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Influence, Links

from Wednesday, February20th of the year2008.

Let’s start with some links about food. Articles like this always make me insane: an exploration by the Times about vegans who date meat-eaters and vice verse. Why anybody would date a vegan is completely beyond me, but, “judge not…”. Many moons ago, I had this boyfriend who was an organ meats enthusiast, like me; sharing the kidneys of a freshly-slaughtered lamb is just about the best thing you can do. Not so much, tempeh fritters.

An article about oat cakes is so filled with delicious language:

Once you could have charted your way round the country by the local fare. There were Bath chaps (breadcrumb-coated pig cheeks); Bakewell puddings; Eccles cakes; Yarmouth bloaters (smoked and salted herring); Grasmere gingerbreads; Dundee cake; Carmarthen hams; Wensleydale cheeses; Huntingdon fidget pies (apple and bacon); Tewkesbury mustards; Pershore plums; Cumberland rum nickies (sticky tarts); Hereford perry (cider); Blackpool rock; Whitstable oysters; Oxford sausages; Yorkshire curd tarts and many more. And that’s before we get started on our regional livestock, from Tamworth and Gloucester Old Spot pigs to Gloucester and Belted Galloway cattle to Romney Marsh and St Kilda sheep.

Full disclosure: I, along with a bunch of organists, have recently et Bath Chaps, at St John, in London. So good.

done.jpgAnd finally, this article about the Great Spring Roll Strike, Israel 2008! It’s craziness! I wonder what would happen if something like that happened in New York. That’s always my first question about political unrest is “is it going to mess with the spring and summer roll production.” When I lived in Paris last year, I was so nervous about a transit strike that I plotted out the six or seven traiteurs who would sell me summer rolls between my apartment and the opera house in the event that I’d have to walk the 3/4 of a mile. Shh.

whackamole.jpgI went to see the St. Louis symphony play John Adams’s new Doctor Atomic Symphony as well as the Berg Violin Concerto, Sibelius’s Tapiola, and Brahms’s Tragic Overture last week. David Robertson was in charge. Can I say something scandalous? I really didn’t like the timpani playing. Maybe there was some weird doppler effect, but from where I was sitting, girlfriend sounded at least a quarter-tone flat throughout the Brahms. But then, in the Adams, which has an amazing, athletic timpani part, the fierceness of the part was completely eclipsed by Other Dude playing, like Whack-A-Mole with the drums; there was a lot of excess energy that was going towards gestures rather than accuracy. Robertson, for his part, has a lot of excess energy and is moving all around, but, it’s all in the service of Internal Metronome rather than for showmanship. I hate to even say anything and I don’t want to use this space to be mean to anybody ““ especially not musicians, who, you know, spend their whole lives perfecting these tiny details, and especially not percussionists who are even more detail oriented and amazing ““ but the timpani situation was not, in my opinion, under control.

So, John Adams. I realized something over the last few weeks about him, which is that my relationship to his music is so intimate that I find it very difficult to actually talk about, kind of like one’s relationship with one’s parents. When I was first becoming a musician, I had an obsessive, consuming relationship with six or seven of his scores scattered around the decades: the classic Shaker Loops from 1978, Nixon in China from 1987, 1992’s Chamber Symphony, and 1985’s Harmonielehre. I got to know those scores like a language, where I would find myself extrapolating the tricks and nuances without thinking about it. Learning all this Icelandic has been a similar process, where the inflections of the language seep into your consciousness even when you’re not doing vocabulary flashcards: a little aspiration here, a little pause there. With Adams’s music, I find myself still making tiny, detailly decisions informed by the grammar of his music. It’s sort of like realizing that both you and your mother use a stainless steel milk pitcher to store a spare handful of cilantro in chilled water: it’s a detail, it’s not learned, but has somehow been transmitted.

So, it it always with an enormous amount of pleasure that I listen to new works of his ““ it’s pleasure, actually, mixed with a sort of prescience where I feel like I know where the sentences are going before they get there, or that idea that once you hear one little motif, you can predict its blossom. Again, walking into my mother’s house for the weekend and seeing a bowl of peaches and knowing that there is going to be a tart set on fire with calvados in 3 days’ time ““ it’s the same kind of weird reptile-brain reaction. When I heard Adams’s My Father Knew Charles Ives, I was almost Too Excited. Just as strobe lights can set off epileptics, the last six minutes of Harmonielehre hurt so good, you know what I mean? I feel my arms start to palsy at the first sign of the great e-minor/C-major fluctuations in the sky. I wonder if this is inter-disciplinary: do artists who are obsessed with, say, Matthew Barney find themselves almost unable to go to a show of his because it is Too Exciting? Or, with writers, if you are obsessed with Joyce Carol Oates, do you always have the same chill and heart-racey when you crack open her newest?

[My mother writes to inform me that it’s about Poire Williams on a peach tart, but never Calvados. I stand corrected.]

All of this is to try to uncover the “directness” of influence a little bit; my music has a lot of obvious surface influences that I try to call attention to (rather than to deny), but also, it has this weird subcutaneous influence that comes from a lot of places, primarily from Adams but also, strangely, from Boulez. I listen to a lot of his music with the same excitement as I do Adams’s, especially “newer” things, or recordings of things I had only ever heard live. I feel like at its most kinetic, my music shares a certain knife-technique with Boulez’s: a quick smash of the garlic before chopping it and rotating the pile 90° to get the finest mince. I’m interested to unfold more of these funny connections as I venture forth on more collaborative projects, too. Bright times!


