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I am proud

from Wednesday, March31st of the year2010.

because this week, my garden is working overtime! Some things I’ve been working on for years are finally coming out, and some things I’ve been working on for less time are slowly pushing their tendrils out of the ground.

First, everybody should go to iTunes, BandCamp, or any other retail option available to them and buy Sam Amidon’s new album I See the Sign. One of the great things about the day when these projects are released is that I can loosen up my superstitious piles of music. I still have, physically in the backpack where I am at all times, hard copies of Jónsi’s charts, just in case something needs to get done. With Sam’s, I keep every single version of the recordings “” loose ones, MIDI ones, rough ones, ones where I replaced the bridge in “You Better Mind” with the themesong from Sex in the City “” check this out here:

You Better Mind Super Rough Demo

The second is, NPR is streaming Jónsi’s album, along with some kind words about me, at this page. I wonder about the new era of digital releases and streaming versus owning and how easy it is to rip streamed data. Then I wonder about arguments like these over @ Danny’s place, and then I want to crawl into a hole and make music on a rock, and record it, and say that it’s not an authentic recording and then crawl back into the hole.
But! This means I can finally throw out the accidental bounce I made of all the woodwind parts for Jónsi’s track “Boy Lilikoi,” but all recorded as pianos:

Boy Lilikoi MIDI parts all as piano (excerpt)

Compare that to the real shit:

Jónsi Boy Lilikoi (excerpt)

Anyway, I am really happy with both those projects and I’m happy that they’re coming out around the same time. I had a wonderful two weeks with Jónsi in Iceland last month helping him put together the live show (about which you can read at, and I’ve been doing a few live shows with Sam Amidon, including at the fabulously curated Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, TN.

I am amazed with Knoxville! They have had urban renewal, but their main center square only has one chain restaurant, and an innocuous Subway at that! I wonder if there had been a decree about the kinds of restaurants that would stay in Market Square “” there were a few decent cafés, a few gestures towards sushi and tapas, and basically anything anybody who wanted a bougie evening could possibly want.

The best meals, tho, I think were at the Barbecue houses towards the old city, but in festivals, you tend to make eating decisions in a more strategic way to how much you might find yourself, in the interests of Abandon or Politeness, drinking later in the evening. In many instances it is Most Wyse to eat an entire swine around 4:30, graze throughout the performance time, and hope for a slice of pizza later.

Glamorous Thomas

Sufjan, not looking worse for wear after he ate his entire barbecue and two of my buffalo chicken tendiz

Miss Annie and Bryce, at the Artist’s Loft

St. Vincent’s drummer, whose name I forgot, but who was great.

I love a Great Drummer. I’ve been very lucky inasmuch as the bands that I’ve worked with have all had Great Drummers. Samuli with Jónsi? Heaven. Bryan with the National? Nothing tighter. Chris Bear with Grizzly Bear? Mesmerizingly great. And Thomas has a stable of solid drummers he works with; some more twitchy than others but always awesome. Joanna Newsom “” and anybody who knows me can attest to this “” is one of my favorite musical minds in the world. But I think she may have taken a wrong step a few months ago?

Her show in Gnoksville was very problematic to me. I love her music, period. I love her singing, period. I love the fact that the lyrics are like that; I like it and I love it and I will always buy her albums the day they come out no matter how spensive they Я. But I think there’s something a little sneaky going on right now that makes me miss the first time I saw her.

I’m going to get this all wrong, but I think we were all in New York in like, 2005. And there was a show at the Bowery that must have been, like, Dewendra, Antony & the Johnsons (with special performance artist guest), CocoRosie, and Joanna Newsom. I don’t know who was in what order this night, but all I know is that I emerged with L”” from the bar, and Joanna Newsom was standing in front of her harp, clapping her hands, talmbout the Panopticon. Is there an easier way to make a nation fall in love with you? Then she played some stuff from the Milk Eyed Mender, and literally that NIGHT I ran home and overnighted her discs to me, and they became staples of our household’s motions in the car as well as a constant soundtrack to all things. This was one of those Epic, Change ur Life shows. Was anybody else there? Does anybody remember when this was? She sang a version of Bridges and Balloons that made us all almost cry.

