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My local

from Thursday, June18th of the year2009.

My local Vietnamese restaurant “” the one who delivers in, like, ten minutes rather than fifteen “” just updated their menu on Seamless Web in a fully surreal fashion. From what I can tell, the changes are threefold. First, they have eliminated all English translation of the dishes. Second, all the Vietnamese is rendered without any diacritical tone indications. Third, the menu subheadings have gained cutesy English translations, in parentheses.

Ga (Chicken Little)
129. Ga Nuong Sa $9.00
131. Ga Xao Curry $9.00
133. Ga Xao Nam Rom $9.00
135. Ga Xao Cai Thap Cam $9.00
132. Ga Xao Dong Co $10.00

Bo (Where Is the Beef)
121. Bo Lan Salad Son $12.00
123. Bo Luc Lac $12.00
127. Bo Xao Cai Ro $10.00

Heo (Porky)
138. Heo Xao Nam Rom $9.00
140. Heo Xao Chua Ngot $9.00
137. Heo Xao Dong Co $10.00
139. Heo Xao Cai Ro $9.00

Kho To (Clay Pot Stuff)
95. Ca Kho To $12.00
97. Thit Heo Kho To $12.00
99. Tom Um Satee $12.00
100. Ga Um Carry Sa $12.00

I love this place even more now. It’s actually kind of great to not have to deal with the English translations and just have to sit here looking up what everything is in my little online Vietnamese dictionary. I should have a working knowledge of basic ingredients in no time!

If anybody is interested in seeing a bizarre continuation of the whole “what does the word precious mean” argument, go check out the Brooklyn Vegan post linked here. For those of you who are not regular BV readers, the comments section is sort of like those restaurants where they are famous for being rude “” there’s one in Chicago that’s like, a fake diner? In Providence there was some sandwich shop called Geoff’s, anyway, check it out. It’s not interesting per se but it’s there, it exists, it’s online, it’s funny.

One thing that does emerge from all of this: is it appropriate for artists to respond to reviews? I sort of think yes, because reviews, like art, can be good and bad regardless of their content, and people need 2 know. One of my least favorite things to receive, for instance, is a badly-written rave; it makes me hate my music. Don’t you ever see those restaurant reviews that are total raves but written so weirdly that you never want to go to the restaurant? On the other hand, I’ve gotten my share of terrible reviews that were well-enough written and actually reviews rather than (and this is where the wording gets tricky) loaded descriptions of things that are simply True. Those reviews I welcome; somebody up in the Times was all, his music is “arbitrarily episodic” and I read that shit, and was like, oh my God! That’s actually completely right. Now, I think I’ve moved on to Episodic but Organized, like a meal of tapas. In 2001, it was very much like a delicious buffet raided by a crazy person. Moving along: let me construct a non-review for you that consists of no opinions but only facts:

Doyers Vietnamese Restaurant is inconveniently situated in the elbow of the smallest street in Chinatown; one is not shocked to hear that this picturesque little alley has been included in the sort of Hollywood chase scenes that contain generic Asian fruitmongers cast aside by our hero’s car. Walking down a narrow set of steps into a dingy basement, the usual assortment of ancestor-worshipping items (complete with the omnipresent can of Sprite) greets the diner as his eyes adjust. Instead of being greeted, we were treated to a loud, tonal diatribe from a toothless manager who barked incomprehensibly and as he showed us to a corner booth, he flung bits of sticky rice from his fingers towards a table of unsuspecting Germans, their “Not For Tourist” guidebook on top of the plastic-covered tabletop.

See how mean you can make something even in stating facts? It’s not hard at all; you just top-down compose something from the point of view of already having a problem with it. It’s much easier than taking something for what it is, which is to say, a very delicious Vietnamese hole-in-the-wall on my corner. The thing about writing something In This Fashion is that all of the words become coded in the same way an unreliable narrator in a novel infects descriptions with opinion. hair_noodlesThis is a long way of saying: I like opinions to be stated as such: The squid is too salty. The frogs’ legs were thin and I found a hair in the bun xao. With music, the critique in a review has to be about the music, not about, like, the “style” (whatever that means). If you start making judgments just based on the style, it’s more of a meta-review. For example. If somebody hired me and paid me cash money to review music concerts and I went to a concert that was all Babbitt, Carter, and Wuorinen, it would be incredibly easy for me to construct a review based on a pre-conceived notion that their music is locked in the past, horseshit mathy jib-jab whose occasional brilliance comes from good orchestration and hiding triads in the bottom of things like how I hid a ham hock in some collard greens I cooked for a vegetarian one time. However, am I serving the readers of the review by writing from that place? Probably not. Instead, I’d want to get into it, and talk about the music on its own terms: how does the Wuorinen extend 12-tone techniques? How come the orchestration is so good and earthy? How is this Carter piece more or less “efficient” than his other, more recent work? In what way is Babbitt’s sense of humor teased out by his clarinet writing? Are the pieces successful at the project they have set out for themselves? The style-opinions I can save for my History of 20th Century Music Book or Web Destination.

