Posts Tagged 'interviews'

Nico Muhly Is A Rather Brilliant Man, And Here’s An Interview To Prove It

Nico Muhly
A straight rip from the forthcoming TD, with a tiny preface: Nico Muhly’s music is in the same school of inspiration that Steve Reich’s back catalogue graduated from, and it’s well on the way to achieving first class honours. Check out any of his thoroughly beautiful bits/bobs wherever you can find them.

It’s the journalistic requisite to list off the Talmud-length CV of Nico Muhly when introducing him to friends, readers, and innocent bystanders. Take your pick: his eclectic, venerable albums Speaks Volumes and Mothertongue, the shiver-inducing soundtrack to The Reader, arrangements for Bjork, Antony and the Johnsons and Grizzly Bear, a blog chockful of New Yorker-worthy articles, his status as the most exciting American composer in decades, the possessor of a fine clump of hair. Muhly plays his first Dublin show at the out-going Spiegeltent at this year’s Fringe, our tip as the festival’s crowning achievement.

I’m Youtube skimming like a true lazy journalist… You were just on my screen talking about the concept of portable music as a New Year’s resolution. How’s that working out?

It’s been pretty great, actually. I’m writing a lot of music for my friend Nadia Sirota, who will join me in Dublin — a bunch of shorter, easy-to-travel with pieces. Now, of course, as I say this, I’m writing an opera, which is the least portable thing ever. So it’s about balance for the New Year!

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is sitting in front of me now declaring “The musical concept of the composer is nearly dead”. This seems quite bold. Where do you stand on this?

Well, first of all, I am mystified as to how you have a copy of a magazine from Pittsburgh in Ireland.

Me too.

That sounds like one of those indefensible statements that people “involved in culture” love to utter. Surely that sentence could have been written by depressed journalists in 1890, 1920, 1950, etc?  Anytime you read a sentence about classical music with the formula “_______ is dead” it’s almost always written by some kind of revolutionary or reactionary or crazy person.  My response to this — and really to most meta-figurations about music — is to put my fingers in my ears and apply myself to the business of continuing to write good music.

In your recent blog post about minimalism you mentioned the near-rock credentials of minimalist and post-minimalist composers – How people attend Phillip Glass shows like rock concerts. As a figure with a foot firmly in the contemporary rock/indie world do you see any convergence between the indie universe and the avant-garde, minimalist, classical world? You can hear a definite similarity in aesthetic and approach between what, say, Animal Collective are doing and what Steve Reich and Terry Riley initiated. Even if it has taken 40 years to filter down.

I see a convergence, but I don’t think it’s new. I think people in their 40’s and 50’s and even 60’s were listening to, you know, Bob Dylan and Steve Reich happily together way back when. But, I think the reason for this now is that classical music exists in a the same commercial space as other, non-classical musics, experimental or not. The iTunes store is the best example of this — you can laterally transfer from, say, my music to the new Grizzly Bear album without having to physically haul your body into a closed room devoted to classical music in the store.

I was talking to a friend last night about musical comfort zones, and the importance of forcing yourself to listen outside of the familiar – you’re liable to learn a whole lot more listening to very bad ragga that you’ve never heard before than slightly different permutations of what you’re used to. Do you think you confine yourself to a comfort zone? Do you take influence from outside of what would be considered experimental or avant-garde music?

How interesting — this is a good question. Now. My comfort zone is actually very different from experimental and avant garde music. My comfort zone is 16th and 17th century English choral music, and classical American minimalism, which is to say, Philip Glass Music in 12 Parts or Reich Music for 18 Musicians. So that’s my sort of emotional ground zero.  But my listening is voracious and very wide-ranging.  Just while I’m writing this to you, I listened to some tidbits from “Nixon in China” and a bunch of Trina (she’s a ferocious hip hop artist from the south).

You’ve talked before about how your work doesn’t revolve around a core ideology – It’s strange that the criticism of current youth culture is its sort of irreligiosity and what might be dubbed as shallowness, but your music is almost cut from that same cloth and is praised for it. Do you think a sort of cultural atheism is the way forward for art and music?

Ha, interesting.  Like I said before, I don’t worry about it too much — I would say that inasmuch as my work is shallow and concerned with surfaces and sort of making connections electrically, it also bears a sacred trace that comes from choral music. So I don’t know. Hard question.

I’m thinking of visiting Iceland next year. The country seems to have had an impact on you (Syllables, Bjork)… What’s the big attraction for you?

Oh it’s the best!  I just love it.  It’s beautiful, musical, severe, cold — it just resonates with me enormously. Everyone should absolutely visit it.

What are you planning for the Dublin show? Have you been in the city before?

I’m not sure what I’m planning! I’m going to do a bunch of energetic solo pieces, that’s for sure, and most likely “Wonders” from Mothertongue…  I have never been to Ireland, and am hugely excited.

I’m still skimming… A Youtube commenter wants to know: “Is there ANYTHING you can’t do?”

I don’t know how to tie a bow tie.