One of the things that appeals to me about the harp is that it is an inherently non-chromatic instrument. You get these pedals, you put the harp in a key or a mode, and sure, you can change them, but a lot of the more basic choral requirements allow you to focus on moving the fingers. What this means is that some of the Houdini escapes possible in piano music, or string music, simply aren’t possible. J-New seems to have been happy with this for a few years. But now, her live arrangements are very chromatic “” all the notes that aren’t in the harp are being noodled through by strings and winds. It’s sort of like somebody coming and filling in your four-frame windows with a bunch of bird and leaf decals. There’s a somewhat sadistic insistence to those arrangements’ chromae. But that wasn’t really objectionable. What was objectionable was her drummer, who seemed to have been given a vocal mic for to perform with her the Onstage Banter. It wasn’t pretty. It was awkward, and when he was playing, there was a surfeit of gestures designed to place little multiple-note ruffs and fills in places where they oughtn’t be. It was right on the line between ornament and rhythmic footprint, like that girl in high school who touched everybody’s shoulders just a little too lightly. Don’t front like you didn’t have that girl. For those of you who went to Catholic Boyz School, you had your own problems and you are forgiven. A better analogy might be that his participation felt Actively Lazy, inasmuch as he was certainly wriggling around a lot on that stool, but then the thing that he played seemed to be coming from a Stoner Logic space, rather than from a logic that belonged to the songs.

Now. I don’t know whose fault this is. I think about stage presence a lot, because I don’t perform often enough in a year to really be too self-aware of it. I know that I am usually endearing at bantering, so I try to do that, but I also know that in some audiences, an anecdote is not what they paid for and therefore get on with the étude, sonny. I also know that I am a keyboard player, so there’s a limited amount of physical movement I can do to show the audience what a great time I’m having. So I try to have that radiate out in the banter, and in the approach to the piece physically: a little aggression, a little side-show, a little ooh-la-la. Similarly, I like to share the stage with people who have interesting presences “” Sam can command a space, he is a born performer. Thomas tries another method, which is to sort of black hole the space. To listen to his music and watch him has a lot more to do with your own relationship to your emotions than it does to him and his, which is a magic trick quite unsuspected, but almost uniformly successful. In the context of a band bearing somebody’s name, is it not that somebody who needs to direct all the mannerisms on stage, like, Butoh-strict?

Point is: I think her drummer got a lot of people off on the wrong foot with her stage show, which is a shame. She is really one of The Minds around today, I think, and I’m sort of into this misstep. I also was particularly irritated with the drummer (who, by the way, was really handsome and had a nice air about him and I’m sure is a lovely person for whom I will buy many meals and things) because St Vincent, who is a powerful and excellent songstress, has a drummer who is à propos from the book of Diana Vreeland or something; I mean look at him, above! He is just slightly overdressed, which is what you want your drummer to do. He is dressed to deliver. St. Vincent’s show was great, because she relied on each of their instruments to their strengths. The flute, he looped and harmonized; the strings, they filled in chords and the drums were an essay in perfection: the right stroke on the right membrane at the right time. It sounds simplistic, but even when you get into the more experimental realms of things, there still lurk the old ghosts of doing things properly, comme il faut. (To this effect, I ate dinner a few years ago at a very experimental restaurant in Paris; it was quite abstract, but one of the courses arrived and the waiter announced that it was “La poitrine de porc avec sa petite salade de lentilles vertes…” which is, you know, the stomach of the pork WITH HER LITTLE SALAD of green lentils. The idea here is that le porc, no matter the alchemy that had been applied to the artichokes the course before, to say nothing of the freeze-dried operations that would be applied to the foie gras, was going to be served with her traditional salad that appertaineth to her.) The articulations were heaven without your eye being drawn to them; the more complicated the gesture, the less attention he drew to it. It was quite Japanese, in its sense, and so I was impress’t, and took his picture, and forgot his name.

Moral of story: Big Ears was totally great; I Love Joanna Newsom no matter whom she hire; Terry Riley is like adorable grandma, I love everything, I love Knoxville, I am grateful for the kind reception we got both as the 802 tour, as me solo, as Sam solo, as Thomas solo, as Ben Frost solo, as everybody! There was a real we-spirit about this festival, which is exactly as it should be.

I am going to my bed-chamber.


  • June 2004! And it was so nice out, too…. Not like it is this week:

  • Similar to the Arby’s on Gay St that has not been remodeled probably since 1977, the Subway in Market Square is indestructible. It’s been there longer than just about everything else down there. Somehow it has weathered every financial storm. It made since to see it when stumbling out of the punk club(s) that made up Market Square but now it looks pleasantly out of place and acts a reminder of how far that part of downtown has come in the past few years.

  • Big Ears was incredible, and so were you & Doveman! it was an honor to get to see you.

