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Year In Hrývjú

from Thursday, December31st of the year2009.

I am, like many people, totally addicted to Anthony Bourdain’s show No Reservations. When I was 18, my friend Liz and I went together to Bangkok kind of on a whim, and we totally were relatively chilled out about eating food off the street. No Reservations has made mainstream the idea that it’s OK to eat street food wherever. I stand by this; I ate some wild things off the street in the last two weeks in Cambodia (including a really ill-advised sun-dried clam covered in chili sauce and salt…), and the only time I got tummy trouble was off a plate of bruschetta (which, it must be said, floored me: I had to cancel two appointments which is very unlike me, but really, y’all, I was beyond Immodium). But: I want to know who’s writing the music for this show. Everytime Bourdain waxes poetic, it gets very, very, Philip Glassy, to such an extent where one wonders if an intellectual property lawyer should get involved. I know it’s hard for TV and film composers: you get footage, and usually it’s been temped with one of three things: Thomas Newman, Philip Glass, or Massage Parlor Ethnic Putumayo Potpourri, and then your job as the composer is to imitate that to the best of your ability, with two weeks to do it and a bunch of angry people screaming at you talmbout is it done yet.

Dear Editors of Film. Please stop temping films with the same shit. Call me. I will send you other things. The soundtrack to Glory was great in 1988 or whenever that was but you have to quit it now. Let’s innovate, let’s branch out.

But for reals, #thatsillegal to oscillate with minor 3rds, and flesh it out with i and VI back and forth.

Another thing I love about No Reservations is that it captures, with film, some of the insane stuff that happens when you travel alone but don’t have time to photograph. A baby monkey came into my hotel room and stole a jackfruit, no picture. A huge monkey shat on a woman on Street 240 in Phnom Penh and she grabbed a piece of tissue out of her back pocket and wiped it off and continued on her way. No picture. A man in drag screamed at me from the entryway of a bar, “Durian have Pie! Durian have Pie!” presumably meaning that drinks were half-price? No photo, or video.

As I write this, I am on the last day of a five-day cruise from New Orleans to Cozumel & Progreso and back again; inasmuch as I travel so much, I’ve never really hung out with my boyfriend’s family, so this is a sort of trial-by-fire where I willingly go aboard a boat with them for the better part of a week. Has anybody ever been on a cruise before? I had not. I had heard tell throughout childhood, and certainly everybody I mentioned it to made a very specific (and sort of French?) sudden intake of air. I read that David Foster Wallace essay which is fantastic. I took a video of a thing that happened at a port of call:

Assorted business. Somebody commented on my post a few weeks ago about tipping, claiming he was a waiter I mentioned, and said I was bad at it! Oh my god oh no; that is literally my worst nightmare. Maybe it’s not true. Maybe it’s just somebody fucking with me. Oh, the stomach is in knots. I will be better in the fjútur. That literally is like, the worst thing that’s happened to me ever, if that’s true.

However, one of the most exciting things is to review fun stuff that’s happened in 2009!

[audio:Boy Lilikoi.mp3]
Jónsi Boy Lilikoi from Go

I’m so, so excited about this project. My girl Jónsi made an album and I arranged, played, twitched & spake in tongues all over it. I basically had qart blanche to do whatever, within the confines of the generally ecstatic nature of the music, as you can hear from the piccolo writing, above. It was also fun to work on an Icelandic project with my New York homegirls. Nadia, Alex, Pluckbró, etc. “” everybody’s got their moment in the sun on this disc. Plus, I played celeste like, speed-guitar style on one of the tracks.

Some highlights of 2009 for me were working on Thomas/Doveman’s new album, The Conformist. Thomas, like Jónsi, gave me a sort of free rein, although for one song he asked me to write a classic string arrangement, like a perfectly crafted cocktail:

[audio:08 Angel’s Share.mp3]
Doveman Angel’s Share from The Conformist

I think it worked out pretty well. My only regret is that Matt Berninger’s vocal was added after I did the arrangement, so I could have left him a little bit more room for that handsome baritone. I made a very…descanty flute and violin line about 3 minutes in; this is the reason why nobody should invite me to a mix of a song for which I’ve done arrangements because all I’d want to hear is that A-flat. Also, I am proud of the final cadence, which melts into place like nacho cheese.

