from Sunday, April11th of the year2010.
The Stravinsky Octet has put me very much in the mood to blog again. I haven’t done it in a while, because I’ve been in four thousand different places, and made the stupid mistake of starting a blog post on a plane, and then sort of forgot where I filed it, and lost it, and found it, and got very confused, and now I am finally, after a rather trying week in New York, in London, in a hotel run by (and seemingly for) Spanish people, attempting to organize my little black notebook of thoughts.
The first thing I want to talk about is Illness in Classical Music. People need to calm the fuck down about James Levine. You can’t open the paper without people freaking out about his health. Oh, his booty itch. His back broken. This dude in Boston is practically sending the hearse over the house right now. What’s confusing to me is why audiences would be upset by this. Let me explain: classical performance is built on the backs of sick singers, conductors, violinists. Probably half of the people we know know and adore at the podium or on the stage were, like, twenty years ago, called in super last minute to fill in for an ailing star. Audiences who are complaining about Jimmy’s coccyx need to realize that they have a unique opportunity to see a young star fill in! There is nothing with more cachet in classical music than “having been there” “” there are countless examples; there’s that time so-and-so got on the Concorde to fill in for whoever else, there’s that time the hitherto unknown Somebody-Pekka Somebodysdóttir jumped to the podium to replace Somebody Else “” to all of you Bostonites freaking out about Jimmy, send his ass a card, and then go to Symphony Hall with nothing but the highest expectations.
I had a wild experience last week; a boy from my high-school wrote to me on Facebook and said, quite politely, dear Nico, we met when you came to speak a few years ago, would you mind terribly looking at this choral music I’ve written, etc.; and of course I agreed, and had him PDF over a few scores. After I hit “send” on the response, I clicked through to his Facebook profile, and discovered that he is a rabid right-winger: pictures of him with his arm around Sean Hannity, quotes by Scalia and like, Dinesh D’Souza and shit and pictures of Reagan EVERYWHERE. Homegirl is probably not yet 17. I sort of didn’t know what to do. I tried, with the help of my man, to dig up as much sort of “evidence” of these Neo-Conservatives being horrible about gay people and the arts or whatever, and came up short. I think all the really violent culture war stuff (when it actually had to do with culture, rather than what it might be about now, which, I’m pretty sure, has more to do with geographically-based abstractions) was from my childhood, rather than this boy’s: mine was the 80’s of Piss Christ, and the 90’s of Giuliani v. the Virgin Mary covered in Elephant Dung. All that stuff has gone rather underground now; you can find plenty of coded discourse by Hannity about, you know, Radical Homosexuals in Th’Obama Administration, whoever they might be (call me!), but really nothing about the NEA or funding for the arts or whatever. I ended up writing this boy some 1,200 words about how good his choral music was (it was very good, although his Latin was rather problematic, and, as befits rabid right-wingers, it was done all in Finale, which is sort of the Christian Coalition of notation software: unbearable, mysteriously popular, most likely designed on a PC) and then another 200 words about my Deepe Offense at his profile, citing my own obvious homosexuality as a sort of reason why he might find somebody whom his idols would deem worthy enough to die for his country or to get married; surely, I argued, there were plenty of straight people who graduated from my high school who were equipped to analyze his harmonies, show him how slurs work, and correct his declensions who could then go on to kill people from a helicopter without the risk of being kicked out for Cocksucking “” it was a very awkward argument to make, and I wasn’t really sure how to approach it, or perhaps I should have left it alone? In any event, it was a fascinating moment.
For anybody interested in reading it, there is a very extensive interview with me and Jónsi in Reykjavík’s wonderful Grapevine magazine about Jónsi’s album Go, here; the link will give you a full PDF but it’s worth a read if you have a moment. A good excerpt:
J: Starting the album, I wanted to move away from Sigur roÌs, those floaty, dreamy landscapes. That made it kinda fun to work with you, because you had your midi controller and then you just played and played; “Oh, we have a flute now. What do you think about this? Eeeh, can we have a little bit more this…” [starts singing]. That’s how it worked. Super fast, super or- ganised, no bullshit and he takes it home and works on it. I didn’t think this kind of music could be that spontaneous, that’s one thing I don’t like about classical music and arrangement: it’s too thought about and too worried about.
N: This music wanted to be ecstatic; it wanted to feel like a magic thing erupting from below. So the best way to do all the arrangements was to at first shit them out and vomit them out, make it be all messy and let there be gut reactions. They’re your songs, and I kept telling you “I see brass band, a Mexican funeral,” I basically kept throwing these images out…
J: I think that’s really good, how we would visualize things. For example on Boy Lilikoi, we were talking about Saint Francis of Assisi and how he was preaching to the birds, all these images and layers and colours. I really like that, it’s a good way to describe how music should be.
N: Arranging is really about taking the other person and making them as present- able as you can. It’s as if you’re designing a dress; it’s not about making the dress look good, but the person wearing it. It’s about finding something that is fabulous, that makes you sound fabulous. It shouldn’t call attention to me ““ as an arranger, you have to erase yourself in the process. So spontaneity is the best way to accomplish this, and images are often the best way to accomplish that. Everything has to go to- gether. That was something I really liked about the Sigur roÌs arrangements, there was a formality to them. They also just serve to make your voice sound so fabulous. What I wanted to do was make it a little bit naked, to claw a little in your range.