  • You’re back. . .and I am reading/listening with abandon. <3 your words on Goddess Joanna. Will contemplate all things. thank you.

  • Kudos on the performances! I wish I could have been there. We’d already bought our tickets for Joanna Newsom’s performance in Atlanta before Big Ears came across our radar, which was unfortunate, as our poor planning meant we were unable to make it. I’m already planning on attending next year though.

    A note on Neal’s drumming. He was very smartly dressed and quiet at the performance in Atlanta, and I felt his drumming, as it is on the record, was restrained and suited to the songs. But it’s also possible that I was so overcome by the quality of her songwriting/composition that I didn’t really pay attention to anything other than either her, individually, or all of it as a whole. I’ve downloaded the NPR podcast of the D.C. concert, and I’m interested in listening with a more critical ear.

    But the point of my writing this is he has an album of his songs written for drum and voice that is worth investigating whether you end up loving it, hating it, or feeling mostly ambivalent. I fall into the first category. It’s called To the Breathing World, and I believe it’s out on Drag City.

  • nico muhly + knoxville = broz 4 life!

    be sure to come back soon. we need more of you.

  • hey Nico, you sounded amazing it big ears!

    It was great meeting you at the loft party (I was/am the kid with the funny southern accent and the Shortwave Society CD). anyways, thank you for being there and showing me new ways to play the piano, which i am working on stealing right now!

  • I saw you open for St. Vincent and absolutely loved it; you were my favorite opening act of the weekend by far. And it’s nice to hear you enjoyed Knoxville (because that means we might stay on the map musically… but I think that’s ensured as long as we’ve got Ashley Capps).

  • i am so amazed that i only learned of you and your work through your stay at the hermitage. when i hear your and referenced music it as if a genius, who can read my mind and soul, is sharing most wonderful gifts. amazing grace. thank you.

  • You compose words as beautifully (madly) as you play. Caught your sets at Big Ears… glorious. Thanks so much for coming to town.

  • Y’all are so lucky I didn’t bum-rush the stage at the square room. Once I spotted your cape I wanted it so bad I had visions of Rick Owens dancing in my head. Thanks to you and sam and everybody for really bringing it to knoxland!

  • Listened to Jonsi’s album streamed earlier and am actually listening to his NPR interview and sort-of DJing a playlist. Actually had it playing when I read your blog, that was random! ha

  • Jonsi’s NPR interview (meant to include it previously)

  • Nico, via my sister who was once a Journo and is now about to be a Lawyer, this Lebanese proverb that, I think, perfectly encapsulates the need for the “old ghosts of doing things properly,” even in the realm of the experimental:

    “Lower your voice, and strengthen your argument.”

  • amen to lowering your voice.

    Im generally peplexed by the moldy peaches school of vocalizing except in the context of juno.

    but still its popular from olneyville to yekky-vick

    what is up with you children

    the orchestrations etc were obviously coming from somewhere else

    eplique s.v.p.

  • The 5th peacock
    April 5th, 2010 at 12:09 pm

    Congratulations for your work on Jónsi’s album, I love it and we can easily identify your “touch” (fantaisie, foisonnement instrumental en font un album unique :). I would like to know if you have worked on the additional songs that we can hear only live: Icicle Sleeve, Saint Naive, and those without name like K12, New piano song and New guitar song?

  • Both recordings are sublime, and all that appertaineth to her makes grampa laugh till he be sick.

  • what nico and jonsie SHOULD sound like together
    # – 155k – Cached

    Fuckin A jockstrap!

  • GARG! the sex in the city part tótallí killed me!! maximal LOL´s going on at my kitchen table. mom sends love from that same eldhúsborð.

  • The 5th peacock
    April 10th, 2010 at 5:34 pm

    OK I read the Grapevine interview (the one with sordid details 🙂 and get my answer: yes you worked on the fifteen songs and, like me, you don’t understand why there are only nine of them on the album. If they are recorded, I’d really like to hear their studio version!

  • Thank you for posting the version of youbettermind with the sex in the city bridge. I listened to this in a coffee shop and was almost escorted out due to excessive/inappropriate laughter. It made my day.

  • Thanks for introducing me to Jonsi! May your collaborations continue. Proof that there’s a lot more than volcanic ash coming out of Iceland. Hope to see you perform here at Dartington some day! Best wishes, Rita

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  • […] guy is we might appreciate the comment more. In any case, New York City-based composer, Nico Muhly, raved about his visit to Knoxville. More and more folks are starting to take notice of this big little town we call home. […]