Year In Hrývjú

from Thursday, December31st of the year2009.

I am, like many people, totally addicted to Anthony Bourdain’s show No Reservations. When I was 18, my friend Liz and I went together to Bangkok kind of on a whim, and we totally were relatively chilled out about eating food off the street. No Reservations has made mainstream the idea that it’s OK to eat street food wherever. I stand by this; I ate some wild things off the street in the last two weeks in Cambodia (including a really ill-advised sun-dried clam covered in chili sauce and salt…), and the only time I got tummy trouble was off a plate of bruschetta (which, it must be said, floored me: I had to cancel two appointments which is very unlike me, but really, y’all, I was beyond Immodium). But: I want to know who’s writing the music for this show. Everytime Bourdain waxes poetic, it gets very, very, Philip Glassy, to such an extent where one wonders if an intellectual property lawyer should get involved. I know it’s hard for TV and film composers: you get footage, and usually it’s been temped with one of three things: Thomas Newman, Philip Glass, or Massage Parlor Ethnic Putumayo Potpourri, and then your job as the composer is to imitate that to the best of your ability, with two weeks to do it and a bunch of angry people screaming at you talmbout is it done yet.

Dear Editors of Film. Please stop temping films with the same shit. Call me. I will send you other things. The soundtrack to Glory was great in 1988 or whenever that was but you have to quit it now. Let’s innovate, let’s branch out.

But for reals, #thatsillegal to oscillate with minor 3rds, and flesh it out with i and VI back and forth.

Another thing I love about No Reservations is that it captures, with film, some of the insane stuff that happens when you travel alone but don’t have time to photograph. A baby monkey came into my hotel room and stole a jackfruit, no picture. A huge monkey shat on a woman on Street 240 in Phnom Penh and she grabbed a piece of tissue out of her back pocket and wiped it off and continued on her way. No picture. A man in drag screamed at me from the entryway of a bar, “Durian have Pie! Durian have Pie!” presumably meaning that drinks were half-price? No photo, or video.

As I write this, I am on the last day of a five-day cruise from New Orleans to Cozumel & Progreso and back again; inasmuch as I travel so much, I’ve never really hung out with my boyfriend’s family, so this is a sort of trial-by-fire where I willingly go aboard a boat with them for the better part of a week. Has anybody ever been on a cruise before? I had not. I had heard tell throughout childhood, and certainly everybody I mentioned it to made a very specific (and sort of French?) sudden intake of air. I read that David Foster Wallace essay which is fantastic. I took a video of a thing that happened at a port of call:

Assorted business. Somebody commented on my post a few weeks ago about tipping, claiming he was a waiter I mentioned, and said I was bad at it! Oh my god oh no; that is literally my worst nightmare. Maybe it’s not true. Maybe it’s just somebody fucking with me. Oh, the stomach is in knots. I will be better in the fjútur. That literally is like, the worst thing that’s happened to me ever, if that’s true.

However, one of the most exciting things is to review fun stuff that’s happened in 2009!

[audio:Boy Lilikoi.mp3]
Jónsi Boy Lilikoi from Go

I’m so, so excited about this project. My girl Jónsi made an album and I arranged, played, twitched & spake in tongues all over it. I basically had qart blanche to do whatever, within the confines of the generally ecstatic nature of the music, as you can hear from the piccolo writing, above. It was also fun to work on an Icelandic project with my New York homegirls. Nadia, Alex, Pluckbró, etc. “” everybody’s got their moment in the sun on this disc. Plus, I played celeste like, speed-guitar style on one of the tracks.

Some highlights of 2009 for me were working on Thomas/Doveman’s new album, The Conformist. Thomas, like Jónsi, gave me a sort of free rein, although for one song he asked me to write a classic string arrangement, like a perfectly crafted cocktail:

[audio:08 Angel’s Share.mp3]
Doveman Angel’s Share from The Conformist

I think it worked out pretty well. My only regret is that Matt Berninger’s vocal was added after I did the arrangement, so I could have left him a little bit more room for that handsome baritone. I made a very…descanty flute and violin line about 3 minutes in; this is the reason why nobody should invite me to a mix of a song for which I’ve done arrangements because all I’d want to hear is that A-flat. Also, I am proud of the final cadence, which melts into place like nacho cheese.

Another fun project from this last year was with Sam Amidon, whose next album, I See the Sign, is coming out in March. He’s pre-released a snippet of it at Bandcamp; check it out! I wonder when indie people are going to get over “lowercase personal pronoun.” Maybe that can be a collective resolution for 2k10?

I wish I could post more audio of the project I did with Teitur, but the recording isn’t done yet, so, that’s going to have to wait. And I did a lot of work on Antony’s album, The Crying Light, which was hugely thrilling, and it seems like so long ago! 2k9 was endless!

I can’t get enough of Christmas music after Christmas starts, by the way. We have twelve days to enjoy it! One of my favorite genres/throughlines of Christmas music is the bitter return flight of Easter.

[audio:2-22 The Infant King.mp3]
The Infant King arr. Willcocks (?)
King’s College, Cambridge

Sing lullaby!
Lullaby baby, now reclining,
Sing lullaby!
Hush, do not wake the Infant King.
Angels are watching, stars are shining
Over the place where he is lying:
Sing lullaby!

Sing lullaby!
Lullaby baby, now asleeping,
Sing lullaby!
Hush, do not wake the Infant King.
Soon will come sorrow with the morning,
Soon will come bitter grief and weeping:
Sing lullaby!

Sing lullaby!
Lullaby baby, now adozing,
Sing lullaby!
Hush, do not wake the Infant King.
Soon comes the cross, the nails, the piercing,
Then in the grave at last reposing:
Sing lullaby!

Sing lullaby!
Lullaby is the babe awaking?
Sing lullaby!
Hush, do not stir the Infant King.
Dreaming of Easter, gladsome, morning,
Conquering death, its bondage breaking:
Sing lullaby!

Then, finally, I’m going to re-post another Christmas-With-Easter-Roundtrip carol, and a link to what I wrote about it last year, below reprinted, which I think still holds true.

Happy New Year, Gleðilegt everything, see you on the flippsæd.

