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A Cut, a Bruise

from Monday, March10th of the year2008.

One of the most interesting things about the body in transit is keeping track of scars and wounds. I remember when I was in college, I got a terrible bruise knocking into the corner of my desk in a rush to get out of the house. That night, I flew to London, and the next morning, when I got up, I was genuinely surprised to find the bruise still there; everything else about me had transformed (I was in another country, I was in a recording studio, I was running around spending these foreign coins and using a different phone). Now, I sort of treasure these “bridging” wounds. This last week, I got a deep gash in my palm from helping Shoplifter unload the giant white steed for our collaborative show together at the Kitchen, and, when I was rushing around upstairs in the dressing room, bruised my instep on a clothing rack. (The makeup team tittered behind me, “oh my god, you totally just ate shit on that clothing rack, didn’t you.” The only good thing about falling down is how much pleasure it brings other people). Waking up this morning on a flight from JFK to Amsterdam, the gash and the sore instep are keeping me grounded, organized, and connected. I wonder, for instance, if the hand-wound will fully heal by the time I get back, or if it will be in its last stages ““ a little pink around the edges? If it’s still around, it’ll be like my toothpaste and my clothes: something that comes with me, that defines my time here. PS I brought really good toothpaste and clothes this time. The last time I was up in BeNeLux I messed up and brought some random shit for people with dental pain and all the wrong clothes and ended up sweating furiously with numbed gums; isn’t that what LA is supposed to be like?

Last week was probably the busiest week I’ve had to negotiate in a long time. In addition to mounting this show at the Kitchen, I conducted three sessions for this movie Margaret I have been scoring, finished the details on these scores for this project for Teitur in Holland (which starts in, like, an hour), recorded a string quartet for a future collaboration with a choreographer in London, and finished a choral anthem for easter and a percussion quintet. Plus, it’s the week before holy week, so I’ve been preparing by listening to a lot of typically austere Lenten music; this year I vowed to listen to more music from the Spanish tradition, although I find myself gravitating, as always, towards Weelkes and Tallis. Next week I am going to be on a strict diet of the Lamentations of Jeremiah the Prophet; it is my perverted fantasy that somebody will ask me to write a setting, in Latin, with baroque ensemble + electronics, doesn’t that sound fun? Incipii-i-i-it la-a-a-a-amenta-a-a-a-a-a-ti-o-o-o-o-o-nen; I would want to make some kind of collaboration with a fontographer or stonecarver or calligrapher something for the prolonged Hebrew alphabet moments.

These shows at the Kitchen were one of the highlights of my life. A lot of different things came together at the last minute in a very satisfying fashion; the most important one was that Shoplifter and I managed to get our teams working together in wonderful synchronicity. For me, a great pleasure is to look down from the lighting booth and see Shoplifter’s sister (Systirlifter) adjusting a hair brooch on Nadia’s dress, or Edda, our Costume Mistress, getting specific with Sam Solomon’s hair. It’s people Shoppy’s known forever and people I’ve known forever, all making friends! With any luck, this spirit of community extended through the performances, erasing the obvious and baroquely dictatorial work that both Shoppy and I did to make the performance exist and to instead refocus the light on the spirit of music-making as a community of specialists and collaborators.

An image:
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I have a real fascination with the dutch letter ij, which I guess used to be ÿ in those Gondwana-Europe languages before official codification of spelling. Tijs. Krijgt. Actually, I just like that there is a Special Letter that distinguishes a small group of speakers; like the ð shared by the Icelandic and Faroese languages, ij reaches across the Belgian border and connects the man across from me in the train (wearing a very bold knit, by the way, a very bold knit scarf for a man is not something you see often on heterosexual men in New York, we are talking a sort of Mediaeval carpet pattern of flowers with gold stitching on brown) with the insane drunk kids I met last year in Brussels with the supermarket chain Meijer in Michigan.

Actually, those drunk kids were amazing. Gummi and I met them at about 4 in the morning and they were really friendly and sober-seeming; a boy and a girl, roommates, both wholesome and blond. And then after about three minutes of conversation it was revealed that they were crazy nationalist racists, saying things like, “every time you hear about a crime happening in Brussels it’s committed by an immigrant” and “Flemish-speakers are actually the only true Belgians” and so on and so forth. I wonder where those people are right now. I think I actually still have that girl’s number somewhere, which she scrawled down for me as we were politely but firmly backing away from them towards the alleyway.

