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A Very Good Comment

from Thursday, July30th of the year2009.

…by Chris Becker appeared re: yesterday’s post:

I think it’s important for composers to consistently push themselves out of their comfort zones ““ and that can include your borough. With that in mind, the “scene” as described by Amanda seems strangely narrow to me. No mention of musicians around John Zorn and the Stone. No mention of Harlem or the Bronx or any African American artists. No description of the forward thinking jazz and world ensembles you find at Barbes and other small clubs.

I mean”¦I get it ““ she’s not trying to throw a net over a zeitgeist. But she certainly doesn’t mirror my experiences here in NYC (going on 12 years now”¦) creating music.

Someone many years from now will rewrite history and break it down for us.

And this is so interesting, because when I was writing that blog post, the Stone literally didn’t even occur to me. This is odd because the Stone in general and John Zorn specifically has been hugely supportive to many friends of mine. Nadia and Caleb and Paola and Judd have all had very successful concerts there. I think the reason it didn’t occur to me is because the last six times I have been to the stone, I am overcome with an insane guilt derived from the following two thoughts:

1 – It is such a great thing, like, Such a Great Thing – to have a venue downtown that is small, intimate, cheap, with a piano in it. It’s basically perfection. The policy about programming is good, the policy about money is great. The size is great, the piano is nice to the touch, it’s close to Il Posto Accanto where I can get those Oxtail Ravioli.

2 ““ I have never once had an okay time there. One time, it was so hot, I got delirious and almost stopped the concert to ask for the A/C to be turned on. I was getting the neck sweat, the back sweat, the pussy & the crack sweat. It was horrible. Another time, during Caleb’s show, it was literally a six-man jackhammer crew outside, going to town, at 10 PM on a Tuesday or something. It was Not the Composer’s Intent, either. The composer looked mortified.

Now, I know that a lot of this discomfort is not the venue’s fault, and I know that morally we are all better people for presenting our work in alternative venues at low prices, but if you asked me what I remember from Caleb’s concert, the only thing I can remember is a song cycle with prog-rock lyrics (?) fully drowned out by the jackhammers, and if you ask me about Nadia’s show, or maybe that was Judd’s show, I have a flashback like Agatha Christie in Ur or whatever, fanning myself with a program and wishing for death. Moral of story: I feel like the stone occupies the same place in my mental mapping of my relationship to the New York Scene as “that one family vacation where everything went wrong.”

I also feel like I have an especial liberty to say these things about, like, The Stone, and to a lesser extent, Jody Redhage’s Album, for the very reason that it is so close to home. I wouldn’t go to another country and start yammering on about how I had a bad time in a left-of-center venue or how I heard a CD I didn’t like: I criticise because I want “my” scene to really feel like my home team. I want to have the same fervency that people have about the Red Sox about Music in New York. Even my friends who live in Berlin, Tóróntó, Reykjavík: they all have a fierce mama-bear relationship with the(ir perceptions of the) scene(s) they proudly inhabit.

I wanted to also add as a side moment: I feel like I witnessed one of the more interesting emulsification and scatterings of a scene a few years ago. It was at the Bowery Ballroom in, let’s say, 2006 or 2007. CocoRosie were opening for Antony who was opening for Joanna Newsom who was opening for Devendra Banhart. I might be conflating, but if that wasn’t the lineup, it was something like that, and it was enormously, powerfully exciting. I can see how easy it would be, if you were a music historian, to quickly identify that as a Scene, capital-S. But inasmuch as that might have been true for those few hours, those people are coming, as the saying goes, from very different places, and their itineraries are very different. I remember thinking at the time, “oh, is this It? Did we just witness It?”

In other emulsification news: I have a whole post about this upcoming, but a week ago, at the very last minute, I was called upon to make an aïoli for twelve people, as well as some green sauce (I used some Faroese ingredients and imported capers to work through the one from St John in London). Look here at the aigs:



  • Eek! Last thing I expected when I clicked on your blog…

    Frankly, Butch Morris’ show last Tuesday at the Stone was wonderful but – yes, the lack of A/C (Butch wanted it off) made it very, very hard on some of the audience members to enjoy his set. In fact, more than a few left at the break. And Butch didn’t look too comfortable either!

    And the elephant in the room here is that NYC lacks venues to host this kind of music. If you talk to musicians who were here back in the 70’s and 80’s they’ll confirm that things have gotten worse! Butch did do sets with the ensemble I saw at the Stone at Issue Project Room (which is very nice but way the hell out of the way for most people) and the Visionfest. But his real support seems to come from (you guessed it) Europe – Italy specifically.

    P.S. My first Anthony show was the best – The Knitting Factory before Now I’m A Bird dropped. Very intimate, musically just solid, good doses of humor – he and Joan did a kick ass version of “Be my husband…” that just rocked.

