Introduction

Justin Ralls

Justin Ralls in H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest

The wildlands are like a magic well; the more that is drawn from them in knowledge, the more there will be to draw.
-E.O. Wilson

I believe in realizing E.O. Wilson’s statement, exploring the wellspring of sound, music, and metaphor found in natural environments. As a composer who grew up in the Pacific Northwest, the forest is very much home. Connecting to the spirit of place and forging cultural relationships with the natural world is at the forefront of my creative thought and inspiration. When we are in nature we infuse ourselves with the creative energies of life. Many composers have empowered this energy within their work, Beethoven, Sibelius, Takemitsu, Lou Harrison, Alan Hovhaness, and many others; all held the natural world as an integral part of their creative journey. Takemitsu even said, “Music should have a profound relationship with nature.” Being part of the Long Term Ecological Reflections (LTER) is deeply humbling and an honor. The more we infuse the creative energy and experience of nature into our own imagination and music, the more vibrant and nourishing our cultural relationship with the earth will be.

In the forest nothing is truly separate. Nutrients are stored in trees for a while and then slowly disperse to other organisms. In the old growth forest we find a metaphor for our own relationships; art itself is a receptacle of experiences and relations passed down over generations. The composer creates a mythical sonic landscape. Composers inspired by each other interact in communal creativity. The indigenous peoples of the Northwest sacrificed a tree, and carved into that tree animals stacked on top of one another; a clear metaphor for the ecological relationships inherent in the culture of the forest. Art and nature combine to tell a communal story. The tree gladly changes form to totem pole, such a tree is an honorable ambassador between human culture and the natural world. Could music also be an ambassador between worlds?

Justin Ralls

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Justin Rall’s Music from the Andrews

Music in this album may not be copied or otherwise used without express written consent of the artist.

Geophony University of Oregon Percussion Ensemble, Justin Ralls conductor. Soundscapes recorded in the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest.

Additional Music By Justin Ralls

Music in this album may not be copied or otherwise used without express written consent of the artist.

Anthrophony Third Angle Ensemble, Justin Ralls conductor. Soundscapes recorded by Justin Ralls in Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge

Afield

by Justin Ralls | Third Angle Ensemble. Soundscapes recorded by Justin Ralls in Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge

About the Artist

Justin Ralls

Photo: Danitas Papas

Justin Ralls, composer, conductor, and writer, hailing from the Pacific Northwest, is inspired by the beauty of the natural world and the primal forms of creativity.

Ralls graduated Cum Laude from The Boston Conservatory with a Bachelors Degree in Composition and a Masters in Music from the San Francisco Conservatory. His composition teachers include Dalit Warshaw, Andy Vores, Jan Swafford, Dan Becker, David Conte, David Schiff and Robert Kyr. Ralls has conducted his works at the Hydansaal in Eisenstadt, Austria, the Lucca International Youth Orchestra Festival in Albano Terme, Italy, Oregon Bach Festival, Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival, the Newman Scoring Stage in Los Angeles, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in Portland, as well as other venues in Salzburg, Rome, Portland, Fairbanks, Boston, San Francisco and beyond. His symphonic works have been described the Oregonian as “reminiscent of old Hollywood film scores” and reviewed in Oregon Arts Watch as “a composer of high ambition and promise.” SF Examiner remarked of Ralls’ recent orchestral work, Tree Ride, as “a whirlwind of thick orchestral textures…definitely establishing his own voice…his preference for textural transition over thematic development given an effectively powerful account.” John Adams spoke of Tree Ride as “impressive…showing a mastery of orchestral technique,” also stating “your analogy to natural forces was done very well, your thunderstorm basically better than the Pastoral.”

Ralls’ works have been performed by a variety of soloists and ensembles including Third Angle Ensemble, Fear No Music, Jarring Sounds, International Orange Chorale, Opera Theater Oregon, San Francisco Conservatory Orchestra, Esteli Gomez, and more. As a composer he explores an aesthetic plurality and eclecticism encompassing many styles including natural soundscapes, improvisation, electronics, vocal, chamber, film, jazz, folk and orchestral forces.

In the summer of 2011 he produced, with his friend baritone Nicholas Meyer and pianist and conductor Robert Ainsley, a concert anthology of American Art Song, premiering an extended song setting of Walt Whitman’s Ashes of Soldiers; commemorating the sesquicentennial of the American Civil War, a subject the composer feels a deep sensitivity and passion. Ralls was the regional winner of Third Angle Ensemble’s inaugural 2012 New Ideas in Music Competition, conducting his winning work, Anthrophony, on two of the groups New Ideas in Music Concerts. In July, 2012 he participated in the inaugural Composing in the Wilderness workshop in Denali National Park, composing a piece while in the Denali wilderness for the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival. He currently composes and performs with his ensemble, CPOP (Contemporary Portland Orchestra Project), which he founded in the belief that artistic relevance and sustainability must entail a stringent commitment to regional contemporary music. Ralls collaborated with Opera Theater Oregon on the 48-hour Opera/Film Project Cerebral Vortex, composing a seven-minute opera all night in the basement of Portland’s historic Mission Theater. In 2013 Ralls was featured on the Oregon Bach Festival Living Music Concerts, his solo flute piece, Nightpsalm, performed by renowned flutist Molly Barth. Ralls will be featured again at the Oregon Bach Festival in 2014 with the premiere of his string quartet Tree-Wavings by Fear No Music. Recent commissions include scores for Filmusik productions of Gamera vs. Zigra (1971) performed for over a thousand people in Portland’s Sewallcrest Park and Turkish Rambo (Vahsi Kan, 1983), which was featured on six performances conducted at Portland’s historic Hollywood Theater.

He steadfastly believes in the transformative and communal power of music to bring ideas and communities together, whether human communities or between humans and the natural world. Tree Ride, a piece for large orchestra inspired by conservationist John Muir, recently won the James Highsmith Composition Award, receiving its premiere by the San Francisco Conservatory Orchestra in the Fall of 2013. Tree Ride recently received Special Distinction in the 2014 ASCAP Rudolf Nissim Prize and will be featured on the finale orchestra concert of the 2014 Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival in Fairbanks, Alaska conducted by  Robert Franz. Recent projects include an outdoor chamber opera, Two Yosemites, setting the 1903 meeting of John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt and a 12 minute work for organ, Infinite City, commissioned by the American Guild of Organists, which will be premiered at the First Church of Oakland. Ralls was recently awarded Artist-in-Residence of the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest, where he will be composing, writing, and exploring in Spring, 2015. Ralls enjoys the outdoors, rock climbing, backpacking, and reading the works of John Muir and Joseph Campbell.

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Find out more about Justin Ralls work: justinralls.com
Header image: Justin Ralls in H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest, Photo: [Image Credit].