This is last year’s Xmas Music Observations:
I have been listening obsessively to Benjamin Britten’s arrangement of the traditional carol “The Holly and the Ivy”. Now, this is a very well-known tune and there are a bunch of very famous arrangements of it, but for some reason this Britten really hits the spot for me. When you get a really plummy recording from England, too, they really lean in on the last word of the chorus, that being, “choir,” and somehow compress it into a one-syllable loaf. I just adore the pagan universe described in these lyrics:

The holly bears a berry
As red as any blood
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
To do poor sinners good
O the rising of the sun
And the running of the deer
The playing of the merry organ
Sweet singing of the choir

This particular recording has the MOST PINCHED AND DELIGHTFUL KUMAMOTO OYSTER of a countertenor solo in the third verse, too. Check it out.

[audio:12 arr. Britten _ The Holly and the Ivy.mp3]
The Holly and the Ivy (Traditional, arr. Britten)
King’s College Choir, Cambridge

Curiously, I can’t seem to find a source for Britten’s lyrics. The third verse (the one the kumamoto countertenor sings) seems to go on about Tree and Setting Sinners Free and such. I love these tight little protopagan rhyme schemes! Another good example of that is one of these Rhyming Numerologygasms, called “Joys Seven.”

[audio:18 Joys Seven (Arr. Cleobury).mp3]
Joys Seven (arr. Cleobury)
Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s College, Cambridge

This arrangement is perfectly English: efficient and sentimental without being too outrageous. There is, however, a completely over-the-top descant at the end that performs a little trick. The organ rises up the scale, and the trebles sing aah aah aah on the top four notes of an Ab-major scale. Then, when they repeat it immediately afterwards, the G is flatted, followed by the F, and then a G-natural: it’s very subtle, but it lines up perfectly with the text below “…to see her own son Jesus Christ to wear the crown…” “” what you expect is, of course, the crown of thorns, but the word that you get is “heav’n” (to rhyme with Seven). That little turn in the trebles is precisely the Tart Joy of Christmas: you have to make sure that you advance the clock to Good Friday, looming just a few months later. See:

There are several little galling moments, specifically in the sixth cycle, at the words:

The next good joy our Mary had,
It was the joy of six;
To see her own son Jesus Christ
Upon the Crucifix.
Upon the crucifix, good man: And blessed may he be,
Both Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
To all eternity.

Mmm. This is one of my favorite lyrics EVER, because a little digging reveals some alternate words. Check out the first verse the way it’s sung these days:

The first good joy our Mary had,
It was the joy of one:
To see the blessed Jesus Christ
When he was first her son.
When he was first her son, good man…

and now an alternate:

The first good joy our Mary had,
It was the joy of one;
To see her own Son Jesus
To suck at her breast bone;
To suck at her breast bone,
Good man, and blessed may he be…

Ooh, see, isn’t that so much better? Then, dig deeper:

þe forte joye wt out in good fay,
was upon halewÿ þursda,
he stey to hevene in ryche aray,
wt fadr and sone and holy gost.

þe fyfte joye wt outÿ dene,
in hevene he crownyd his modr clene,
þt was wol wil þe eyr a sene,
wt fadr and sone and holy gost.

Now we’re talking! Mm, crownyd his modr clene. I wonder if this is an error (Queene is prolly what is meant, here) or if really we’re talking about “clene” in its Middle English use as a noun, meaning, “(a) Guiltless or excellent person; also, purity; (b) = clene Lenten; (c) clear path,” in which case, she, as a Pure Virgin or whatever, can properly join the “sene,” (here, from the root that brings us Synod – sort of a holy gathering) of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Inneresting.

from Tuesday, December22nd of the year2009.

My wonderful guide to the temples of Angkor, “Yokohama,” a nickname whose origins he explained to me but which I can’t repeat here for fear of missing one of the many insane and Khmer Rouge-related details, was quite mistress of taking me to places at times when the giant tour buses of Koreans and Japanese would be gone.

Is it retro to say Japanese? Should I say Japanese People? When was it decided that Chinaman was no longer permitted? My grandmother, when she found out where I was staying in Paris and I asked her about food, she said: Je connais un chinois which I would have to translate as “I know a Chinaman…” and in fact, Philip Glass, who is about the most politically correct & Buddhist and Compassionate person I know, used the word “chinaman” in my presence. Can somebody fill me in on contemporary politically correct demonyms?

However, the street systems of Siem Reap almost guaranteed that most temple entrances would be working streets for commuters and schoolchildren. Yokohama would occasionally say to me, wait, wait before you take a picture until this car passes, or this bike passes, as if to preserve the 11th century nature of the place. But I always defied him: there is something so exquisite about antiquity coëxisting with modern life: for me, the cars driving around the Coliseum are as interesting as the Coliseum itself. The palimpsestic nature of ancient cities is thrilling to me; but even “palimpsestic” implies that the contemporary world is actively inscribing itself on the old; this isn’t always the case.


An example: in Rome, my walk to school took me directly along a Roman wall; sometimes, at 7:30 in the morning, there would be tourists taking pictures of it, with tour guides excitedly explaining Pope Urban VIII systems and tongue-and-groove construction (of course, in typical Italian fashion, there is no way to even find a picture of Le mura gianicolensi, whatever, someday they’ll get the google truck); my friends and I were walking by, terrified about the presentation we’d have to give in forty-five minutes about linguistic unification after Garibaldi. On the walk home, I’d skirt the other side of the Roman (ancient) wall, and stop by the Roman (modern) stationery store to buy a pad of graph paper to do my geometry homework in. I wasn’t thinking about the wall and its importance as an example of Roman design, but I wasn’t unaware of it. Similarly, in Siem Reap, it’s great to see schoolkids in their navy skirts and shorts bicycling quickly underneath the Victory Gate to Angkor Thom: one of the Angkorian marvels, boasting four of the most delicious carved faces in the Kingdom; these kids don’t give a shit about the enigmatic smile: they’ve got a quiz on French subject-verb agreement. That’s part of the picture, for me, both of the country and the picture I take with the camera.

I like to think about my relationship to early music in the same way. Byrd and Gibbons, to me, are like the walls you walk next to, that guide the journey. The music I write is quite literally framed by their emotional agenda (Bow Thine Ear (or Civitas Sancti Tui if you’re feeling Papist, the Byrd anthem, is emotional ground-zero for me) but I don’t think about it too actively. It’s a gate through which more modern musics pass, or a wall against which you lean to tie your shoes.