  • Dear blogger, I humbly request that you revert your RSS feed settings to the way they were when we could read posts in Google Reader rather than just getting a headline to click through to this page. Because Google Reader converts it all to 12-point Arial but when I come here I have to lean in close to the screen and crane my neck backwards to read this small print.

    Now I will say something on topic. I went to The Stone once and had an okay time. But it was smaller and less comfortable than other venues in NYC that host this kind of music. They do exist, Chris Becker – Issue Project Room, The Tank, Galapagos, Roulette, The Kitchen sometimes, and there are probably some more that I have never been to. All these places may not provide as much support as Europe, or Italy, but to an outsider like me they seem to nurse many scenes and give these scenes chances to intersect.

    nicomuhly.com : The Stone :: Google Reader : Europe

  • your blog doesn’t show up properly in google reader anymore, what gives?

  • I second the thing about Google Reader. Please ficks it.

  • Brian,

    I’ve played three of the five spots you name and then some (I’ve been here almost 12 years now…) and you’re right, there are some nice venues in this city for new music (Roulette definitely sticks out for me – that space is beautiful and Jim Staley is truly a force of nature).

    BUT – without going into details, if you talk to musicians who gig more than once every couple months, you will find out that the club scene in NYC – generally speaking – is notorious for treating its musicians badly. Between real estate, economics, and a weird hostility towards the arts…It’s possible I’m thinking more about the rock and jazz players I know. A lot of the musicians I work with come from those worlds.

    Think about it: What forward thinking jazz ensemble or new music group has had a residency (i.e. played more than one night) at a club here in NYC? AWS has over at Le Poison Rouge which is wonderful. But the fact that William Parker’s quartet or any number of other incredible bands that bridge “scenes” as you say can’t book a week or a couple weeks at one venue is absurd to me.

  • If you can believe it that Antony/Devendra/Joanna show was in 2004 (Antony’s website says June 21, 2004, specifically) and also if you google it the first thing that comes up is Brooklyn Vegan saying “Ever since I first saw Antony perform in between Joanna Newsom and Devendra Banhart at Bowery Ballroom, I’ve been hooked on his unique sound.” So if we were there and BrooklynVegan was there and we all had the same feeelings, then clearly that constitutes a Scene.

  • the linking strategy of this post intrigues me.

  • Nico, I was with you on your previous post until I got to your rather mean-spirited takedown of a CD by an artist who is comparatively obscure – and all because someone came up to you and mentioned her name in connection with New Amsterdam. Such force majeure, and to what end? I’m writing not as the label’s publicist, but as a fellow artist, who (like everyone else) has had to face reviews/comments of all kinds – the good, the bad, and the ugly. To put it another way, does supporting one’s “home team” require 100% approval of all of its activities? Kindly clarify.

    Nico responds: Hi! Thanks for writing. No, I agree, it pained me to be specific — but I feel like that’s kind of a problem (unspecific criticism) inside “our” (the/this) community. And if a friend and colleague — like for instance, Judd — says something critical of what I’m up to, I take it very seriously indeed, much more so than a bad review coming from somebody not predisposed to like what it is that I’m up to. So when you ask “to what end,” I think the answer is so that we all can write better music in the future. People with whom I can enjoy aggressive back-and-forth about music are people I really value; my biggest, deepest phobia is that people would secretly dislike my music or like, cringe when they heard it PRIVATELY and never tell me about it!? Wouldn’t you die? It’s only ur homegirls who tell you when you have spinach in your teeth or if your fly is undid. So in this case I was like, this is a woman close to my community who is clearly a very, very talented musician with a lot of technical skillz and a ballsy, difficult project who has made what I would say are some bad decisions across various media & conceptual borders. Releasing an album is scary because all ur warts and gnúðitý are out there for anybody in the world to see. When JR becomes less obscure, relatively or not, I’d love for her to emerge triumphant, singing & playing, fabulous music fabulously. So it’s in that spirit that I wrote what I wrote. Thanks for writing in…!

  • Nico- I think it would be awesome if you did a show at “le poisson rouge.”

  • And I think it would be awesome if we could open up a discussion thread about the Disco Tots at “le poisson rouge.” Mommy was shock.

  • OK, so I recognize that I am a week late, and that the correct forum for further discussion of these matters is in Lenox, MA, where I will see you this weekend. I’ve had a hard time formulating my thoughts, especially directed towards a public forum. I think I was surprised to see things get so personal, and I don’t mean toward Jody, I actually mean with me; the questions you raise lose their abstraction when you bring your relationship with a friend to bear as a specific point of comparison. It’s especially odd for that to happen when the point of comparison is with something that that wound up offending quite a few people, and the whole thing is of course further complicated by my web of affiliations, which straddle the specific boundary that you are problematizing between scenes and friends.

