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Plane Drone

from Friday, July27th of the year2012.

The process of idling at the airport, taxiing, and taking off (to say nothing of the flight itself) is a series of changing drones. Idling, for instance, is a constant c#, with an ever-changing top note: f#, e#, or e. All of this is slightly flatter than a=440. The ventilation system insists on a kind of extra-flat g#, but the whole thing is gorgeously rooted on the everpresent c#. When the plane levels out, though, a g# in the bass reframes the whole thing, so you end up with a chord in a strange position: confident, but with a changing root. I feel like I would be very happy listening to even a transcription of this music.

I’ve been in Iceland for the last week working and trying, in some way, to relax a bit before the chaos of Gait and the UK during the olympics happens tomorrow. I am rooting for England: I want the country to not fuck up the transit and prove to everybody that they can, in fact, get it together. I’m trying not to participate in the media frenzy of obsessing over the inevitable chaos, although I was secretly pleased to read the accounts of the first athletes’ busses getting lost despite the basically straight line TFL has carved out for them from Heathrow to the Olympic Village. And we’re all in agreement that all that nonsense about who can and cannot say “olympic” is stupid, right? and the french fries??

I went with my man to the Westfjords of Iceland for a few days last week, and instead of going to the (relatively) bustling main city, Ísafjörður, we headed south to Patreksfjörður, a very sleepy fishing town. It was exactly what I needed — a quiet village just for a minute. It was restorative in the sense that it was completely free of any possible obligations or distractions, and it was lightly raining the whole time, which meant that I could just read about North Korean inflation in the 60’s and watch BBC’s Wild China for hours at a time. I’ve found that thinking about music is much easier if I’ve spent about 36 hours thinking about anything but. Did you know that it’s bats in China that eat fish?!? And they eat the shit while hanging upside-down? I am shocked. The series is great and totally worth watching for the footage alone. They’ve chosen a kind of generic pentatonic orchestral music with a touch of erhu score that must have cost a fortune: strings everywhere, big thematic gestures. Not my favorite thing in the world but there’s a kind of magical theme that is decidedly not racist that I’ve been humming — it reminds me of some Elgar, maybe, with a big descending interval of the sort that makes English people well up. I cannot talk to you about the Chinese giant salamander or these baby alligators.

I don’t know why this is, but whenever I deal with young people — like, from 13 to say 20 — I always get a cramp of “first day of school” style anxiety, of the sort I haven’t really needed to feel for ten years. I remember being that age myself: a wild combination of insecure, judgemental, strident, shy, curious, and mean. At my high school we had, each year, a batch of ambitious younger teachers, some grad students from Brown, and we were awful: squinting at their ambitiously ironed clearly new first-day-of-school khaki pants (it was the 90’s), or questioning the cut of their jeans in a painfully obvious sotto voce. There was one woman in particular about whom I still feel a degree of guilt: she turned up on her first day teaching high school history or English wearing an outfit one would wear to homeschool evangelical Christian children in the midwest. We are talking a white turtleneck under a denim floor-length dress with socks and sandals, the denim dressing being already smudged with chalk dust and dri-erase ink by noon. We were merciless. It took a few weeks before we could ignore these perceived sartorial infractions and start focusing on the content of the teaching. Anyway, maybe these days everybody is mean enough to each other online (which was a register to which we did not enjoy access) that everything is pleasant in real life.

Everybody at the NYO is outrageously nice. Think Greenwood rather than Tanglewood, if you’re coming from the American system of summer zones with youth. I’m staying in what is essentially a dormroom whose simplicity is actually soothing. There are plugs everywhere, and the internet is fast. The +44 is obsessed with fire doors, which essentially means that they have a series of closed doors in a damp, northern European place, causing mildew and a generally pervasive sense of damp. The first thing I do when entering English dwellings is create an outrageous cross-breeze, which has been very effective in fighting the Damp.


  • Enjoyed reading your remarks about the drones one hears while traveling by plane; so much so that I spent a bit of time exploring this morning. So, sir, here you are —

    A Drone for Nico Muhly:

    Used the notes you mentioned, sequenced them, but couldn’t quite adjust to a non-440 pitch. But it makes for an intriguing point of departure.


  • But surely the damp helps thwart the fires? Nevertheless, glad you have created cross-breezes. Your blog is my antidote to the Damp. And you are a sartorial genius. Tell the young’uns to bugger off.

  • Please write a book! “Sartorial infractions” is the kind of thing that sets off all my synaptic joy bells and blinkers.