[audio:03 Byrd-Muhly – Bow Thine Ear.mp3]
An arrangement I made of Bow Thine Ear for the Aurora Orchestra, Nick Collon, conductor

Tête de Whoa

from Saturday, December19th of the year2009.

Last night, I had one of the most spectacular & serendipitous food experiences of my life. It went down like this. I have been staying at an Ä€man hotel, which is essentially a temple to the most extremest of luxuries. I’d heard tell about these places for years, and so when I was planning out this trip a few months ago, started secretly saving enough for a three-day stay. Anyway, a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend emailed me saying that his friend was having a staff party and would I like to join them. Sounds fun: I have made it a habit to crash other people’s staff parties this year. (Weirdly, and slightly awkwardly, I was meant to have a meeting with the music director of the English National Opera, and he gave me a time and a place to meet him, and that time and that place turned out to be the retirement party for a Belovèd Administratrix at the Opera; so what I had thought would be a slightly informal but still business-based rendez-vous with a conductor turned into a somewhat sloppy +44 affair involving weepy toasts, chilled rosé, and a lot of in-jokes about stage managers).

Why did the Cambodians keep the Khmer script while Vietnam ended up with their wild diacritix? Why did the French do such a weird job transliterating the language? Why does everybody get up at 5:30 in the morning here? Why, in a city with a monkeys in it, do there seem to be, comparatively speaking, so few? (compare to, like, Rishikesh where it’s monkeys all the way down) After de-collectivization, who decided how much land each family could own? Why did half the people I talked to hate the Chinese so much? Why is really really expensive wine at home really really cheap here?

In any event, last night, a driver (who was later described to me as my host’s “Majordomo”) met me at the gates of the minimalist citadel, and I hopped into his car (all vehicles capable of transporting foreigners here appear to be Toyotas Camry; I have no idea how this came to pass; this is one of my many Logistical Questions about Cambodia (see sidebar)) and we drove off, over a bumpy red-dirt road (not unlike the one that leads to the insanely out-of-place Le Creuset outlet in Gomorrah, South Carolina) and pulled up at what I immediately recognized to be a Gay Household! Yay! Great lighting and beautiful tile. (What’s the line from The Opposite of Seggis: “Gay houses usually sell real quickly…because of the recessed lighting and the good faucets. ….”) “” in any case, it turned out to be the farewell party for a young, smartly dressed graphic designer (who starts a new job in Phnom Penh on 1 Janaury), and he had requested that his friends all pitch in and organize a veal roast!

Veal Roast - 01

Veal roast! Y’all! This is everything I ever wanted. A very slight, incredibly soft-spoken man explained to me that he had beheaded the calf that morning, and that they had been roasting it over coals all afternoon. He and his colleagues then gutted the creature, and filled its insides with a chaotic jungle of lemongrass and holy basil, and impaled it on a huge bamboo pole. These are graphic designers, all of them, FYI. A piece of fresh bamboo (or was it a perversely large leek?) served as a basting brush for a marinade of fish sauce, garlic, ginger, and chili:

Veal Roast - 05

The skin, somehow, achieved suckling pig crispiness, but the flesh was a combination of perfectly rare & pink, and at other times, gelatinously fatty, wobbly and condensed-milk off-white. Just underneath the carcass, resting on a plinth of bricks and coals was a giant cauldron filled with drippings, the head, the hooves, and other baseball-sized chunks. A man wearing a New York Knicks hat was skimming the pot every few minutes, getting up only to refill his plastic cup of Angkor beer from the keg. To the side of the roasting area (which was essentially two piles of bricks outlining a heap of coals) was a table of plastic colanders and trays filled with thinly sliced onions, green tomatoes, and then a pile of cut-up assorted lettuces, basils and mints and what was described to me as cumfrey (although I’m not sure of this translation; all of this was happening in very manic French by those who spoke it; I was the only non-Khmer person in attendance, and while everybody was really eager to converse, an enormous amount got lost in translation and the general drunken atmosphere).

Condiments 1Condiments 2

So, it was a giant, communal affair, very politely conducted, until such a time as the head of the calf was removed from the cauldron:

Head Comes Out

At that moment, everybody gathered close and started making what I can only describe the Anticipatory Clucking of Sucking Meat off of something’s Face. A Khmer-language Akon cover came on the hifi and a man in a striped polo shirt got out a huge cleaver and started hacking the head into small bits: the eye socket, the cheeks, la nuque, which translates to the “nape” but I think of it more as the place where the hoses connected to u in the Matrix, or something, and, a first for me, the soft palate (?) above the jaw but underneath the brain. Another man took the trimmings, organized them, and cut them with a smaller cleaver into bits, and the rest of us hungrily grabbed the bite-sized pieces, and dipped them immediately into a dish of prahoc and, then some soy and chili, black pepper, and Ravenous Handstossed them right into the mouth, exhaling like Darth Vader to cool off the steaming meat. The ears came off; they were sliced diagonally into crispy parentheses with a layer of fat making a halo upp-around. The tongue was quickly skinned with a paring knife, and cut into candy-corn sized chunks, and picked up with a lettuce leaf, dipped in the fish sauce, chili, pepper, into the mouth. A metal soup spoon helped scoop out the off-puttingly grey eyeballs; I tried to grab one but an elderly woman beat me to it and I nearly got my hand cut off by a cleaver swipe aimed at a stray piece of jawbone. Then, with a giant, quite disturbing crack, the brains were revealed:

These had been boiled inside the head, in a stock made from the feet of the same animal. By this point, my Khmer hosts seemed suitably impressed with my enthusiasm about this food (which was beyond delicious; it was the intersection of the Communal and the Offal and the Akon that is, essentially, the guiding force behind my entire life) and the butcher casually elbowed some grandmother aside so that I could have first dibs on a lobe of the brain. On his advice, I held a piece of lettuce in my hand, and with chopsticks, placed the brains on the lettuce. Then, I threw a leaf of basil on it and a leaf of torn mint, let it sit for two seconds to allow them to wilt, and then folded the parcel into a loose triangle, dipped it in fish sauce, popped it into the mouth. It was fantastic:

Veal Brains

I was so absorbed in this process that I didn’t notice a woman behind me furiously chiffonading more herbs, throwing them in a waiting coral reef of soup bowls, and ladling the veal stock into the bowls along with a sprinkle of chili. Broth! The whole thing felt hysterical and babylonian and, for me, made the whole trip worthwhile. I went back and sat in my plunge pool and looked at Orion’s belt and was Most Satisfied.

