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New Bedroom Stuff

from Saturday, February20th of the year2010.

Guess what! While everybody was sleeping, Bedroom Community has put out two super-exciting new releases.

First, Valgeir wrote the soundtrack to the film Draumalandið, which itself is an adaptation of a wonderful book. Check out the book/film website here. The soundtrack is a crazy amalgam of electronic sounds, acoustic sounds, long melodies, and short repetitive patterns. I play a lot on it, conducted it, and co-wrote one of the trax. Nadia played on it too; we threw her on a plane to Iceland for three days to lay down what turned out to be some iconic viola solos. Get into it here.

<a href="http://valgeir.net/album/draumalandi">Grýlukvæði by Valgeir Sigurðsson</a>

Then, a new addition to the Bedroom Community Roster: Daníel Bjarnason and his first album Processions. It is a series of works in assorted sizes, from the intimate to a giant piano concerto. I adore Sæunn Þorsteinsdóttir, the cellist, who is all over this album. This album is exciting for a variety of reasons, not least of which is that it has chamber and orchestral music under the same roof. This doesn’t always happen. Also, electronic content is elegantly folded into the texture of the music just as, say, an oboe would be; it’s not electro-acoustic music, it’s just music.

I went last night to the Philadelphia premiere of Tan Dun’s opera Tea: A Mirror of Soul. As with the best pieces, its triumphs and problems are encapsulated by the title. What I believe he means is Tea: A Mirror of the Soul, right? The libretto, which the composer co-wrote, is in a very stylized version of English. What you end up with is lines like “though bowl is empty, scent glows… though shadow is gone, dream grows.”

I am going to be really honest here and just say that I don’t really know where to file this re: like, Race & Language. This shit was written IN ENGLISH; the music is gorgeous, poetic, and fluid; surely this Mr. Miyagi-ass grammar is a hindrance to the flow? Or should I say: Pidgin: A Hindrance to Flow? The “bowl is empty” line occurs six or seven times over the course of the opera; each time, the vocal line would actually be helped by adding “the” to it. I will confess here to Not Getting It. All of this reaches a particularly distressing point with the climactic sex scene:

rubbing the…
oolong, dark dragon, rises.
squeezing the…
moli, jasmine flower, opens.
pressing the…
loonching, dragon well, overflows.

Okay. I think I just have to leave that alone. The commas, the dragon…I think it is speaking from a Place to which I Have No Access. Does anybody else know what a dragon well is? Because I didn’t. Apparently it’s Longjing tea? So then that line should read as, “pressing the Longjing tea, Longjing tea overflows?” If that’s what it means, what does that mean? The lines are translated inside themselves? Do I need to file this under “is you is or is you ain’t my lotus blossom?” I will leave you with my overall impression which is that the music is beyond gorgeous, an overflowing stew of textures, lines, and geologically percussive textures, all in the service of a libretto that literally sounds like a series of fortune cookies strung together in order to teach us the age-old lesson that Str8 Men Will Kill Each Other 4 Pussy.

(I will add here that it was fabulous to see that the three onstage percussionists were Haruka, Chihiro, and Yuri, all three my gurlz from Juilliard, whom Tan Dun employed with a series of Dada-esque tasks: ripping paper, spanking water, molesting giant scrolls).

What I am interested in, here, though, is the idea that maybe I’m crazy and maybe what occurred, vis-à-vis That Libretto, is totally great and fine and I’m just having a strange reaction. But the other thing is this: thousands of people have seen this opera, in a variety of stages. Did anybody every perhaps lightly interrogate the libretto? This is an issue particularly close to my heart at this time; my opera which is happening at the ENO in two years and at the Met in four had a workshop in October. We (that being me, the Met, the ENO, the director, the librettist) invited a small group of friends and trusted advisers to come and hear it, and before we started, I told everybody that one of the conditions of their presence was that they be completely frank about anything that struck them as weird: length of sequences, specific words, vocal quirks, plot issues, believability “” literally all of the possible things. At the end of it, I got a series of emails from said friends & advisers which addressed a lot of those little details, and then some bigger things: “That whole section is way too long.” “That lady’s character is under-developed.” This is good to hear! I need to hear this stuff! And anybody, anywhere, who is ever invited to a piece of work in a developmental stage, is under a Literal Moral Obligation to make her comments known. That’s the whole point of the Process, of Life, of Making Art in the first place. Interrogate your friends and they will do the same for you; it’s about a project of complete honesty and gut reactions; between friends, wound heals quickly; with audience, much stifled laughter.


  • I just read an interesting article explaining that most Asian languages do not have indefinite or definite articles, so perhaps that has something to do with the lack of them in Tan Dun’s libretto, or maybe he and Xu Ying were trying to be poetic; either way it seems to have affected your enjoyment of the opera. In ‘making art’ should we strive for perfection?

  • […] at Le Poisson Rouge upon returning from LA. Bjarnason has an album out on Bedroom Community, which Nico posted on earlier today; this composer is incredibly talented across different types of instrumentation and is just as […]

  • I don’t think your opinion is uninformed. Personally, if the libretto is going to be in English, then it should be grammatically correct. It is indeed otherwise distracting. Personally I find Mr Dun’s music very colonial in the sense that I think he makes exotic the “oriental” aspects of his work in a way that an ethnic asian should take for granted. Consequently, the libretto you wrote about is consistent with this in that the pidgin english serves to make the “orientalism” of the opera exotic, as if some Victorian explorer had written it in order to express the atmosphere of the mysterious east, so to speak. It probably would have served the opera better to have had it sung in Mandarin.

  • Dropping of articles and shifters (I, We, etc.) could be useful for effect, but I think it gets weird if there is not reason for it.
    Wozzeck has all of those fragments of text that get obsessed over “Ein Augenblick, Ein Augenblick!”, but it is the music that gives effect there.

  • Isn’t this just the farcical end of the whole orientalism discourse: unintended self-parody by western-trained artists of Asian origin taking cover under subalternity?

  • I love what I streamed of the Bjarnason CD off the website, but I’ve been looking around for an affordable way to actually own the music. I hate to complain because the reason I’m frustrated is that I love everything the label has put out, but is there any plan to make the CDs (or even the downloads) from Bedroom Community available at a reasonable price for North Americans? $14CDN seems a bit steep for a “pay what you want” download. I’ve gotten most of the labels music off eMusic, but this CD doesn’t seem to be available there.

  • Patrick: it’s all on iTunes.

  • when are you gonna write more about what you do0 with the cap of the shampoo?

  • Just downloaded and listened to the new albums and later today I will listen again. They are wonderful on first hearing, and I suspect that they will get deeper with subsequent hearings. Is there any way of getting the liner notes? Or of putting them on iTunes?

  • king lear, no less.

  • The joke that’s crying out to be made, of course, is some kind of reference to ‘Tea: a drink with jam and bread’ (the same number of syllables as the Tan Dun title!). Now there’s alterity for all: d’oh, d’oh, d’oh.

  • yeah king lears fear of vagina was a surprise, I never know if Im reading these notes right because one minute
    you complaining about you sweaty twat in a cramped ny club and the next your obsessing on bathroom design, then you soar to a place only the most erudite and musical can follow. I was wondering if you had seen the TEMPLE GRANDIN
    movie yet. Ive lived with a high functioning autistic for 25 years and theres so damn much to understand. But the reason I mention it is that you wrote a while back about movie music being either derivative of Glass or Thomas newman and in the temple grandin film they used very glass-ish music whenever they were in (cinematically) her head.

  • Nico,
    How I enjoy reading your posts, even if they are about things I don’t understand. I’d love to hear you in a one man play someday.