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A Week in Culture: Nico Muhly, Composer, Part 2

February 17, 2011 | by

This is the second installment of Muhly’s culture diary. Click here to read part 1.

Photograph by Samantha West.


10:15 A.M. While I slept, iTunes seems to have downloaded the complete collected works of MNDR. I must have gone on a pre-ordering binge, because it also is trying to download the film of Never Let Me Go. I’m listening to “I go away,” from the MNDR track. I like electronic-based slowish tracks; I loved that Capslock track off the MIA album whose title I dare not reproduce here. I wish there were a more poetic way to describe the rhythmic passage of time than “tick tock.” I’m looking at this queue: yet more SVU and the new Top Chef are coming! I fly tonight back to New York so maybe I can sneak one of these in on the plane.

3:00 P.M. Good God! The BBC has a story about the “history” of chai in India. The segment begins with a twelve-second history of tea that elides over the idea of Empire so quickly it feels like a blow to the solar plexus. I reach a Kiplingesque encounter with a terra-cotta cup maker in Kolkata just as we reach the rental car return, so I don’t have a moment to jot down who was responsible for this. They should write opera libretti! I do wonder who is responsible for radio’s “generic ethnic background noise.” I’m convinced that if you slow down the audio and remove the host’s voice, you’ll hear the same group of five people chattering—be it a story about Inuit fishing quotas or the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

9:00 P.M. A calm post-flight evening of take-out and listening to Ella Fitzgerald. I am preparing for Saturday night, which is when I will be seeing the Metropolitan Opera’s production of John Adams’s Nixon in China with a bunch of friends. I have the score perched next to my computer. I watch the first twelve minutes of an episode of Top Chef with Isaac Mizrahi saying outrageous things to the cheftestants and pass out.

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A Week in Culture: Nico Muhly, Composer

February 16, 2011 | by

Photograph by Samantha West.


10:45 A.M. Reykjavík, Iceland. I wake up later than I want, and desperately read, again, the last twenty pages of Alan Hollinghurst’s The Folding Star. By this point, the plot has turned into a fun cross-Benelux car chase. I myself have just come from a slightly awkward but ultimately fun week in Benelux, where I was resident at a chamber music festival, and every time I go to the Netherlands I reread this book. I make special digital note, this time, of some good descriptions: “minatory Flemish motets.”

3:30 P.M. Oh my God, there is an Ali Farka Touré album I don’t own: Red & Green. I’m buying it right now. I am going to also take this opportunity to rebuy the Toumani Diabaté album Djelika. I am, as always, fascinated by the weird intervalic overlap between Morricone scores and Malian music. I’m making a note to go know more about this. It is also noted that Mio, the brother of Valgeir, both of whom I am making a ton of records with this week in Iceland, has pants very similar in cut to those featured on the cover of Red & Green.


5:45 A.M. I wake up in a panic—an anxiety dream about an e-mail argument, which is prescient given the early-morning realities of my inbox. To calm myself, I buy music online manically. The new Iron and Wine cover is neurosis-provoking neon, but I buy it anyway. While listening on headphones, I fall back asleep and iTunes continues and mysteriously plays Paula Deen’s “Thanksgiving Special,” in which she makes oyster dressing. I actually like her accent, although the way she pronounces the word for (as in, “I’ll let this fry up here for a minute”) strikes me as uncharacteristically Vietnamese.

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