(That having been said, I think it’s the combination of rural backyard pig roast and staying at this absurdly fabulous hotel that does it for me; I’ve learned about myself the various forms of roughing it that I still enjoy, and also the various forms of luxury that sooth and oppress “” being waited on oppresses; luxury for me is being left alone in a space where one can Help Oneself, as in the Honesty Bar at Hazlitt’s Hotel in London “” I never quite know how to behave at, say, a Mandarin Oriental or even a Raffle where it’s inappropriately obsequious Vixens d’Asie hiding around every corner asking if you want another Þingapore Þling or some kind of paraffin wax treatment applied to your person; this Ä€man business hit the note just right, where the result of service (stuff getting done) was completely shielded from the rituals & social mechanics of same (asking if you need anything, the constant بخشش (baksheesh) performance) “” the trade-off, of course, is that you pay handsomely, but one hopes (and takes especial care inasmuch as one can) that the employees are compensated equally handsomely, although I wish there were a way to make sure that’s how the money is working “” I’d like to think that opulent, Maharajah-style hotels & restaurants are hideously greedy & medieval about their employees and that minimalist, subtly lemongrass-scented places are effortlessly fair-minded and that each cleaning woman receives, you know, a Le Corbusier-designed concrete box filled with Remuneration.)

Just writing this blog post has made me ravenously hungry, but I am unfortunately in the departures lounge at Siem Reap Airport, domestic terminal, which only has Western food, whose interpretation here is one lonesome looking tunafish ciabatta on a plate in a fridge wrapped in plastic; the “local” food options appear to be only an Oodle of Noodle-like styrofoam goblet. I’m going to wait for Phnom Penh and some kind of Airport Fritter. [Important update: since writing that last sentence, I have arrived in Phnom Penh and have eaten a streetside shrimp fritter.]

Last night I made the mistake of having Asian Dessert; readers of this blog know that I will put most things in my mouth, but Asian Desserts from India up to China and over to Japan all freak me out in a major way; I half-drunkenly tweeted (@nicomuhly; follow me!) that they all seem to be composed of the holy troika of design elements: Squid, Semen, & Jell-o Jigglers and, really, I stand by it. Sometimes there will be a notable exception like gulab-jamun which is merely suspended in semen and can be quite delicious, but really, at the end of the day, come on:

Squid Semen Jiggler2

Unexpected Sarcophagus

from Thursday, December17th of the year2009.

It feels absurd to try to write anything coherent about what I’ve been up to in Cambodia these last few weeks, and I’m not sure if it makes more sense to divide it up by little thoughts or grander gestures or what. So, instead, it’s going to be a series of freeform observations.

My basic itinerary was to spend a few days in Phnom Penh writing, then go to the north, to Battambang, to teach at Phare, and then back to Phnom Penh, and then to Siem Reap for an actual vacation (which, in my universe, means only writing music for three hours a day rather than six), and then back to Phnom Penh, and then “home,” which is a loose appelation for a procedure that takes the better part of 36 hours.

Knowing in advance that Battambang would be sort of Humble Digs, I planned a Fabulous stay in Phnom Penh at the Raffles (which is attractive to me not only because of its colonial history but also HandsomeLigature because they have a Handsome “FFL” ligature in their logo) and then a Ridiculous, Absurd, Next-Level Fabulous Stay in Siem Reap, because it seemed like the thing to do.

I am relatively cavalier about eating street food because I get Tummy Trouble if I go to London, all it takes is one fucked up dairy smudge to end it all, and here, it’s all hot wok and lime and salted fish and what can go wrong?

I ate a chicken buttflap from a guy in the market. This was the part of the chicken that you peel out of the bottom of the still-warm cast-iron pan when everybody else is admiring the view out of the windows and you are ostensibly tidying up the kitchen, preparing one dishwasher load before you repair to the kluh. ChickenbuttIt’s a secret, private, chicken bit, here formalized, dunked in a peppery sauce, and served with some kind of palm wine that made me fully high for three hours. I was so out of it, in fact, that I fell asleep in a hammock during an after-dinner drink with some French NGOers (NGEauxers?); as their parting gift to me they partially covered my body with a length of terrycloth. The uncovered bits are now covered with mosquito bites.

I had an amazing linguistic experience speaking French with the kids in Battambang. Their French is a combination of vestigial, appendix-like colonial French (costume de bain) and sassy argot taken from karaoke and T-shirt slogans. My french is a combination of grandma french (costume de bain) and academic, conservatoire solfège & déchiffrage French; all of us were struggling. But I

Things I have eaten in Phnom Penh:
A bowl of noodles off of the street; shredded chicken (?), rice noodles, hot peppers, fish sauce, lime, pressed fish ball, lettuce, fried Noodles with beef and basil, A wonderful curry, unclear contents, undercooked rice, Another street soup, this time with pork, some kind of yellow noodles.

finally, after many years, felt myself settle into a certain fluency with it, emboldened by the fact that I could let a vowel go flaccid without the kids looking at me sideways. Dealing with Parisian ballet people in French is like playing with a kitten: it’s all great and fluffy until you do one weird thing and all of a sudden the claws are out, ripping the angora and drawing blood.

I loved hanging out with NGO people: they have such a cool, inflected English. I had dinner with a bunch of French people and an Italian; English was the language of conversation but it was so peppered with phrases in six or seven different languages (one of the French girls and the Italian man had both spent years in Thailand; Thai injokes skittered across the table) that the whole thing had this delirious channel-surfing feel. Two phrases about Khmer youth violence led to a conversation in Half-Spanish about somebody’s landlady in Tijuana; the Southern French accent of the administrator of the French school in Phnom Penh led to me and the Italian guy mocking Neopolitan accents; the Khmer-speaking French duo talked about the Battambang accent. Very bouncy, decadent language. I et that shit up, too, and envied the wild variety of the Italian man’s fluencies: two years each in Romania, Thailand, Cambodia, Mexico, LA, and Egypt gave him a fierce, streetwise fluency in the languages as well as between them.