200px-precious_memories_dolly_parton_albumAll of this is a long, long way around saying that I think words like “Precious” come from that first kind of review “” the one where the larger descriptions bear the taint of opinion before we’ve even gotten to the end of the description. And let’s be honest: it’s much more fun to read a top-down, poison review. I have books and books of A.A. Gill’s reviews, who is the most poisonous and wonderful of all. Check out how fabulous this sentence is: “The basement was a nightclub, which, viewed from the top of the stairs, has all the elegance and excitement of a long-distance meat container full of assorted refugees.” Or: “It’s a rambling room that appears to have grown organically. Nobody sane could sit down and design it. The walls are covered in old junk, most of it weird farming equipment and coffee pots. The ceiling is a lot of executed mandolins, banjos, and ukuleles. The stools only function as objects for sitting on. In fact, it looks like they’ve been ethnically cleansing folk singers here.” Or, “Chicken consommé with duck and noodles was called mi ga, a truly frightful, insipid infusion, which, with the simple addition of an exclamation mark, might have been the noise you made when tasting it.”

Anyway, that’s all I meant by that. Also sometimes words like that, in the historical sense, were used against Benjamin Britten “” in fact, an old teacher of mine used that word about Britten’s music and did “gay hand flap” at that time. “Oh, well, Ceremony of Carols is a little precious, isn’t it.” For my straight readers out there, seeing somebody do “gay hand flap” is one of the most horrifying and offensive things you can possibly experience “” it’s weirdly galvanizing and electrifyingly awful. In related thought: check out Liner Notes Danný’s rant about taking music-opinion talking points from the 3rd Reich.

Ooh, all this talk about Britten makes me want to listen on the last chorale & descant from Midsummer so bad right now. Here’s that:

Britten Now the Hungry Lion Roars from Act III of A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Now bitches, you want to talk about Precious? Hear that dotted rhythm, how Davis does it:


But then you listen to Benjamin Britten conducting the LSO


and his shit is all:


That is a seriously affected way to render out that rhythm, but it’s his to render, and I think it’s so beautiful, to have this secret five flowing over the whole Rhythm. Britten asks for this explicitly in the “Hallelujah” music that ends his Rejoice in the Lamb, which is one of my all-time favorite things ever in the history of ever. Listen to him conduct it ““ it’s like a normal dotted rhythm but with an awkward urgency (it’s the inverse of the Midsummer rhythm):


This recording, by the way, is the one Britten conducted with the Purcell Singers. I have probably nine recordings of this piece, and I just realized that there was one that I didn’t have ““ the remastered one with Willcocks and King’s College Cambridge. So I’m listening to the last movement, and I was like, excuse me, is that a gong? is that a kettledrum? I didn’t know about this thing existing in a version for organ and percussion. Can somebody call me about this? Listen to this ““ it’s a slighly longer excerpt that the one above, so you can hear the quintuplets at the ending again:


I’m kind of freaking out about that gong hit on “music.”


  • Whenever you say “Precious,” I think of Gollum from Lord of the Rings – much better in the book than the movies, don’t you think?

    You are turning me into a rabid fan girl. This is dangerous.

  • I’m fairly sure that the percussion parts are in the original score, marked “ad lib.”, and frequently omitted. But don’t quote me on that.

  • Glad somebody else loves that ending to “Midsummer” as much as I do. Unfortunately, the last two live productions I’ve seen used adult women for the fairy chorus instead of boy sopranos which is wrong for all kinds of reasons, but above all because it obliterates the fabulousness of three different kinds of similar voices (adult female soprano, adult male countertenor, and boy sopranos) weaving in and out of each other during “And now the lion roars…” And though I love Brian Asawa’s Oberon more than any other (he’s on the Davis recording), the Britten recording of that finale is still my favorite.

