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Nico Muhly Interview

Posted on 23 June 2008. © Copyright 2004-2020 Composition:Today

C:T talks to composer Nico Muhly, whose second album 'MotherTongue' was recently released.

Nico Muhly, photo by Michael Schmelling
What drives your work, what are you passions?

Language, grammar, exceptions to rules.

Which non-musical influences have affected your music most?

Language! Learning foreign languages, being in situations where I am either translating from one language to another, or being completely lost at sea in a foreign language.

Tell us how language influences your work. Does this change when you are setting an actual text?

For the most part, I use language as a diving board to start writing something. Usually, my initial sketches are words with circles drawn around them, arrows, lines, sort of like a schematic diagram of how to conjugate a verb. Then, the musical material undergoes similar transformations. When I'm setting text, I just use that specific language as the starting point. For instance, when you set the bible, it's very easy, because the words are so beautiful, and you don't need to throw, like, declension paradigms at your ideas to make them bend.

Does the environment you work in affect what you write and if so how?

Yes and no. The music that I write in the country is much 'better' than the music I write in the city, but I am less excited by the process. It feels more like yardwork, whereas the music in the city is plugged in, alive! I used to have a big apartment, and now I have a very small one; the music didn't change at all between the two places.

How has the internet and technology affected your work as a composer?

I started using the internet at the same time as I started becoming a musician, so it's hard for me to make a distinction betweeen a time when there was no internet and now. However, "technology," as a general concept, is very important just in terms of being able to e-mail players parts. It sounds stupid but I can't tell you what a difference it has made in being able to work in other countries...when I make albums, it's all through instant messaging files back and forth between here and Reykjavik.

What's the strangest idea for a piece you've ever had?

I wanted to do the lamentations of jeremiah the prophet with only children.

Which work are you most proud of and why?

The Elements of Style, in collaboration with Illustrator Maira Kalman. I think my entire emotional landscape is described by that piece: language, whimsy, sorrow, practicality...

What does the future hold for you?

I'm gonna write some operas

Please list anywhere online where your work can be experienced

Please list any useful resouces/links

Interview by Composition:Today © Copyright 2004-2020

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