Organizing my photos is hard because some of them are very plainly “Things I Saw in Singapore One Afternoon” and others are very plainly me taking pictures of lesbians’ haircuts at the transfers desk at Heathrow. Can’t there be a slightly embarrassing “quick snaps” department, and then a more formal “pictures I’ll send my mom?” I have an entire series entitled “Blond Guys in their 20’s in Airports” that needs to be cross-referenced. I think I need to hire some kind of former Assistant wit Annie Leibowitz or something to come sort through this shit.

iPhoto now has this insane face recognition software, which is kind of amazing “” it does a very good job with anybody white. All my black friends it immediately thinks are either each other or, literally, faces on the wall of the Underground Railroad museum in Cincinnati. I am not kidding you. I took a picture of Thomas (who is white) in front of this mural depicting a line of about a hundred freed slaves, and now iPhoto is all, “oh, is THIS your homegirl? is THAT your homegirl?” In other news, it thinks I look like my boyfriend #thatsracist #thatshomophobic.

One of the interesting things about this kind of mixed-purpose travel (as in, half decadent vacationey thing, some volunteer teaching) is the relationship of One to One’s Hosts. In Battambang, my host was a handsome, central-casting French dancer (as in, pouty lips, six foot two, graceful hands) who moved to Cambodia two years ago to administrate this wonderful performing arts organization. An observation. Sometimes it’s nice to navigate cultural differences all by oneself. I loved how the first time I went to Iceland, nobody coached me on the various degrees of mandatory nudity required to perform the pool ritual. As much as I wished for a native informant, I figured it out. I loved how the first time I went to school in Italy, I basically was cast into my first day without preamble; my mother walked me there, we met the teacher, and off I went. I like the strange new rituals of a new place: figuring out where to boil the water for the toothpaste, knowing to get an Oysterâ„¢ card in advance of rush hour, etc. That shit is hard, but it pays off in the end. Now. One thing I wish I had a little more coaching about is vis. Crazy Toilet Situations in Cambodia. I can deal with a simple squat toilet, I’ve dealt with the lota/lotah pot situation in India. (An aside: get into Lotah Stories, link here, it’s insanely fascinating, and I realize that I don’t keep medicine in my bathroom for a similar reason, anyway, moving on ) Even my school in Italy had squatty places! French toilets sometimes have the Hoses of Mysterie. But beloveds. The toilets in rural Cambodia confused your girl. Basically, you walk in, and there’s a giant concrete sarcophagus filled with water, with a pail floating in it, with a handle on the pail. And then there’s a hole in the ground, some distance from the sarcophagus. So the idea I guess is that you (not to put too fine a point on it) poo in the hole, and then use the pail to wash not only the hole, but also your Own Self. Or perhaps you were meant to have brought Turlet Peipur? None of this was made even remotely clear to me. Also the size of the sarcophagus was confusing because it implied a Great Volume of potential users? So I arrived in the room, with the sarcophagus and the hole and the bucket, and being an neurotic, my head started doing the wolf, sheep, and cabbage game tripletime. Help us navigate this. It’s not that I’m too proud to poo in a hole, but I’d love to know the Proper Way to Do It before y’all start banging on the door talmbout **loudly shouted khmer invective**.

More to come, including pictures, tomorrow. I have been on an extreme Angkor Temple Binge; I think a blog is not really the place to post iPhone pictures of antiquity but it might happen.


from Wednesday, December9th of the year2009.

I’m writing this from a hotel in Phnom Penh; I’m taking a few weeks here alone in order to recharge after six weeks of touring, and six months of basically exclusively collaborative projects. In the spirit of speedy recharge blogpost (with the promise of more detailed observations to come):

1. Everybody download Jónsi’s first single from Go, his upcoming solo project, on which I was a hardcore collaborator arranger conductor. It’s a lot of piccolo.

2. I love that even in the Far East I can’t escape reading about, and being obsessed with, Alice Tully Hall.

3. I spent an afternoon in Singapore last week and am obsessed with Hawker Centers! It’s like food courts from heaven. I ate chicken rice, which is poached chicken, chicken-scented rice, and assorted hots-sauces.


4. In Providence, where I went to high school, it was a lot of Cambodian and Hmong immigrants. I’m freaking out here because the flavor of the fermented fish paste is something you can’t get in New York (or maybe you can but it’s not the same as Vietnamese fish sauce) and it’s everywhere and delicious.

5. Somebody needs to overhaul Khmer transliteration. It’s not tonal, like Vietnamese, but just in the ten minute cab ride from the airport I realized that final consonants are total fabrications (French ones?) even on the word Khmer “” listen to just this basic dialogue and you’ll see that words end with Vowelled Glissandi rather than consonants, anyway, I’m going to get 2 tha bottom of it.

Dutch is

from Saturday, November28th of the year2009.

Dutch is one of those languages I wish I had a quicker time with. I’ve mastered ordering coffee and sparkling water without people switching to English, so, that’s good. There’s something slightly disturbing about the visual scan of the language (I don’t even know what the term is for that: you know when you see a page, or a sign, written in a language and you have an immediate impression of the content of the text? This works also in your native language: look at a page from, like, Dickens, and you can sort of get the Shudder of the Text, or whatever, anyway, what I mean is that some languages, like French, always seem to bear a melismatic philosophy behind the page; German, an authority, Amharic, a crooked delight…) … with Dutch what I get is a sort of childlike pornography: hoog, sneeuwt, poesje, standplaats. 190px-Signboard-slijterijBut I’m obsessed with it: there’s nothing better than having an old school diagraph still kicking around like an appendix. Nobody knows how to talk about it, either; just as a sort of social experiment, I asked the concertmistress of this project (who has one of these fuckers in her name, Lidewij) if it was one letter or two and she couldn’t really answer. It’s fascinating. Also, look: the bougie place in Eindhoven (see my previous post about this) with the design budget can’t figure out how to kern it:


I’ve been frantically tweeting (@nicomuhly, by the way) about Zwarte Piet, which is a blackfaced Dutch Christmas Elf. I had literally never heard of this before, so maybe I’m stupid, but then again, one never expects Blackface at 11 in the morning. Check out the Wikipedia on it here; as best I can tell, the figure started as, like, Generic Spanish, but then eventually got Sambo’d Up over the course of the late 1800’s, and it wasn’t until 20 years ago that people tried to fix it up, which resulted in multi-colored Piets, like, a blue one, and that didn’t take because that’s stupid, and now it’s kind of cute again to have blackfaced children running through the streets. I will say that they were shouting Generic Dutch Christmas Greetings and kept it pretty PG; this is all neither here nor there.

