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.
And 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.
I 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 90Â° 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!