Monthly Archives: January 2011
Hi everyone, sorry for the delay— my neighbor was listening to Rihanna really loudly and for a long time and I couldn’t hear my crossfades properly. But I persevered and managed to edit and upload some new recordings for you, including some excerpts from It takes a long time to become a good composer and Schumann’s Kreisleriana, as well as a fierce new performance of Clamber Music by Tema Watstein and Owen Dalby. All were recorded live by the talented Ryan Streber.
It’s definitely booking season. I’ve been saying “Yes!” to many lovely things lately, and I wish I could share them all with you right now, so excited am I. But I don’t think it’s yet “Season Announcement Season” and I imagine it’s gauche to spill the beans about these things.
(That reminds me; did you know that cranberry beans are the same as borlotti beans are the same as Roman beans? This was a revelation to me as I’ve recently become enamored of the cranberry bean, but lamented its rarity, and only just now have found out that they are all around!)
This month is a bit out of the ordinary, composing-wise, in that I’ve agreed to write about an hour of new music for a fashion show (completely separate from last summer’s Chanel incident). It’s for a prodigious young designer in New York named Frank Tell, and when I found out what he wanted from me, my first reaction was a double take; it’s kind of crazy, as a musician in the “classical world”, to be asked to write so much so fast. (Usually it’s more along the lines of “Get psyched to write nine minutes of music by 2013!”) In this case, it’s a real “Gebrauchsmusik” job: write music to strut to, as beautifully as possible— like a ballet, except with very little direct relation between the music and the stage action. (I’ve never seen a full production of Daphnis et Chloé, but there are sections where the musical gestures are literally balletic; you can hear every pirouette and jeté. In a fashion show, it’s pretty much just strutting, but you still need to do more than just a brisk andante.)
From a productivity standpoint, this project has necessitated a different sort of writing style. I’ve unconcerned myself with such beloved composerly tricks as “developing variation” and “form” or even “themes”, though I guess if I were forced to choose I would call it an “ambient ritornello”. Sections follow each other stream-of-conciousness style, occasionally looking back to gestures from previous sections, but mostly just running their course. The orchestration is also minimal by necessity— there’s no piano at the venue, so I’m playing entirely with electronics, and my friend Tema Watstein is joining me on violin (you know her from Clamber Music). One piece I’m referring to as a precedent is LCD Soundsystem’s 45:33, which was commissioned by Nike as a soundtrack for people’s workouts. Even though I’m not a runner I’ve always enjoyed listening to it as a great piece of functional, minimal composition. I’m glad people didn’t give James Murphy a hard time about “selling out”; I think the reason must be that 45:33 is just so good (this is confirmed by the fact that big chunks of it were reincarnated as songs on Sound of Silver). If I’m lucky, I may be able to pull a similar stunt and plunder my project for material in the future.
One thing that’s making my life better right now: my new Magic Trackpad. This is one of those products you never knew existed until you have an hour to spare on the Upper West Side and are forced to take shelter in the Apple Store. It’s a standalone version of a laptop trackpad, but much larger, and wireless. Its surface is glass, like an iPhone, and you can do the same sort of gestures on it. The thing is also so well-made it’s ridiculous. Look at how well it fits next to the keyboard:
I think there’s no question that it beats a mouse. Even the fancy multi-touch Apple mouse has a tendency to get clogged with dust on the bottom, and it’s too heavy because it’s full of batteries, and I also have a tendency to knock it off my desk. The touch surface on the trackpad is much more useful, too, because it’s about twice as big, making the legendary “four-finger swipe” a possibility. OK, I’ll stop shilling for Apple now and get back to work. Actually, that’s a joke. I’ll never stop shilling for Apple.
What might be
Just a quick last-minute reminder to come hear me play Jefferson Friedman with ACME and Craig Wedren tomorrow night at Merkin Hall. The Ecstatic Music Festival is taking over! My life! I just got home from two rehearsals for this show (six hours combined) and I can guarantee an evening of general intensity.
Now I’m going to watch Top Chef. I mean really, what else could I possibly do at this point.
Here’s a video trailer for the entire Ecstatic Music Festival. I’m very proud that it uses the first track from Shy and Mighty as the background music:
Let me explain
I realize I haven’t written here about my iPad, and several people asked me about it after Monday’s Ecstatic Music Marathon so I thought I would explain. First of all, I did not wake up one morning and think “You know what would be super CUTTING EDGE? Reading music off an iPad”. Rather it evolved during the process of writing It takes a long time to become a good composer.
I write directly into the computer, and while I have a nice 88-key controller and good sampler courtesy of Logic, things feel and sound completely different on my real piano, which is about 15 feet away. So instead of wasting reams of paper printing out drafts just to walk them over to the piano, I began moving PDF files over to my iPad. I got to like this way of working so much that I never actually printed the piece at all, even once it was finished (which, granted, was about two days before the première). Page-turns that would have been an issue with a paper score are easy when all you have to do is flick a screen; there’s no pinch-seperate-lift-turn and perhaps best of all, the operation is totally silent. I have nothing against page turners (the unfortunate souls who are compelled, usually at the last minute, to perch beside the pianist and arise stealthily at just the right moment), but it feels better and looks more streamlined to rely on oneself. Plus you don’t owe anyone any favors afterward.
I was happy to see a New York Times story on the building at 33 Flatbush Ave. a couple of days ago. The former bank in downtown Brooklyn is home to a rough cöoperative of artists, scientists, chefs, designers and other creative types; my friend Lainie Fefferman recently laid claim to a small space there, a kind of “studio away from home” for composers, called Exapno. A weathered mountain-man named Al holds the place down, and fills it with his collection of salvaged furniture and other urban architectural detritus.
Lainie set me loose in 33 Flatbush a few months ago with my camera. It’s a fascinating space, made more wonderful by the vast and random assortment of activities going inside it (and on top of it). Here are some of my favorite photos from that afternoon.
A momentous occasion
My website’s done. I just flipped the switch on the Visuals page at long last, and took away the little beta thing on the logo. You can now scroll endlessly back and forth through some of my favorite photos, drawings, and other miscellany from the past several years. Great for “visual learners.”