  • if you’re back in NYC be sure to go to Resto and have the deviled egg on “pork toast” made of swine jowl.

  • I–and this is all absolutely true–was once browsing the CD area in a Borders bookstore when I turned to see a poster advertising that an album-worth of Mahavishnu Orchestra (from the original line-up) tapes had been found in some vault, and that the tapes would be furnishing an upcoming Mahavishnu Orchestra release. At the time I was really into the Mahavishnu Orchestra, and upon reading the poster, my legs involuntarily turned to jello (one might even say they palsied), I collapsed to the floor and was struck with this “auditory vision” of what the album sounded like. The vision turned out to be inaccurate, but my friends tell me that I was flopping around on the floor of this bookstore for quite a few minutes.

    And then when I bought the album I was too excited to listen to it for…a few weeks at least.

    Sorry this wasn’t an inter-disciplinary example.

  • Oh, and about that inter-special-diet dating article…it does kind of get out of hand. It’s not worth damaging a relationship over it. I generally avoid dairy products because they make me sick, and I tend to avoid meat too, for various reasons. But I’d gladly plunge my hand into the coelum of an endangered species and retrieve and enjoy eating it’s spleen if that was important to a guy. It’s just not a big deal to me. The meat-eating, that is. I imagine coelum-hand-plunging would be kind of a big deal.

    Stuff like:

    “shivering at the thought of kissing someone who has even sipped honey-sweetened tea.

    Ben Abdalla, 42, a real estate agent in Boca Raton, Fla., said he preferred to date fellow vegetarians because meat eaters smell bad and have low energy.”

    is just kind of nuts. Then again, nuts are tasty…

    Anyway, whatever.

  • Various and sundry organs are all well and good, but MARROW? That’s to DIE for

  • mirabelle or poire williams or kirsch but never calvados for a peach tart

    love you ,mom

  • I had my first John Adams experience when I was seventeen, playing Harmonielehre on third clarinet. It was the last piece on the last concert of this summer program I went to. I cried. (There’s only about three pieces that have ever had this effect on me.) It blew me away then, it still does now; I kindof have mixed feelings about his music in general. But I’ve always had a place in my heart for Meister Eckhardt and Quackie.

    The Boulez connection’s a little harder to hear–but you like the later stuff? Répons, Sur Incises and all that. A lot of his compositions from the last twenty years come off more as special effects than as music, to me. Pretty effects, you know, but.

    Also, I downloaded Speaks Volumes this week. I love Clear Music, look forward to hearing stuff from the new album.

    PS, I can’t say I share your love of organs and entrails, but I wouldn’t hold it against you. Which is not to say you have any right to speak against the Wonders of Tempeh.

  • I get that weak-in-the-knees feeling from Britten’s Dawn from the Four Sea Interludes, and Barber’s Sure on this Shining Night always turns me to a small puddle of jelly, but that may just be the sentimentalist taking over for 3 minutes.

  • I shall not comment re the Dr. Atomic piece other than to say I found it quite thrilling. Of course, my ear is not so keen as yours, so I accept your remarks about the timpani as perhaps being so…but it made my heart race nonetheless.

    Too late to get tics for The Kitchen, alas, but I have contented myself with a purchase of your new CD.

    Were my dear Armenian grandmother alive today, she would purchase a cow’s head from the market, plunge it into boiling water and prepare black butter and brains…a feast I had many times as a child. You would, of course, be invited for dinner, Nico.

    Kind regards.

  • bcz i am totally lame i hadnt heard of you till i read that article in the nyer but anyway then i came here + i see that you’ve just been to st john! so exciting. that’s my fav restaurant.

    Nico responds: yes, it’s the best thing ever. I was just shuddering at the memory of the pig’s spleen, so delicious.

  • you are an absolutely exquisite writer (all organ-consuming aside) and you give good interiew,too; laughed out loud THREE TIMES through the Newyorker piece (the Glenn Gould comment was outrageous). Love how you explain your joy at hearing new John Adams (ah, Shaker Loops!). as a dancer/choreographer, I experience that same thrill when seeing a new work by Mark Morris or Trisha Brown–it is INDEED just Too Exciting.

    thank you.

  • Calvados on a peach tart !! Be careful with what you write here, there are some french people reading this blog ! I think my heart stopped for a second or two. Calvados goes on the tarte tatin (made with apples or pears). Glad to see your mom will not let you blaspheme.

    Nico says: I know! I know! And I write this space so quickly, these things just slip out. I could have cheated, by the way, and edited it, but once I press “POST” if feel obliged to keep it the way it originally appeared!

  • Ta conscience t’honore.

  • So great to hear your thoughts on Adams! I have to say I really love El Niño. When I first heard it, I was literally stunned and couldn’t believe what I had just heard. In subsequent experiences with the piece, the awe is just that much more profound. One of my favorite moments is “Shake the Heavens”. It just makes all my hair stand on end, especially when the chorus slams into “And I will fill this house with glory and in this place I will give peace.” Oh what power and what elation! It’s just yummy!

  • I’m surprised that Nico can’t understand why anyone would want to date a vegan. Even Bill Buford, arch-carnivore that he is, acknowledges in a New Yorker piece that “no one has ever really come up with a persuasive rejoinder to the claim that a warm-blooded, pain-feeling creature’s life shouldn’t be taken for your supper.” I’m pleased to see that Nico eventually says “live and let live” regarding other people’s lifestyles, and as a vegan I take the same approach. But there are good reasons to be a vegan, and the characteristics that often motivate the choice (compassion, sensitivity, self-sacrifice) can be good reasons to date someone.