Another fun project from this last year was with Sam Amidon, whose next album, I See the Sign, is coming out in March. He’s pre-released a snippet of it at Bandcamp; check it out! I wonder when indie people are going to get over “lowercase personal pronoun.” Maybe that can be a collective resolution for 2k10?

I wish I could post more audio of the project I did with Teitur, but the recording isn’t done yet, so, that’s going to have to wait. And I did a lot of work on Antony’s album, The Crying Light, which was hugely thrilling, and it seems like so long ago! 2k9 was endless!

I can’t get enough of Christmas music after Christmas starts, by the way. We have twelve days to enjoy it! One of my favorite genres/throughlines of Christmas music is the bitter return flight of Easter.

[audio:2-22 The Infant King.mp3]
The Infant King arr. Willcocks (?)
King’s College, Cambridge

Sing lullaby!
Lullaby baby, now reclining,
Sing lullaby!
Hush, do not wake the Infant King.
Angels are watching, stars are shining
Over the place where he is lying:
Sing lullaby!

Sing lullaby!
Lullaby baby, now asleeping,
Sing lullaby!
Hush, do not wake the Infant King.
Soon will come sorrow with the morning,
Soon will come bitter grief and weeping:
Sing lullaby!

Sing lullaby!
Lullaby baby, now adozing,
Sing lullaby!
Hush, do not wake the Infant King.
Soon comes the cross, the nails, the piercing,
Then in the grave at last reposing:
Sing lullaby!

Sing lullaby!
Lullaby is the babe awaking?
Sing lullaby!
Hush, do not stir the Infant King.
Dreaming of Easter, gladsome, morning,
Conquering death, its bondage breaking:
Sing lullaby!

Then, finally, I’m going to re-post another Christmas-With-Easter-Roundtrip carol, and a link to what I wrote about it last year, below reprinted, which I think still holds true.

Happy New Year, Gleðilegt everything, see you on the flippsæd.

This is last year’s Xmas Music Observations:
I have been listening obsessively to Benjamin Britten’s arrangement of the traditional carol “The Holly and the Ivy”. Now, this is a very well-known tune and there are a bunch of very famous arrangements of it, but for some reason this Britten really hits the spot for me. When you get a really plummy recording from England, too, they really lean in on the last word of the chorus, that being, “choir,” and somehow compress it into a one-syllable loaf. I just adore the pagan universe described in these lyrics:

The holly bears a berry
As red as any blood
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
To do poor sinners good
O the rising of the sun
And the running of the deer
The playing of the merry organ
Sweet singing of the choir

This particular recording has the MOST PINCHED AND DELIGHTFUL KUMAMOTO OYSTER of a countertenor solo in the third verse, too. Check it out.

[audio:12 arr. Britten _ The Holly and the Ivy.mp3]
The Holly and the Ivy (Traditional, arr. Britten)
King’s College Choir, Cambridge

Curiously, I can’t seem to find a source for Britten’s lyrics. The third verse (the one the kumamoto countertenor sings) seems to go on about Tree and Setting Sinners Free and such. I love these tight little protopagan rhyme schemes! Another good example of that is one of these Rhyming Numerologygasms, called “Joys Seven.”

[audio:18 Joys Seven (Arr. Cleobury).mp3]
Joys Seven (arr. Cleobury)
Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s College, Cambridge

This arrangement is perfectly English: efficient and sentimental without being too outrageous. There is, however, a completely over-the-top descant at the end that performs a little trick. The organ rises up the scale, and the trebles sing aah aah aah on the top four notes of an Ab-major scale. Then, when they repeat it immediately afterwards, the G is flatted, followed by the F, and then a G-natural: it’s very subtle, but it lines up perfectly with the text below “…to see her own son Jesus Christ to wear the crown…” “” what you expect is, of course, the crown of thorns, but the word that you get is “heav’n” (to rhyme with Seven). That little turn in the trebles is precisely the Tart Joy of Christmas: you have to make sure that you advance the clock to Good Friday, looming just a few months later. See:

There are several little galling moments, specifically in the sixth cycle, at the words:

The next good joy our Mary had,
It was the joy of six;
To see her own son Jesus Christ
Upon the Crucifix.
Upon the crucifix, good man: And blessed may he be,
Both Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
To all eternity.

