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Picking the Greens

from Saturday, February9th of the year2008.

Sam Amidon’s album All Is Well got a great review on Pitchfork! I’m really happy for him; this album is a real triumph and was one of the most exciting things I have worked on in a long time. amidoncover.png It also represents an extension of the principles behind Bedroom Community, which is to say, it is a collaborative effort between Sam, Valgeir, and me, which took place over several months in different countries. One of my favorite things to work on was the track Little Satchel, mainly because I stole part of my arrangement from John McGuire’s 48 Variations for Two Pianos, and another part from the countermelody in Sweet Caroline…a little of everything! I am particularly pleased with these arrangements because Sam allowed me to have a real interaction with the music; oftentimes people are so anxious when working with an arranger and end up trying to control the relationship and it ends up feeling very much For Hire. In this particular case, I felt like Sam invited me over to help him cook, in a sense, and as such, my own techniques and proclivities were in his service but not his control. Enjoy it, and please buy it the minute you have the opportunity.

[audio:07 Little Satchel.mp3]
Sam Amidon Little Satchel

And here is the original on which I based some of the patterns in my arrangement:

[audio:01 Variation 01.mp3]
McGuire Variation No. 1 from 48 Variations for Two Pianos

In other news, I have finally perfected a method of red-cooking pork belly, which is particularly exciting because I have a source for Obscenely Cheap pork belly here in chinatown. Also, gōngxǐ fācái, everybody. My neighborhood turns into a completely different place during the New Year celebrations; the day before yesterday, the drums and cymbals dragon.pngwere so loud from the street, six floors below, that I just gave up on writing in my apartment. The cats were completely terrified. I ran out to buy some vegetables and while I was in the supermarket, a lion totally came UPP INTO the market and venerated the squid area. Evidently, it’s a whole thing:

During the Chinese New Year, lion dancers from martial art school will visit the store front of businesses to “choi chang” (採青 lit. picking the greens). The business would tie a red envelope filled with money to a head of lettuce and hang it high above the front door. The lion will approach the lettuce like a curious cat, consume the lettuce and spit out the leaves but not the money. The lion dance is supposed to bring good luck and fortune to the business and the dancers receive the money as reward. The tradition becomes a mutual transaction. Wikipedia

lion_dance_costume.jpgThe lion dance is kind of great, actually, because the musicians (playing drums and hand-cymbals) have to follow the actions of the lion. There is a whole matrix of different gestures and they each have special music that goes with them, check out this page with General MIDI (my favorite) recordings. I’d sort of love to write modular music like that, to be performed in a neighborhood. Maybe I should devise some kind of weird slow-motion Robert-Wilson style thing to happen on the Upper East Side around Holy Week, where it’s like the stations of the cross parade around town and go up into Eli’s and Saint AmbrÅ“us accompanied by nine violists and a giant drum. Also:

The lion will then pick up the green in his mouth and “chew” it. The person manipulating the head first removes the “lay see” and places it inside his shirt, so as not to drop it, which would mean bad luck. Then he will tear the lettuce apart and throw it out first to the left, then to the right and then to the middle to help spread prosperity in all directions. The music will then change to “high dance” and the head will be raised and moved as if the lion is happy to have consumed his prize. source

In other 恭喜发财 news, I want all my percussionist friends to learn how to do this lion dance drumming. The essential rhythmic cells for the drums are well demonstrated here, even though this is slightly faster than what was going on on Division”“Street:

I am off tomorrow to Iceland to do a little conducting. Hit me on the +354!


  • From what I can tell the piece is attributed to a “John” McGuire (for anyone looking to obtain it), but nonetheless fascinating and frustratingly not available on iTunes! Thanks for the tantalizing exposure to it, though 🙂

    Nico responds: Thanks, Patrick, for your correction; I just was going through an email from somebody called George McGuire and it slipped out! The post has been edited.

  • those mcguire variations are so pretty!

  • Those Variations are hardly available anywhere, but they’re available really cheap. No supply, no demand, apparently—insane.

    Anyways, try Amazon (dot com) or Berkshire Record Outlet (also dot com) if you want a CD at better-than-iTunes prices. Maybe if we all start demanding this record there’ll be a run on them and they’ll start printing copies again and it’ll show up on iTunes and John McGuire will be inspired to write the sequel, which will be called Another 48 Variations.

  • nico! i’m so happy to see how some obscure recommendation i gave you ages ago is part of your palette now.

    that CD was on a label called largo which seems to be defunct now, which is a shame since they released a lot of good stuff at cheap prices. as for mcguire, he lives in nyc, i think he was even attached to columbia once, but when i talked to him (like 8 yrs ago) it seemed like he hadn’t really been pursuing any composition stuff for a long time.

    you could always try this guy.

    恭喜发财 to you too! i’ve been in beijing since september, so the other day there were fireworks in every square cun of sky. chinese is harrrrd. but now i have pritty handwriting.

  • never having tasted pork
    it would seem a mystery
    yet, your music strikes me
    {thank you, new yorker}

  • Nico! I have an excellent transcription of some lion dance drumming that Ian did last year. We both played with the lion dance when the DSO did a Chinese New Year special last year. One of their drummers was an Elvis impersonator!

  • In regard to ‘picking the greens’, this may be the perfect convergence of food and music:

  • Nico,

    I was wondering if you knew the work of the Mexican composer Javier Alvarez? He lived in London, where he taught at the Royal College of Music for many years and now lives in Medellin, Mexico. His most widely performed piece is for maracas and electronic tape, though that goes back to the 90s (it’s on his first cd, Papolotl). He and I were roomates in Milwaukee back in the 1980s, which is a long time ago, and I’ve lost his trace in the past year. Actually, one of the reasons I’m writing is to ask if you or anyone reading this might have contact information for him.

    thanks very much,

    Kent Johnson

  • -==-=–hello
    lynn showed me the newyorker article today at the library. congratulations. i met you a few times playing soccer, as a young VerMonster.
    ::SO:: did you have a sampler between your legs in your vid? the one with the piano riff bangers
    well–=-==i never knew about the russian doll theremin before. the newest dr.sample 555 has a fucking built in theremin too !
    i wish you clarity and strength

  • Would be nice if your website contained examples of your music. Unless I am missing something here. I was curious after reading the New Yorker article. The only way I found to listen was to buy a song through ITunes. Not cool in my humble opinion.

    Nico responds: Hi Mark

    My website is practically overflowing with examples of my work. Just click on “projects” at the top, and click on a piece. If there exists a recording of it, I’ll put it up there, viz:

    here, and here

    etc. etc. etc.

    Enjoy, happy clicking!


  • Bought one from Amazon!

    It is good!