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Tot Mom

from Thursday, February19th of the year2009.

So, I am in Los Angeles right now. I played a show last night at Lincoln Center (more on that later) and then got up at crunk o’clock in the morning to catch the first flight out. After arriving, I got my little shorts out and went to the Hotel Gym, where the treadmills are hooked up to TV’s. Now, I don’t have a TV at home, so, every time I see some, I am always jostled. First of all, all of the advertisements were for security systems, addiction recovery programs, divorce attorneys, and something that alerts 911 if you are old and fall. But the TV self! Missing children! Sex Criminals! This Nancy Grace woman was interviewing All the Involved Parties in what appears to be a newly-vanish’t little girl, this time called Haleigh (as opposed to Missing Maidens of Yesteryear, Caylee & Natalee). The graphics on the screen are hysterical and hysteria-inducing. Look at this:

It’s totally insane! Look at all that text! Look at that picture! Why does it say “Tot Mom” and what is that in the background!? I tried to assemble something that does the same thing with audio and I think this is the most accurate result:

[audio:Tot Mom.mp3]

This is, in case you couldn’t pick it apart, Nancarrow’s 7th Study for Player Piano, the codetta from Jaheim’s Fabulous and some random talking from Die Zauberflöte.

Mm, Jaheim. Now all I want to do is listen to Fabulous and The Magic Flute back to back.

So this show I just did was really fun. It was part of Lincoln Center’s American Songbook series, which is funny, because I don’t sing myself and would consider vocal writing to be a pretty small part of my output, or, at least, the kind of thing that you could call a “song” as opposed to a “work with voices” or whatever. You know what I mean. Anyway, I recreated the song cycle The Elements of Style, which I wrote about four years ago in collaboration with the illustrator Maira Kalman. Maira had just published an illustrated version of Strunk & White’s amazing grammar manual, and I found some choice sentences and set them for two singers, banjo, viola, percussion, and an orchestra of amateur percussionists playing a wide variety of instruments:

Buckets & Cans & Rolodex

more buckets. Photo Teitur Lassen.

The other exciting thing for me was that my friend Teitur agreed to fly in and sing two songs ““ the first one was one that he and I co-wrote for the Holland Baroque Society last year which I repurposed for the evening. Here is the original recording from Eindhoven in 2008:

[audio:02 Don’t I Know You From Somewhere.mp3]
Nico Muhly & Teitur Lassen Don’t I Know You From Somewhere
The Holland Baroque Society

Then, he played a song of his, off of his genius Faroese-language album Káta Hornið (the eth is silent)

[audio:01 Havnin er.mp3]
Teitur Havnin er ein lítil bygd

I have blogged about this song before, but in last night’s context, I used it as an example of how I think a song should function: perfectly constructed, bittersweet, exactly the right length, but able to stand up to a variety of arrangements. Last night, Thomas and I, acting as the band Peter Pears, provided a piano four-hands arrangement.