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West Coast

from Thursday, January24th of the year2008.

I always forget about the pace of life on the West Coast. It really does feel like your whole life is being slowed down by an invisible conductor. It’s not a bad thing, necessarily, but it’s noticeable. I am sitting right now in a coffee shop in the Queen Anne district of Seattle that is entirely covered in overexcited spanish exhortations: ¡Besame Mucho! ¡Bienvenidos Amigos!

¡My God! ¡I am so excited about my coffee and internet connection!

23047562.jpgAnyway, I am here having a piece played by the Seattle Chamber Players, who are so nice and appear to be playing my piece really, really well. As part of this festival, though, there is a full-day of forty-five minute seminars with each of the composers (there are, like, nine of us) starting at 10 AM and going until 8 PM, when the concert starts. My question is, ¿What people in Seattle are going to commit to spending 12 hours in a concert hall hearing about New Music? If anybody comes for the whole time, you should call me and I will buy you a roast chicken.

I am especially excited to finally meet Kyle Gann. In a lot of ways, he bears the trace of every delicious and satisfying development in music since the 1960’s. He is a scholar of so-called “Downtown Music” and a wonderful advocate for forgotten music of the 1970’s and 80’s, especially Julius Eastman, who is one of my favorites. He is also something like an Internet Crazy Person, with all of the borderline narcissism attendant thereunto. But what I am particularly obsessed with about him is the relationship between his music, his website, and his blog; it’s a very interesting triangulation that rewards close and extended reading. My homegirl Danný writes very well about the Gann Phenomenon, although I would encourage him to write a “First Timer’s Guide” to the Gankypedia (?) or whatever.

Alex Ross is also up in the piece. Read this interview in the Estranger.

If you’re ever in Seattle, “El Diablo Coffee Co” is not a bad place to spend a morning getting caught up on your emails, and their Café Con Leche is ¡really good!


  • Nico,

    It’s not everyday Gann, Ross and 9 of some the finest new composers are in the same place at once! So just to let you know, I like my roast chicken free-range, with a bit of rosemary….

  • I am coming as soon as I get out of school at 12:00 and am definitely staying for the whole thing. I’ve been looking forward to this concert for months.

    Nico comments: Thanks!

  • Yay! Thanks for the link.

    So yeah, as you know, I tend to value Gann much more highly as an explicator of new-music techniques than as an actual composer (or music historian), but I’m really fond of the two pieces he’s put up on his blog lately! (One brand new, one much older.)

    1) Sunken City. The notion of a New York classical composer writing a jazzy Katrina memorial set off all kinds of warning bells for me, but this piece actually works! It helps that this performance is seriously gutsy, but he does all these things I love: (a) asymmetrical two-movement form, (b) pairing piano and winds.

    2) The Convent at Tepoztlán. Meanwhile I offered NO resistance to his hommage à Nancarrow. If you want me to like a piece, just say the word “Nancarrow” before you play it and I’ll melt. I wish that this recording of this piece were half as solid as the other, but it’s pretty obvious why it isn’t and so we can all forgive him, and anyway I really like the effects he achieves here. (I think he called these effects “Nancarrow moments” in another post, but I’m too lazy to find it. And then I think Nancarrow told him something like, “Yeah, it needs more of those,” which is a great punchline.)

    Enjoy the West Coast! Lord I miss it. Hope you’re not bankrupted by all these chicken dinners.

  • You should see how slow the pace is down here. Their coffee, while good, doesn’t even have caffeine in it. That’s what’s taking me so damn long.

  • I won’t hold you to your promise of chicken, and consider your session with Judd payment enough. (Incidentally, the two of you should consider having a weekly talk show of some sort.) Anyway, thanks for all the great music and insight, and many thanks for being so supportive and enthusiastic during the other composers sessions. It’s a shame we didn’t get to talk, maybe next time.


  • we need a new NBC 10 theme song. can you help?

  • Great article in the New Yorker. I came to it as a Glass fan and when I spotted Will Serber, thought I would write. When I was Upper School Head at Collegiate, where Will taught Physics, I used to sit with his father, Robert, years before that, waiting for little Will to leave school. I used to talk to him about what it was like to sit in the bomb bay of the Enola Gay astraddle the bomb to arm it just before the drop on Hiroshima and then, much later, what it was like being the first American into the city to examine the effects and how friendly and polite the residents were. These were surreal conversations, but he was so quiet and mellow. Itzhak Perlman would come by too to pick up Noah and sometimes we would talk music and mathematics. I was much taken by your observation about negotiating a relationship with the divine, which is, of course, the deepest design of all forms of language, including music. Thanks for your work. I will watch your career with great interest.

    Richard Geldard

  • Hi Nico – I had the pleasure of attending all the festival events beginning with Mason Bates’s presentation all the way through to the Feldman concert at Seattle Art Museum. In fact that first day began for me around 4 AM driving to Seattle from Eastern Washington over mountain passes and in between heavy snow storms which eventually led to my home region being declared a disaster area. It was a pilgrimage in many ways to hear and explore contemporary music of our times. There were so many enjoyable highlights which included your conversation with Judd, and hearing your compositions performed. Don’t worry about the fried chicken, I was well nourished by so much fine music and creative energy. George