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Unforgiving Luxury

from Thursday, May2nd of the year2013.

I just made a trip of the sort I’ve not had the luxury to make in many years: a trip to London with only a few things to do. Normally I arrive in London and have to basically stack the day with appointments and usually performances or equally taxing things in the evening. London is decidedly not a place where it’s terribly easy to do, say, six or seven things in a day as everything is wildly spread out and the whole thing ends kind of sweatily and flustered. I’m so interested in the nature of a city being perfect for certain activities: isn’t it the case that New York imposes its energy on visitors, and sort of insists on certain ways of doing things? You realize that little things — when school lets out, for instance, or, in hotter climes, the necessity for an afternoon siesta — all add up and start imposing patterns on our days. Perhaps a good use for poor Jonah Lehrer is to be air-lifted into the world’s capitals and do some research on this.

I’ve spent a little bit too much time in cabs recently, and as a result have been listening to a lot more top-40 radio than usual. As ever, it’s bubbly and inviting, like a pink champagne. The thing I’m sort of interested in with the advent of these heavily processed vocals is what’s going to become of regional accents? I’m trying to think about accent markers in vocal music from the past. Joni Mitchell could only be Canadian with them vowels, right? And there was always something specifically Raleigh about Ben Folds; you got the sense from his songs of the way he was spoken to as a child, the accents of his first romances. One gets the same sense from the siblings Wainwright with their polyglot slurs, from Antony with his stylised mid-atlantic roundness, from, indeed, most of the folk-influenced musicians I know, both Anglo-Irish and, like, Arabian. What then do we do about a singer like Adam Levine, whose voice is practically inescapable in this world in which we all live? English lyrics have a particular problem across genres, namely that the words “I” and “you” are ugly words, with a few too many possible syllables in both. There’s also, of course, the southern-but-mainly-AAVE possibilities of monosylabising I into basically ah; this strategy seems to be the chosen shortcut of singers like Justin Timberlake and really anybody who wants to have a toe in the R&B universe; I don’t necessarily think it’s a congruous look with Timberlake’s new suit and tie; accent markers and clothes should usually be coordinated, shouldn’t they? But then a friend of mine — a tall sandy blond Jewish boy from Billerica or similar, sent me a recording of his band in which he very actively uses the “ah” shortcut, so, who knows what’s going on. Can anybody in the +44 enlighten me, too, about how that works with the tiny little isoglosses there?

This last week I was in Chicago with eighth blackbird, the wonderful chamber ensemble. They’ve apparently been playing together for seventeen years and it’s always a pleasure to interfere in their patterns. We performed, among other things, David Lang’s unforgiving 2002 how to pray, Philip Glass’s equally severe 1968 (?) Two Pages, a bratty but successful and exuberant Tristan Perich three toy pianos and one-bit electronics, two of David’s songs from death speaks, and a new piece for piano four hands written by Lisa Kaplan, the pianist in the group. I haven’t played four hands piano seriously since that time in Paris in 1999 when Nora Kroll-Rosenbaum and I bashed through the Jupiter Symphony, so it was a thrill, but also, I realize how out of practice I am in playing music that isn’t by Philip Glass or my own self. I’ve become a specialized little machine, only capable of one sort of technical fluency. I have to fix this.

I’m about to head back to London for a weekend of music I’ve loosely curated at the Barbican. It’s always a little anxious-making to curate concerts: you can never please everybody, everything’s ever so slightly too long, I’m positive I’m going to fuck something up and end up at the wrong venue with the wrong music at the wrong time. But I’ve tried to invent a sort of social security blanket which is that there is going to be a team of us droning on a few of the concerts, and it’ll be casual and relaxed, and everybody will remain calm. I’m playing a bunch of Philip’s new piano études, hooray, and Richy is coming with his <3 and Breath music, and the Sixteen are singing, and if you are anywhere near the 0207 you should come say hi or come to the bar at the St John for a bracing and necessary campari. In other news, everybody should buy David Lang's new disc, on which I join Bryce, Owen, and Shara in death speaks. My opera Two Boys is 250% happening this October. Unless you already subscribe unto the Met, you can’t buy tickets until later, but here is the little page. I had my intrepid assistant upload ALL the press about it — both good and bad — from last time so everybody can prepare emotionally for it. I think having an archive of all the appalling things people say about one is a nice thing; I’ve not read any of it, good or bad, for years, but I know it’s there if I need to ever self-flagellate. Also everybody should buy The National’s new record Trouble Will Find Me, on which I have a small pile of arrangements.

okay good

okay bye


  • I’ve just come from Australia where people switch to the “ah” when referring to themselves whilst singing, and they appear at once to have been born in Appalachia, but everyone is doing this everywhere now, I think it just means “I am now singing about mahselff.”

  • What a lucky break to be in Chicago the very night of your appearance with eighth blackbird. The concert was great! Two hours was not too long for this performance. Lisa’s four-hand piano piece was a hoot!
    So good to see you again, Nico. Your appearance has changed in 12 years, but not your little boy enthusiasm. You’re like a kid bouncing around on stage.

  • Another blog. Hurray! As always, embracing your recommendations anon. thank you for your clever steering.

  • Do you know if there’s any plans to release Two Boys on CD or DVD before the run at the Met? I’d love to become as familiar with possible with it in the meantime!