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Here and There

from Tuesday, October12th of the year2010.

This has been a month of every tentacle of my life finding something to grab on to. I went on tour with Bedroom Community, to finish off our ash-beleaguered Whale-Watching Tour. I went to London and had a few days of press and logistics and meetings about Two Boys, and then played two shows at the Barbican with Stephen Petronio & his Company. Then, to Amsterdam, where I am loosely supervising the orchestral score I wrote for Benjamin Millepied’s new work at the Nederlands Ballet. Then, next week, to London again to supervise some more recordings with the lovely and youthful Aurora Orchestra, and then one more nip back to Benelux to play at the World Soundtrack Awards. It’s all been very confusing physically; I’ve entirely lost track of what day of the week it might be at any time, and am perpetually at the mercy of the never-quite-100%-working GPS function on my iPhone. There is a feature, for those of you who don’t have one, where you can see a map, with a blue blinking dot representing your own position, and if you press a thing, you can then see what direction you’re facing vis à vis the map. This is incredibly useful if you, say, alight from a bus in a quaint european city and you can’t get a sense of where the coffee might be at. Or the internet. Or puppies. Ideally, it’s one place that has cappuccino, puppies, and the internet, but really any of the three will do. In any event, if this “locate me” function doesn’t work, the phone asks you to move it in a figure 8, which I assume is the industrial designers’ way of punking all of us. You so know in 25 years there are going to be weird videos of our asses doing hand-jive in the middle of Ghent, Haarlem, Arles.

Last night, I dined in Paris in the most extravagant and decadent way. We started at Brasserie Lipp, had a dozen snails, leeks in vinaigrette, and a frisée salad with her attendant lardons and poached egg. Divine, simple, perfect. Then, across the street for the last seating at l’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, for, if memory serves, a first course of sweetbreads, as well as bone marrow on toast, followed by girolles with a sculptural piece of macaroni and foie gras, and an entrecôte the size of Cameroon, and a raspberry Pile in Different Temperatures. Pommard. Crozes-Hermitage. All of this after a lunch of a dozen oysters and a beef tartare with wonderfully feminine, diamond-earring-like capers. Late taxi to a friend of a friend; something resembling sleep, morning train to an orchestral rehearsal in Haarlem: fix the aleatoric string bit, tease out an erhu-like moment for the inside stands of the second violins, encourage some more volume from the bass clarinet, compliment the piccolo, prod the violas, swap out a vibraphone mallet for something a little more muh than puh, get back on the train.

Good God, I love French Bookstores. The proportion of books seems immediately familiar but then you realize that actually 1/3 of the books are about De Gaulle, and then another 1/3 are about écriture and the shoah, and then the remaining 1/3 are other books. It’s really intense:

I am starting to get into the rhythm of Amsterdam more. I still don’t quite know how to process the quietness versus the insanity. There doesn’t seem to be a middle-ground neighborhood I have access to, where it’s just sensible and calm. Everything seems to go from Calvinist cool-stone hear-a-pin-drop to Mega Ultra Euro Winkels Maxxxi Hoog Super Plus Party Club Disco Untz Untz Untz Untz so quickly.  I’m still convinced that for a major world power — especially one that has enjoyed such a long trading relationship with Japan — they should have better all-night dining options, esp. Izakayas (Izakayim?) or something.  It should be said that the one restaurant that really transcended is beyond booked up, like, for the next six months or something.  Good.  Now, more of the same please!

In the old media corner, everybody needs to buy Alex Ross’s book.  Read Proper Discord’s take on one of the chapters.  It’s so spot-on; he says:

The chapter on music technology (“Infernal Machines”) might just be the only sensible thing I’ve ever read on the subject. He avoids the temptation to make overblown pronouncements about the future of recording, pointing out that the same things get said every time anybody threatens to change anything. It should be required reading for anybody who plans to…

a) …proclaim that a new format is indistinguishable from a live performance.

b) …proclaim that the old format was much warmer and more lifelike.

c) …proclaim that technology has ruined music.

d) …proclaim that technology will save music.

e) …bore me senseless in meetings with simplistic and nostalgic nonsense about how fantastic everything was before my generation came along.

This is something I’ve been suffering with since I was old enough to use a computer.  I had people tell me — usually friends of my parents — that writing by hand focuses the thoughts more.  Sometimes that’s true for me and music, but for writing text, I’ve always been able to do either screen-based or desk-based.  And surely that’s the joy of the modern condition: if you can do both, you can do both!  If there are three formats, you can do all three!  And there is a joyful interplay between all these different inscribing methods.  Whatever: Frank Gehry clearly makes origami out of champagne foil and it trickles down into paper, models, quicktime walkthroughs, etc.  Get into the simultaneous multiplicity of formats.