Teitur and I have relocated to Amsterdam; it’s nice to get into the big city for a minute. Yesterday morning I had a fantastic experience with a cantankerous Italian man who runs a very aggressive coffee shop near the ballet.

Here is the Holland Baroque Society & Teitur rehearsing:


Here is me conducting; this is the last song, which is built on an irregularly-shaped ground bass, called “Time to Dry:



from Wednesday, November25th of the year2009.

For the past week, I’ve been staying in Eindhoven, in the Southeast of the Netherlands, rehearsing with Teitur and the Holland Baroque Society. Teitur and I have co-written fourteen songs, loosely arranged around videos people have put up of themselves online. Usually, the videos are, either inadvertently or intentionally, confessions of some sort: one man loves the smell of his printer in the morning; another woman loves her cat more than her cat loves her. The songs are beautiful and the ensemble sounds great; our first show is tonight and I’m really, really looking forward to it.

Teitur and I have developed something of a routine here “” we’re staying in a hotel next to the old Philips Light Tower, and, in said Light Tower, somebody has put a bougie bistro/café called Usine. We’ve eaten, I think, every single meal there (with the exception of the duck I ate in a design store yesterday afternoon). Now. We are obsessed with this place. We sing songs in its honor (to the tune of “Jolene”) and look forward to taking meals in it. However. This place has some comedy bad service. It’s one of those situations where the waiters and waitresses sort of glide around aimlessly, deliberately avoiding eye contact. The other night, we arrived at 9 PM, ravenous for food and drink; in the twelve (!) minutes between when we were seated and when a waitress brought us a menu, don’t they think we would have ordered a drink each, and some wasabi nuts? Don’t they want our euros? I sort of want to write them a fan letter with a long PS, but is that inappropriate? This morning, at breakfast, I watched three people walk out because it took too long for them to get asked if they wanted coffee (is there something else that people want in the morning? In America, if you sit down at any restaurant before noon, they are right there with the coffee and juice offers.)

Last night, we went to a concert of Concerto Copenhagen and the Lets Radiokoor performing Pärt’s Magnificat Antiphons, a Bach Suite, and the Bach Magnificat. I would say that of Bach’s works, the orchestral suites are among my Least Favorite and the Magnificat is among my Most Favorite. The Pärt was beautiful, and dangerously dry in the space, but really wonderful to hear live. The Bach Suites were whatever; am I crazy in never having been very moved by these pieces? But! The director? Of the Concerto Copenhagen? Had some of the most severe moves I have EVER seen. He was conducting from the harpsichord but he looked like this here:

meets this here:

HOWEVER. Despite all the theatrics, I have never, ever heard a more precise and excited “Omnes Generationes,” and the fugal stuff at the end was so good. The soloists were interesting: random nordic maidens with too much vibrato for me, then a countertenor (Iestyn Davies) with just the right amount of vibrato, an anonymous tenor, and a skinny South African bass with a lot of heft behind the voice. Listen to how beautiful this trio is:

[audio:Suscepit Israel.mp3]
Suscepit Israel from Bach’s Magnificat
Monteverdi Choir / Gardiner

One thing about the Bach Magnificat: there exist these four Christmas interludes in German which I just love love love. Sometimes people perform them and sometimes they don’t; I’d have thought that a wintertime performance would have included them. And it didn’t, and I was Sad. They should put it somewhere on the program so as not to Fall Short of Expectations. It’s fine, though: I went home and listened to Leontyne Price sing “Von Himmel Hoch” so fast:

Leontyne Price & the Wienna Symphêrny / Karajan

Holyshit on re-listening to this this morning I realize that this is completely outrageous. Who made this arrangement? What is that organ, @JamesMcvinnie? The first organ pedal entrance eleven seconds in is totally the Wonderful Wurlitzer, isn’t it? Is this how Bach “went” in the Past? @nadiasirota, can we talk about this vibrato? And finally: Leontyne

What is the deal with how great her hair is in this picture? How many processes did she undergo to get it that tousled? Love her. Speaking of processes: everybody needs to watch this unreal video. I imagine you wearing some wonderful neutral.

Cardamom Podd

from Sunday, November15th of the year2009.

I am in the SAS lounge in the airport in Copenhagen at 6:00 in the morning; there is a fireplace here, and the two shakers next to the self-service espresso machine dispense cinnamon or powdered cardamom. What’s up, Scando spice trade? I just had one of the best meals of my life at Mielcke & Hurtigkarl; T”” is friends with the chef, so it was a procession of amazing food and drink. It included a larded piece of venison, which is a technique I haven’t seen on a menu in a long while, and a perversely large oyster poached in cream. There was some molecular trickery but not much; one of the desserts was so overwhelmingly tasty (in the technical sense; the thing was working the middle and hitting the bottom) that our dinner companion wept, verily, up in the restaurant.

In other news, I got sent a video that literally Astonished me:

It’s a bunch of things that are amazing about this. The first thing that occurred to me is that these girls are dancing without music, so, presumably in silence. That is a much, much stranger image: these girls putting on these outfits, and scampering to the graveyard all quiet-like. I’d love to have access so some of that footage and re-score it. The second thing is that only about three thousand people have viewed this video. The third thing is that there is a strange period of the video towards the end where the girls are no longer booty shaking on “people’s graves” (as the video’s title so poetically puts it) but are just making it clap against a brick wall, which seems pretty out of context.

Remember this whole scandal? Click the link and go deep: there is an amazing PDF in there. For some reason booty shaking on people’s graves seems less disrespectful than posthumously baptizing Shoah victims by proxy. I wonder if you can get these girls as a gift certificate.

Not a City in China

from Friday, November13th of the year2009.