  • thanks for posting the midsummer stuff – I didn’t know it and it’s beautiful.

  • Ach so, it emerges! ‘Precious’ does, in fact, have a coded meaning: to you.

    You’ve associated the word with the gay hand flap of your professor from ages ago. It was a formative experience for you.

    Just cuz 1 jerk used it that way doesn’t make it a gay slur.

  • Ha ha ha I just read those Brooklyn Vegans. My favorites are the ones who put “Nico” in scare quotes.


  • I laughed hard at the bit about Gay Hand Flap.
    Britten’s conducting of his work is always amazing – he wrote it, he knew how he wanted it to sound, right?
    Or maybe that’s a myth (I know it is sometimes when I write music. Other times, of course, I know exactly what I want, but whatever.)
    I know the piece you’re freaking out about has an organ part, don’t know about the percussion.

  • It appears that Britten added the percussion parts for David Corkhill:

    Imogen Holst’s orchestration also involves percussion:

    I think the King’s version you’re speaking of is probably with Ledger rather than Willcocks.

    I’d love to hear your own Smart setting ‘The Sweets of Evening’, but I can’t seem to get the link to work. Am I doing something wrong?

    May I say that I find your music gives pleasure in much the same way that Britten’s does.

  • The Britten-Pears Foundation website lists three versions of “Rejoice in the Lamb”: The original (“Festival cantata for chorus (SATB) with treble, alto, tenor and bass solos, and organ”), an arrangement by Edmund Walters “For SSAA and organ”, and another arrangement by Imogen Holst “for chorus (SATB) with treble, alto, tenor and bass solos, with orchestral accompaniment (fl, ob, cl in A, bn-hn-perc (timp, gong (ad lib.), susp cymb, trgl, castanets, wb, tamb)-org (ad lib.)-str (minimum:

  • “This Nico guy is a fucking loser.

    *Posted by Anonymous*”

    Can’t help it, scrawls like this one always make me grin. The only thing worth less than a casual opinion is one which not even its owner will cotton to.

  • Please don’t hide a ham hock in my collard greens, thank you very much. But also, while I agree that Pro Journalists should not write screed against styles they dislike, I do not much enjoy the effort-at-objectivity, “Paper of Record” style, either. I don’t know that one can ever truly unpack one’s local from one’s meta, and the effort to do so, without being so noted, can be just as problematic as the other thing you describe. With that in mind, my feelings about art criticism are pretty similar to my feelings about political opinion: make your biases known, then go from there. Most art critics adopt a sort of David Brooks/Tom Friedman-esque, “Everyone Smart Knows This” posture towards the work they’re reviewing. I think that’s what you’re responding to, rightly, but the standpoint that I’d prefer Pro Journalists take is less a striving towards some new false objective and more, well, an adoption of frankly Bloggish tendencies. The good Blogs, of course.

    And also, I saw your father (briefly) in VT on Saturday. He turned down Roast Pig.

  • I never turn down roast pig.
    In my defense:
    a. I arrived at the fag end of what looked to be a wonderful Bread and Puppetish/Lord of the Flies three day Pig Lollapalooza party, and it was unclear whether there was actually any pig left. And
    b. I had already et Roast Turkey at another venue.
    I never, ever turn down roast pig.

  • nico – the prose in this blog is luminous. take this throw away line: “which is one of my all-time favorite things ever in the history of ever.” some kind of writing.

  • Frank – having spent the better part of that day doing nothing but turning-down-roast-pig, I was certainly not calling you out on it! I was so happy to see you there, and was just trying to set up the scene, in which I was quite sincerely flattered to find that you came all the way around the hills just to see me and not for the pig. It was great to see you and I’m sorry I couldn’t get over to your side for coffee on Sunday but my ride had to get back to NYC to see her girlfriend and so things were hasty.

    Anyway, I am pretty sure that there was pig to be had, and while I did suggest that we go look for it, the uncertainty of that offer keeps your streak of “never turning down roast pig” technically alive. Let’s say that you’ll come to the Roast next year and that will seal the deal and take any possible transgressions (mine) off the book.

    Nico look what’s happening on your blog. This is like Family Ties.

  • the best part on BV is the guy who puts scare quotes around your first name

  • Doyers St. Vietnamese is da shit. Spicy beef with string beans is where it’s at. I want it right now but I’m 10,000 miles away.