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Almost anything that I’ll ever need

from Thursday, August23rd of the year2007.

I love the feeling in New York of these last two weeks in August. I think for a lot of people (especially people in Publishing?) it’s mind-numbingly boring, but there’s something very exciting about watching the men working in the elementary school across the street from our apartment dusting off the desks, wheeling in a new water cooler, de-gooing the windows to make room for new paper cutouts.

Last year at this time I was listening incessantly to this one song by The Robot Ate Me. Now, this is a project by a boy called Ryland; I don’t fully understand the title of his project but I’m not sure you’re meant to.

[audio:2-01 On Vacation.mp3]
The Robot Ate Me On Vacation

Listen to how awesome the clarinet is during the chorus of this song, just gently shading the vocal line with a little halo. It reminds me of a child drawing an angel’s halo, where the idea that it vanishes when it’s behind the head doesn’t really enter into it. I would say that everybody should buy this particular album, entitled On Vacation, but that you should not by any means buy the album entitled Good World, which is an Offense against God & Man Also.

Sometimes I wonder with Indie Music if a lot of it isn’t about working the Uglies out of the system; there seems to be this Shadow Notion that if you have a song that is an Offense against God & Man Also that people will be forced to “deal ugly_duc.jpgwith it.” I think in the classical world, a lot of those issues got worked out between the 30’s and the 70’s: as in, sifting out the kind of thing that’s Difficultly Beautiful (Britten?), Beautifully Difficult (Boulez), Just Ugly (Stockhausen ““ I know, I know, whatever, I have never liked it), Ugly but Conceptually Beautiful (Sessions), Conceptually Ugly but Beautiful, and so on and so forth, as well as the people who have the patience for each. Obviously, it comes down to a matter of taste but I think in the universe of classical music, we have developed a set of skills to distinguish between Craft (at a fundamental level, beyond the level of personal taste) and Just Screwing Around. Check this out:

[audio:01 Djien.mp3]
The Robot Ate Me Dijen

Like, you know? The squeak in the clarinet at the end, is that on purpose? Does it matter? By what criteria can we measure the recording, the performance…once the rules are, “it’s lo-fi, it doesn’t matter how busted it is,” I feel like all bets are off. And, obviously, I love to be challenged when I listen, and I am the happiest to listen to anything that I feel like has been made in a spirit of generosity. But when I suspect that the motives are Elsewhere, it’s harder for me to hop eagerly on board.

A brief caveat about my including Britten in that list above. He is one of my all-time favorite composers because sometimes his music is so naturally appealing to me that I feel completely at one with it. Then, other times, I feel like he is telling travel stories, cooking food he learned how to make other times; usually this is more difficult to immediately engage with, and sticks in the back of your mouth for a few days like a random caraway seed before you realize how much you loved it in the first place.

I am about to celebrate what is known as my Golden Birthday. People have been going on about this for a little bit, talking about, “oh, it’s so fun! it’s the best year EVER,” so, I merrily Wikipedia’d It and discovered nothing useful in particular, except for some weird other birthday customs (as well as some randomly inconsistent and uncorrected WikiKapitalization and Punktuation):

If the knife touches the bottom or when withdrawn from the cake comes out dirty the Birthday boy or girl may have to kiss either the nearest boy or girl (Opposite sex).

Birthday cakes have been a tradition dating back as far as the Middle Ages when the English would conceal symbolic items such as gold coins, rings and thimbles inside their cakes. Each item was associated with a prediction. For example, a person finding a gold coin in a birthday cake would supposedly become wealthy where a person discovering a thimble would never marry.

princesscastle-pilato.jpgHmm, Dire Portents indeed! I don’t recall if any Mystic Tailsmans appeared inside my 25th birthday cake, but 25 was certainly a very exciting and bizarre year. I do remember us all discovering a board game in the thrift store in South Róyalton, VT, which involved one person putting on a bib and another person putting on a wick-on-a-chestplate and then the two people engage in some kind of weird frottage. I want to end on a slightly more severe note with a bit of Will’m Byrd:

[audio:03 Miserere mei.mp3]
Byrd Miserere mei, Deus
John Rutter / The Cambridge Singers

from Psalm 51

Miserere mei, Deus: secundum magnam misericordiam tuam.
Et secundum multitudinem miserationum tuarum: dele iniquitatem meam.

Have mercy upon me, O God, after thy great goodness : according to the multitude of thy mercies do away mine offences. Wash me throughly from my wickedness : and cleanse me from my sin.

Indeed! 23278789.jpgThe thing that makes this particular motet so delicious is the moment at “Et secundum multitudinem” (roughly 1:30 in). Until that point, the harmonies had been dipping around darker valleys, occasionally peeking above the tenors and basses writhing up and down scales. At that moment, we leave the mountains and hop directly into the clouds for a second ““ the upper voices join hands for this little phrase. It’s very, very satisfying. The motet then continues to tighten itself back up into steely supplications, but for me, the brief oasis of that phrase makes the piece work.


  • Maybe it’s just me, but I vastly prefer the aesthetics of the second song it seems to the first, but I do have to say that if the clarinet player just OWNED the nasty-ass B (can you really call it that?) it would have been deliciously playful. The clarinets seem to inhabit a soundspace all their own and purposefully not mixed in organically with voice + drum machine (?). It gets a kind of found/sampled feel to it, almost like how hiphop tracks will sometimes have something orchestral, kids singing or obvious anachronisms like that which don’t coexist with the modern production elements but maybe do battle with them. (or a running commentary? who knows) But I guess that’s all supposition…..P.S. What happened to the Boston concert?!

    Nico responds: The thing is, I would like the second one more if he just figured it out and, as you said, owned it. I don’t trust it is the problem; I don’t know. The first one (“On Vacation”) is so fun and up and not there to be trusted either way, it almost doesn’t matter. In any event, the Boston concert was great! I had a great time and I think everybody else did too!

  • FAG!

    jk jk

    it’s only me

    lobster roll

  • Maybe I should have been more specific 🙂 I enjoyed the entries about the Pops excursion (and the subsequent Globe blog “controversy”) and am kinda kicking myself for not getting myself over there, but I meant the concert that was listed for September w/ Valgier &co. at the MFA or Gardner or some such venue. I was really looking forward to hearing some of the chamber music live – I’d like to program some of it now that I’m going back to school and have time to actually practice 🙂

    Nico responds: Oh, that might still happen, I guess they asked us to take it down because it wasn’t confirmed, so, we did. But stay tuned!

  • …that exquisite innocence on “iniquitatem.” Byrd is so wonderfully underrated.

  • happy birthday!!! mwah!

  • Mer, Nico. We must talk more about this indie ideology business. My suspicion is that there’s a two-fold plan at work. On the one hand, you’ve got a sneaking populism that probably comes out of that post-colonial impulse that “we all tell our own stories, in whatever language have.” On the other hand, there’s the tendency in independent music to couch everything in irony, and one means of achieving irony is through the self-conscious use of limited technique, i.e. “See, I don’t really know how to play this thing, so you can’t really judge it as serious art.”

    Clearly I’m being a shade reductive, a shade dismissive, but it’s food for thought, and perhaps shall spawn a large tomato plant.