This is a brief comment. I have been reading with great relish and fascination the comments thread at Waiter Rant (particularly this one, about tipping and revenge on bad customers). Waiter Rant was a blog that then got turned into a book (is there a word for this yet?) and then will presumably be made into a movie with a soundtrack with a lot of sharped fourth degrees, you all know what I’m talking about. The skyline of New York, badly spaced string chord and a triangle? Anyway. Tipping is such a fun and weird neurosis. These comments have opened up a whole world of questions for me, though, and I’ll organize it based on example.

Eating Late, Paying More. Musicians tend to not want to eat before a show; we like to eat and drink afterwards. In New York, it’s pretty easy to find places that are open at 11 in the evening still serving. Not so much in Europe. Anyway, in New York, the usual situation is that about twelve people will turn up, all with varying degrees of hunger, but a similar desire for alcohol. It is almost guaranteed that we will not sit in the same seats the entire evening; we need to gossip! So, are we a nightmare table? Is there any way to make ourselves less annoying? Whenever we go to the Landmarc, on 59th street, which is the best for this kind of post-concert thing, I usually try to take the waitress aside and just explain what the deal is and then tip outrageously. Is that enough? Can we do anything else?

Eating Alone. I eat alone probably three times a week. I love, love, love, eating alone. I’ve found that New York and Paris are places that are feeling you doing this; London and L.A., not so much. Actually, in L.A. I see a lot of people eating alone with an empty seat next to them filled with piles of scripts and documents blaring “MARIGOLD DRAFT” so maybe they’re just waiting for somebody to come and buy their facacta idea. Anyway, if you’re eating alone, is it weird to tip a lot? Does it seem like you’re trying to negotiate a sex transaction? The only other moments where you, as an individual, hand another individual a $20 bill is, like, tipping a masseuse or hairdresser, which is some kind of sex transaction (their hands r on your person). There is a handsome dude who works at Lupa, by my studio, and I always feel uncomfortable with the whole situation because he’s great but I don’t want to make it seem like I expect anything aside from pasta.

When One Person In Ur Party is Stupid and Annoying but the Rest of U R Not. I have a really huge anxiety about this. Here’s the tableau: the waiter in a busy restaurant has taken the eight orders for your table. It’s crowded and insane. He arrives with three plates on one arm, and starts saying, “swordfish, swordfish.” And nobody fesses up, even though we all know whose ass ordered the swordfish. It’s always that one person, isn’t it? So then there’s a power vacuum and a million people start shouting “swordfish” and pointing around the room. That moment freaks me out so much.

I sort of feel like any group of people larger than seven will have this person in it, even if it’s your best friend; it’s one of those weird social phenomenons where people assume these stock roles against their own wills and better judgment. I’ve observed the same thing in the context of orchestra musicians. In my experience, 99.9% of orchestra musicians are the definition of professionals: they turn up on time, their instruments are tuned, the pages are in order, the machinery of their sections is locked into gear. But there’s always one, isn’t there? It’s a lone clarinet, a nineteenth violin, a rogue piccolo: this person will find themselves PoÆ’Æ’eÆ’Æ’’t by the Spirit of Difficultie and will be a minute late, moistening a reed or rosining a bow after downbeat, and will start packing up a minute early, and in between, will not be, shall we say, MiÆ’treÆ’Æ’ of her InÆ’trumental Domaine. It’s those people in the orchestra that I always want to win over: those are the people who make me double, triple, quadruple proof-read parts to make sure there’s nothing stupid in it, make sure the page turns are sensible, make sure there aren’t any prolonged moments in the score where a specific musician feels useless, or like a robot. It’s a bargain between composers and musicians; get your shit in gear and it’ll be easier for them, too, even if you’ve written a bunch of craziness. As diners, is there anything we can do to fulfill our part of the bargain?

A Specific Guilt

from Sunday, November8th of the year2009.

IË€’ve been in a lot of hotels in the last couple of weeks “” basically one per day, with an occasional two-night stay. With the exception of this one ridiculously expensive one in Los Angeles, a lot of hotels seem to have the same bizarre design problem that I’m interested in exploring. It has to do with the shower. First of all, I am not a big enthusiast of the Euro Nozzle of Despair. Without fail, the mechanism by which you’re meant to affix the nozzle of despair to the wall @ ur desired height is droopy, and requires constant maintenance while performing your toilet. Sometimes the height bracket is fixed, which then makes you ask: why have the movable nozzle in the first place? Why not just a nice showerhead? But then, the biggest mystery to me is the glass partitions between the shower and the bathroom. They are inevitably way too short, and you end up getting water all over the floor. At least for me, I start having this insane guilt about making the housekeeping staff have to clean up what ends up as a sort of bog. With any piece of three-dimensional design, shouldn’t there be a Master Choeography for it? Even if you do, for instance, use a bidet to wash your feet in, it’s still nice to know that there is a Regular Way that it’s designed to be used, and has been used for thousands (?) of years. Even if you don’t obey it, it’s nice to know that there is a way to do something that somebody has thought out. Zug, Weg, u know? It’s entirely possible that I’m just culturally insensitive and that kids in Europe grow up knowing how to face down the Nozzle of Despair and the Insufficient Glass Partition without getting water all over the floor but I’d love some kind of notated choreography so I can live my life without anxiety.

The shower is, in a sense, one of the most intense and personal rituals and performing it while traveling can get very emotional. I used to have (or, I suppose still have, but have it Under Control) a serious compulsive anxiety problem that would require me to break down simple actions into all their parts. Turning on the shower was a large folder of actions inside which were other folders such as how to carry the shampoo into the shower, at what point to open the cap to the shampoo, where to put the cap (put it in the soap dish, upside-down, and then replace it at the end of the shampooing time? put it on the floor?) “” it used to be that before I showered, I had to plan the whole thing out like a military operation. In my house in New York and in, like, houses run by straight women and gay men I can generally perform this ritual without much variation. But forget about hotels and bachelor pads. I wonder if Choreographic Therapy can become a thing for Obsessive Compulsives. I’m going to call Benjamin about this. Wouldn’t that be divine? To have, like, Mark Morris come over your house and tell you how to elegantly lock your doors and ensure that the oven and the hair iron are off?