I literally see a windmill right now.

It’s too bad that North American English never figured out a letter; I bet you that there could have been one phoneme taken from Native American names for things that would be best expressed by a different letter than the one we use. All over the Northeast, you come across words like Chachapacassett, or Woonasquatucket ““ surely there’s an opportunity there?

I literally see a boat in a canal right now.

Also, there must be some words in the American West that have been slowly translated and transliterated from early meso-american origins. I want a special letter. Somebody get on it! I don’t mean Deseret, either, although that is really really interesting. Brigham Young sort of had the right idea, too, in connecting language ““ both spoken and written ““ to a feeling of inclusiveness with a community of like-minded thinkers, and to establishing a degree of separation from non-adherents/believers.


  • I found your site on technorati and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you.

    Peter Quinn

  • Hey Nico

    I checked out your website after the New Yorker article. I was drawn to some of your music, and the links are wonderful (thanks for introducing me to the music of Sam Amidon!).

    I attended your performance at The Kitchen Saturday, and I was perplexed throughout. I was perhaps expecting more of the kind of music you played in the last number, and I didn’t understand the first three pieces at all. Maybe, for music idiots like me, you could explain on your site what you were intending.

    I’ll keep watching your site with interest.

    Best, Ted

  • ten ordinary mortals could not accomplish all this. how are you managing all this? will you be burned out at 29? please don’t cut your hands or bang your head at the expense of a future. i depend on you.

  • brigham young was from brattleboro vermont

    Nico responds: and don’t forget Joseph Smith was from SHARON.

  • IJ used to work at Meijer. Ugh. Living in West Michigan is pretty Dutch. No canals or windmills though. Unless you go to Holland, MI…

  • You want stonecarvers or type designers? I can get. Either John Benson, who designed typefaces for Adobe, or his son Nick, arguably the best letter carver in the world….both have carved Hebrew letters….. or Sue Cavendish in London or Stuart McGrath in Ireland. Take care of the cut, please….you know about horses, even silver ones, and tetanus.

  • YES YES YES on the Baroque Orchestra and electronics! Your music + my (favorite) instrument = [funky] bliss.

  • As for a special North American letter, there is always the ‘okina, the consonant from Hawai’i that represents a glottal stop.

  • Stravinsky’s Threni raises the bar on Jeremiah’s Lamentationen. And very high bar indeed. And he made his own elaborations on the Hebrew letters that adorn the text.

    Unfortunately, it’s rarely performed. But it’s perhaps his finest work from his final period.

    It would be devinely better just to be able to hear Igor’s Jeremiad once again. Somewhere. Anywhere.

  • Your perverted fantasies are much classier than mine. I hope someone takes you up on yours.

    Your comment about listening to the Spanish tradition led me to put on the fantastic Pickett “The Pilgrimage to Santiago,” with the amazing Catherine Bott.

    As for special letters, there is the special letter used by non-gendered people, or ambiguously gendered people, in place of the gendered pronouns.

  • Speaking as someone who lives in the land of Brigham Young (the land that time forgot!) it turns out that Deseret was completely unecessary as a unique language and culture all its own developed among the believers – definitely separating the faithful from the nots. Living in Utah, one must become ‘bi-lingual’ in order to communicate.

  • My candidates for North American special letters are the Nahuan “x” and “tl”.

  • California is filled with misspelled Spanish names. My mother goes around at night in Southern California and adds a tilde sign with a black magic marker to Spanish words that have an “n” that are missing them, such as “pinata” or “senor” or “canon.”

  • We have the ç, but it’s not that special. Many languages do, catalan for example.
    To HW the obvious choice would be Victoria, but Morales should be considered (along some Zurbarán to look at).

  • Long mental turmoil about special letters after..I remembered that in portuguese we have the ã, not a stress mark but a nasal sound hard to manage, as in São Paulo (easier if you have a flu). But the most charming (graphically) is the l.l in Catalan, in which you have to pronounce each L separately. As in the grape xarel.lo. End of my stock. Exeunt.