Speaking of old/new technology, everybody get immediately into the Met Player. It’s basically a video archive of Metropolitan Opera productions from Today and Yesterday. I’m watching right now a Götterdämmerung from the 90’s with Behrens, I mean, it’s a divine thing. You can scroll around, find what you want: it’s an amazing research tool as well as a pleasurable way to see things you wouldn’t have been able to see before; I checked my diary and when this shit was originally broadcast, I was 8.

Proper Discord, bless her, called out a funny generational issue a few months ago when Mark Swed reviewed an album of my music.  It’s funny and worth a read and highlights something very tricky and sensitive.  A digital sensibility about not just content but organization is becoming, for better or worse, a necessary luxury of my life.  I arrived in Amsterdam too late to see Uchida play Beethoven at the Concertgebouw, which is a pain in the ass because I was excited about it, but then I went home to my hotel, installed my decent travel speakers, unpacked my raiment, and listened to a great recording of her playing the late sonatas.  There is no moral weight to it; it just happened.

You know what’s funny?  I talked twice at the Guildhall School of Music last week in London, mainly to the composers.  Now.  When I was a student composer, we were always mor-T-fied to ask questions when people came in.  Except, there were like three people who always asked a question: there was Incomprehensible Specific Question Boy (brandishing, like, a heavily pencil-and-highlighter scrawled score of the guest composer’s earliest string quartet).  There was Way Too Broad Philosophical Question Boy (“how do you think about time in your music?”).  And then there was Somebody Get the Hook Talks About Her Own Music Dude (“I’m writing a brass quintet?  right now?  That really reminds me of your earlier work from Germany?  And I was working on this part?  That has a tuba solo, and …private giggle…, well, I just thought that you might have some thoughts?  About that?”)  Anyway, moral of story, I was mortified and probably never asked any questions.  I think once I might have asked Dutilleux a question to which I already suspected the answer, and turned such bright red that it put me off question asking for like, ten years.  Anyway, now that I am on the other side of the room, I was so freaked out by how few people asked questions!  I guess this is kind of the pedestrian/driver complex (when you’re a pedestrian, you walk around wishing a car would side-swipe you just so you can cuss the driver out in their native tongue in the middle of your otherwise civil cellphone conversation while you jaywalk across the Bowery, and when you’re driving, you’re like, I wish a pedestrian would walk down the middle of the street just so I can lightly nudge their organic groceries out of their hands) anyway, all of this is to say, talking to students I think I would rather hear a lot more questions, even from some of the extreme central casting people!  And, next time I’m in one of those things, I’m so gonna ask questions myself.  This is my new resolution.


  • Dude….beef tartare….how do you eat that??

  • Waw, your blog is so nice.

    the joy of the modern condition… haehae

  • The part with asking questions — just don’t answer them yourself cause then you would be like a gay muppet.
    I went to your Bedroom Community gig in Ghent and I think it was really really beyond great.
    What are you doing for the World Soundtrack Awards exactly?

    Thanks very much! I know, the gay muppet thing is a nightmare. I won a WSA last year so this year I have the pleasure of playing. I’ma do the big cue from the end of the Reader with the bass trombone solo.

  • Spot on about the three kinds of question-posers…

  • Somebody gave me a pointer on eliciting answers or questions (in a classroom context, but it applies here too): Most teachers who pose questions to classes don’t wait long enough for the students to answer. And they think they’re waiting longer than they actually are. (I don’t remember the specific numbers, but it’s on the order of a teacher who thinks he’s waited through, say, fifteen seconds of miserable silence has only waited three seconds.)

    Of course I don’t know how long you’re already waiting, and of course as a composer you’re more attuned to how long something takes than the average teacher might be, but still, think about doubling how long you let the silence hang before you let your audience off the hook. The shy ones with good questions may need that much time to realize that it’s on them to break the ice.

    I’d love to hear whether this make sense to you, and if so, how it works. And keep up the lovely observations about cities.

  • Eddy and Willie (and the late Rider) from San Francisco
    October 19th, 2010 at 10:47 pm

    Nico, you beautiful boy with a love for our late dog Rider…I wonder if you’d consider the incredible animal suffering that went into the meal you just described eating. I know it’s delicious and all…

    [Oh no RIDER! So sorry to hear. I’m always considering animal suffering; I was just looking at pictures of me and my mother feeding our lambs as a kid…it rides high in the mind. Surely the most polite way to venerate the whole thing is to eat its neglected bits, though? And if it’s had a nice life, a final anointing in butter…]