    Anyway, it is true that I wrote language, in our New Amsterdam mission statement, that includes the word “scene” more than once. But it’s very strange to have New Amsterdam held up as an organization with an ethos that might possibly run counter to the initial premise of your post – that scenes are ephemeral and constantly changing and can’t be pinned down. In fact, there’s one more sentence in our mission statement, coming just after the lines you displayed: “We hope that New Amsterdam develops as quickly and as broadly as the scene itself, capturing the best that people in it have to offer along the way, and touching the outer edges where musics meet.” So there is a scene, loosely defined, and then there is New Amsterdam; the term is descriptive, not prescriptive. Think of a National Park, think of Yosemite. To say that the park IS the mountains and lakes and trees it circumscribes would be an act of the greatest hubris….

    Then there’s the question of affiliation, which feels like the central concern of your post. You’re certainly someone who could be placed in a variety of scenes, or none, depending on the person doing the placing. But that’s true of most everyone I know, and it’s certainly not the case that everyone on the New Amsterdam roster is defined solely, or even primarily, by their affiliation with the label. Look at just the examples you cite – Darcy’s got his jazz world, Jody plays in a ton of groups that aren’t on the label, and I don’t have to tell you about Nadia or Alex and the “scenes” they traverse. Or I can just speak for myself: very, very little of my own music is released on New Amsterdam, and I depend on my involvement with other “scenes” for many if not most of my performances. If that’s true for a co-founder of the label, why can’t it be true for you, too? Why the binary, the in or the out?

    Or, to be more precise, when you ask the provocative question, does the fact that this community (as loosely articulated as the New Amsterdam family) has supported something that I find to be Literally Appalling mean that I am not ever really able to be fully part of the community?, how do you mean “fully part”? What would that look like? Or do you mean to answer that question, even as you ask it, by embedding a term that you know will drive you apart from some segment of that community?

    These are questions to discuss this weekend, perhaps. As a final note, here, I just have to point out that we have never engaged in the kind of mutual critiques that you describe – you and I, I mean – in a public forum. The closest we came was that time in Seattle, which was incredibly fun and quite interesting (hopefully for the audience as well), but I think the public nature of it made it very different from what we engage in privately. Like, there was not a lot of spinach-in-teeth-noting; instead, it was more like “here’s what’s so great about Nico’s music, etc.”. Which is what I think we should do in Public. If we’re going to hold a special session to Publicly Critique one another, that’s certainly compelling, but I think we’d talk about it first – wouldn’t we? I hope? So, in that light, what you are proposing as the norm for intra-scene critique, which is to say, that of the unsolicited, spontaneous public variety, is really quite radical, even by the standards of a 12+ year friendship and musical relationship such as ours.

    I’m looking forward to seeing you this weekend, whether we discuss these things or not. I’m not going to be on e-mail going forward so I’ll just see you up there.

  • charles sullivan
    August 7th, 2009 at 8:42 am

    great rants.

  • re: Judd & Nico in Seattle: it was super fun. best session that weekend. you two should totally do stuff like that more often.

  • I couldn’t be further outside of what (ironically?) seems like a very particular Scene under discussion here in the comments, but I want to ask if it even seems possible for “someone many years from now [to] rewrite history and break it down for us”? Because while I realize there is a critique of that enterprise embedded in that question, I really wonder how fine arts historians are going to approach these questions surrounding Scene and, by extension, Movement.

    Looking back on a century-old scene has always had its own set of problems, as you suggested in your last post. Postmodernism has taught us that we’re all special, inscrutable snowflakes and art history is nothing but an attempt to make a coherent narrative out of what was basically a bunch of ideas and nights at the bar and shifting alliances, etc. Still, most agree that these “fantasy versions of the past” crafted by historians have some value.

    Probably all of that seems obvious, but I just wanted to acknowledge that human history has always been a hot mess before pointing out that our narratives are becoming increasingly incoherent. Scenes used to be much more tied to geography. Looking back, you can lock coordinates on a (local) scene and then trace its context more broadly into a (global) movement—a movement that, like the Vikings, forged a physical path.

    As technology changes the ways in which we communicate and collaborate, the people whose ideas we brush up against are not nearly so likely to be the people with whom we fight and fuck. Anyone’s web of professional affiliations in 2009 is bound to be far more complex than anyone’s web in fin-de-siècle Paris. So, like, will future music historians comb through IM archives? And how many music movements will be traced back to myspace? How could any historian be expected to craft a narrative from, to take only one example, the professional affiliations you describe in your last post (much less its comments)?

  • You should ask Sam and Thomas about the gig they played in December at the stone. was very nice and all aside from the screaming baby but was followed by the weirdest Scene of Seinfeld Curb Your Enthusiasm wannabe musician types that were led by Kevin Corrigan from Slums of Beverly Hills. Weirdest most uncomfortable music experience of my life. SO cringe worthy that I had to leave and wait outside for Sam and Thomas to be done getting their freaky kicks. After which all was soothed by a bottle of red wine from that yummy Italian place you speak of. Anyway, I love and support the existence of the Stone but also have nightmarish memories tied to the place and bottom line is – I want Tonic back.