I am on the Bedroom Community Whale-Watching Tour 2009 and it’s great. The routing is a little goofy, but it’s been okay. We are, for the most part, traveling on a nightliner sleeper bus, which is a first for me. It’s a long bus with four banks of three bunks stacked on top of one another. The traveling crew is Ben Frost, Valgeir Sigurðsson, Sam Amidon, me, our tour managers / faggis-totum Paul, Stuart, and Pierre-Alain, our front-of-house man Dan, and then a pile of musicians: Nadia Sirota, Una Sveinbjarnardóttir, Helgi Hrafn Jónsson. And then two German bus drivers (they have a confusing ritual of who drives and sleeps when that I have pointedly excused myself from trying to understand). One of the drivers has leather pants and a comedy mustache and the other has neither leather pants nor comedy anything. Three of these people are Australian, which is a little bit like having three beagles: their yowling increases exponentially.

This whole S. Esa-Pekka Merkersdóttir Cancer subplot on Law and Order is so surreal: her son, who presumably goes to the University of Vermont, gets her medical marijuana from the 802? And Ernie Hudson, her man, makes her salmon with string beans and beetroot and she can’t keep it down? So real. If poopy iTunes hadn’t disabled screen captures I’d show you the salmon. Somebody just said, “ball cancer.” I love this show.

We’ve been enormously lucky with food on this tour. Aside from the generally chilled out backstage necessities (bananas, peanuts, wine), we’ve all been scattering into the cities in search of the Perfect Nibblet. I sort of hate a tapa in New York; there’s something very doomed & Junior Year Abroad about most of the places that serve them except for the Boqueria chainlet, which can get a little douchey (diù-xí) albeit delicious. Last night, in Seville, after the show, we ate at what purports to be the oldest restaurant in Spain or something, and it was so delicious. Pork cheeks, perfect ham and cheese, anchovies on green tomato slices. I had a revelatory experience two nights ago (a beautiful thing: the husband of a good friend from childhood recommended this place in Madrid) involving a Single Egg on top of a purée (?) of eggplant and sausage. I’m not sure if “purée” is the word for what happens when you apply pressure to an eggplant but you know what I mean. Other revelations have happened involving Octopus and Quail Eggs. (Genius aside language moment: there was an Icelander with us last night who lives in Spain, and his rendering of “quail egg” from the Spanish on the menu into Icelandic ended up being “Arctic Grouse Egg” which is funny considering that it was 70° outside.

Speaking of random Icelandic people, we started our tour in Elx, in Spain. For some bizarre reason, there is a community of Icelandic and English and Danish vacation time-shares in Alicante, just south of Elx. Now. I have never really been to a place where there are a lot of time-shares but I understand this to be a whole thing. What I didn’t realize is the grotesque, cancerous nature of this thing. We are discussing a vacation that starts at Luton Airport, which is something like a bus station, taking a low-cost airline (more on this in a sec), involves arriving in a smoky, diesely airport, hiring a car, and driving forty minutes to a fake-stuccoed condominium on the Spanish coast with zero possibility of there being any Spanish people within forty miles of the place, with the possible exception of the three leathery whores practicing the oldest profession by the roundabout near the Chinese buffet. Why people would subject themselves to this is beyond me, but there is a direct flight from Reykjavík which means that enough Ices are into it to make it happen. My flight from London was my first time in years on a low cost airline, and I had forgotten the madness of that process. Girls are feeling a legging and an Ugg boot, I can tell you that much. The in-flight magazine contained literally dozens of ads for lawyers who can help you get out of your time-share, with the vaguely racist insinuation that all Spanish landlords are crooks. Some ads, including one that we are going to talk about in a second, seem to be aimed at people interested in increasing the value of their vacation homes. This advertisement blew my mind. It’s two pages, and I read it so many times. My eye was initially drawn to it because one of the pull quotes reads, “Folding Sliding Doors for the Creation of Wider Openings!” with that capitalization. I read on:”¨

From restricted doorways to large openings. A folding sliding door can be installed in situations that many people feel are not possible. The solutions to your application are endless. The folding sliding door provides you with so much flexibility and choice. Your wish is our command.

Why block half of your available opening Why not take full advantage of the space you have?

Open your horizons and bring the outside in. Imagine having all your friends at your home for that barbeque party on a summers evening. Everyone is squeezing in and out of that sliding door you have. How many of them after a few drinks are going to walk straight into the glass? Ouch!!! How many trip up over the threshold? With a glass of red wine!!!!

Don’t be shut in! Don’t be closed off!

Allow the traffic to flow and keep the party flowing problem free. Give yourself that extra space that you need with a folding sliding door. Don’t separate your inside from the outside.

Folding sliding doors have been added to buildings for approximately 30 years now. Many people see them as big clumsy heavy doors that fall off their hinges, leak water and wind, are easy to break into and are mainly used as room dividers.

Gone are the days of French doors with a glass panel on either side. Gone are the days of the sliding door, which, when you think about it, is just a door with a large window at the side.

In recent years technology has changed within the folding sliding door industry […]

This goes on for literally a page and a half more. I read it over and over, thinking that maybe it was some kind of insane magic eye, where the more you read it, the deeper your understanding of the Nature of the Universe would become. Or, maybe it’s a code being sent through the personals ad, like how serial killers love in movies. Or is it a portal to another dimension!?

Observation: have you noticed that when women who drink order drinks in movies, they’re always SUPER hard-ass about it, and specific? “Dry Stoli martini, with a twist. His tab.” and then you hear their bitch-clicks as they march off to the ladies’ room to chew nails. That’s sexist. Or something. Occasionally the urge to watch a movie starring Laura Linney overcomes me. Whatever.

In other movie-watching urges, the other day, I was walking down the street in Lisbon and was struck with an insane, unspeakable urge to watch Amadeus. I found sufficiently fast internet somewhere (not easy on the Iberian peninsula) and downloaded the only thing on iTunes, which, weirdly was the director’s cut, which I had never seen. Ooh snap. It’s long, number one, and two, there are some deleted scenes that are really really intense, including one where Mozart takes on a student whose father owns a bunch of yappy dogs. I had forgotten how much I adore The Abduction from the Seraglio. That triangle! That weird Neapolitan note in that aria!

I’m a little sad about not being able to blog as much due to being on the road. Also, I’ve been tweeting furiously (@nicomuhly, holla at me) which takes some of the “need to blog” urge away. I’ll try to be better.