. Of all the music on this disc, it is here that Hearne’s genius truly shines. Diana Wade’s interpretation is astonishing in its virtuosity and versatility. A trio for violin, viola, and piano, Vessels is dreamlike, fragmented and episodic, but also somehow coherent, musically. Hearne’s first string quartet, Exposure, closes the program; it is a substantial work, almost 20 minutes long. The first movement juxtaposes two disparate styles; the third movement superimposes these ideas on one another. The second and final movements are more lyrical. The piece is built upon fragments and their interactions, and reminds me in some ways of Elliott Carter’s string quartets. The Argus Quartet members are thoroughly committed interpreters, and they play with both precision and conviction. Hearne’s music is crafted meticulously and it is consistently thought-provoking, politically charged, and often ambiguous. This is not easy listening, but it deserves attention for its quality and its temporality, and the performances on this recording are decisive and woven tightly.

— James V. Maiello, 5.02.2020

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