Mmm. This is one of my favorite lyrics EVER, because a little digging reveals some alternate words. Check out the first verse the way it’s sung these days:

The first good joy our Mary had,
It was the joy of one:
To see the blessed Jesus Christ
When he was first her son.
When he was first her son, good man…

and now an alternate:

The first good joy our Mary had,
It was the joy of one;
To see her own Son Jesus
To suck at her breast bone;
To suck at her breast bone,
Good man, and blessed may he be…

Ooh, see, isn’t that so much better? Then, dig deeper:

þe forte joye wt out in good fay,
was upon halewÿ þursda,
he stey to hevene in ryche aray,
wt fadr and sone and holy gost.

þe fyfte joye wt outÿ dene,
in hevene he crownyd his modr clene,
þt was wol wil þe eyr a sene,
wt fadr and sone and holy gost.

Now we’re talking! Mm, crownyd his modr clene. I wonder if this is an error (Queene is prolly what is meant, here) or if really we’re talking about “clene” in its Middle English use as a noun, meaning, “(a) Guiltless or excellent person; also, purity; (b) = clene Lenten; (c) clear path,” in which case, she, as a Pure Virgin or whatever, can properly join the “sene,” (here, from the root that brings us Synod – sort of a holy gathering) of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Inneresting.


  • “…one of three things: Thomas Newman, Philip Glass, or Massage Parlor Ethnic Putumayo Potpourri, and then your job as the composer is to imitate that to the best of your ability, with two weeks to do it and a bunch of angry people screaming at you talmbout is it done yet.”

    Nico, you nailed it.

  • I think the waiter comment is some other guy yanking your chain, yes.

    And going on a cruise with your bf’s family is a truly heroic act, given the lack of escape options not involving life rafts. I hope he appreciates your valor!

    Happy 2010 to you – your blog’s always worth reading, just in case people don’t tell you that enough.

  • That DFW essay is magnifique. Also, his _Consider the Lobster_, which, upon finishing, made me cry. This just last week. In it an essay that talks about a trip to the Maine Lobster thing with his parents and gf.

    Also, weigh in here: Helios’ Britten (with the Corydon Singers e Matthew Best): “A Boy was Born,” “Festival Te Deum,” Rejoice in the Lamb,” e “A Wedding Anthem.” Was it The Best Thing To Get for 11.99?

  • I think the arrangement of “The Infant King” is by Edgar Pettman rather than Willcocks:

  • Jónsi’s song is wonderful. I think you did a really good job with the arrangement. My dad doesn’t agree, but I think it actually sounds distinctly non-Sigur Rós (although his distinctive voice, of course will make anything sound a bit Sigur Rós). I think the flute is especially lovely.

  • And what of your 2009 work for Antony, and his upcoming release?

  • And what of your 2009 work with Antony, and his upcoming album?

    “Boy Lilikoi” is my favorite song in years.

  • I love cruises – last week (12/20-27) was on a cruise out of NO with sixteen members of my family – we could almost have waved in Cozumel. Were you on the Spirit?

  • NICO MUHLY, you are my New Year’s Resolution.

  • Nico,

    I’m a 24-year-old composer who, for the last year and half, has been writing music for television shows and commercials. Drop me a line if you’d like me to shed some light on the business, from imitation to law suites! Happy 2010.


  • I was wondering if you have any thoughts on the other Benjamin Britten arrangement of “The Holly and the Ivy.”

  • Saturday, November 7, 2009
    The December issue of Harpers Bazaar has some absolutely gorgeous pictures of Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart in it.
    I found them all so swoon-worthy that I just had to share …..

  • Suitable for vegans, much better. Good luck with the show, C.

  • That is quite the allegation you’re making re: the scoring of No Reservations. It brings to mind the score of American Beauty which I thought always sound very Gaseous. Maybe that’s different because it’s a Newman… keep up the good work, and good luck at Roundhouse this weekend, I’m gonna try and make it.

  • Thomas/Doveman’s new album, The Conformist has been on infinite repeat on my iphone since the day it came out. please give free reign to nico muhly’s amazing arrangements, I am a true fan.