Dark Adaptation: Fever Ray Interview

The facts: Fever Ray is the solo vehicle for the musical experiments of one half of Swedish switchblade-electronica proponents The Knife, Karin Dreijer-Andersson. The Knife create dance music with an emphasis on emotive storytelling. Fever Ray creates head music where psychomotor reactions are a curious by-product of her motorik beats. Dark adaptation is the process where your eyes adapt to pitch-blackness in shady light, pupils dilating and retinal sensitivity heightening, searching out any ray of light illuminating the blackness. Fever Ray is dark adaptation for the ears.

Now we’ve cleared the facts up. Let’s get on to the fiction.

There’s a duality in a lot of your music, the conflict between the ‘female’
and ‘male’ voices, the contrast between the pop music and the more ambient
music, the sense of physical mystery you create with the masks and the
confessional, open nature of the lyrics- Do you set out to obscure the true
nature of your music and your identity as Fever Ray, and as The Knife, or is
it a case that you don’t have a strictly defined concept of what Fever
Ray/The Knife is?

K: The Knife and Fever Ray are just free to do whatever they want. They are
projects and worlds where there are no rules or frames for working. I do not
like the idea of concept, as soon you getting close to a too defined idea,
then you have to work towards it in some way.

Ralph Emerson wrote that “Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures.”
Since your writing is usually fiction do you find that it sometimes
illuminates truths in your life you hadn’t been conscious of?

K: I think working through Fever Ray makes many things get clearer. It feels more
real than if I would have tried to say something without a mask of some
kind, for example. ‘Natural’ is also a construction, but it’s not said out
loud enough.

Can you compare the Fever Ray album with any other works of fiction, or even
see traces of other’s creations in it in terms of theme or style?

K: It is close to a scene in Julio Medem’s film The Red Squirrel where the
band Las Mosqas stand on a cliff playing their music dressed in fur.

I know you admire Jim Jarmusch’s ‘Dead Man’ a lot- What elements of it did
you associate with your music?

K: First I like the tempo. The long scenes, the loads of time that passes
and with little things going on. There is room for delicate details. And I
like the photo too, a little bit rough and very beautiful.

Fever Ray is a new character/set of characters from the cast you’ve played
as the Knife. Do you define the characters you play before you inhabit them,
or do they develop as you go on?

K: I see them more as mental characters or emotional characters. A steady
ongoing development, they change shape a lot.

Is Fever Ray predominantly for your own catharsis and as an outlet for your
own creative urges, or is it made for mass consumption? Do you ever create a
song with an audience’s reaction in mind- How much of it is pop music, and
how much of it is art?

K: I never think of an audience, I make the music by myself and my bunch of
pitched friends in the voice machine. It’s only us present at the recordings
and I think of no one else. I think pop music definitely can be art, I am
not so interested in separating it, both can be both, I guess.

The Knife’s success was unprecedented, in a sense. While there’s a core
pop sensibility to a lot of Knife songs, it’s wrapped up in a darkness and a
musical obliqueness that most would consider too weird for a mainstream
audience to latch on to, to enjoy. Do you think Fever Ray is even more
challenging for new listeners? And do you think music is essentially a waste
of time if it doesn’t challenge an existing template?

K: I think music and art should be challenging, yes. Brain exercise. But you
can create challenge in many ways, it can be a tone out of tune and it can
be voices cut in different ways, it’s very hard to say how to create it, but
you know it when you feel it, I hope. I try to always [challenge myself while making music]. Making working routine for example. I worked from almost 7 to 4 every day for 8 months. That’s a good start. I think making music in itself means challenge, cause I don’t think it’s easy at

Is the darkness of your videos and of your music there to make the little
candlelights and the moments of brightness more valuable and more precious,
because they’re rarer? Are you an optimist, a pessimist, or a realist?

K: Yes, that’s a fine way to say it. I am a hopeless optimist, I expect
everything to work, always. I have a very unrealistic confidence many times.

The ocean is a motif through the album- what attracts you most to the sea?

K: I am brought up by the west coast of Sweden and the sea means summer,
holiday and something free. It is also very nice to sleep in boats. Now I
live on the east coast which is not really the sea, a real sea must have
salt water and jellyfish.

Will there always be mystery surrounding your work, or are you gradually
shedding more light on your personality, removing the mask a little bit?

K: Music is mystery in itself, and beauty and possibilities and freedom. You
destroy that when mixing it up with the private, a face or fashion.

Most articles pin the Knife and Fever Ray down as this morose, macabre act
with a zealous approach to your work, but really there’s an awful lot of
humour in some of your stuff. I don’t think anybody who’s listened to
‘Hangin’ Out’ could accuse you of having no sense of humour. But Fever Ray
seems far less cheerful, bleaker than the music you’ve made before, even in
the range of sounds on it- Was it less of a fun and playful album to make?

K: I guess I had no one to laugh together with in the studio. And there was
no need, my hands were full of other matters this time.

Given your love for Miami Vice did you think about getting Jan Hammer in on
the album for a collaboration?

K: I like to keep the writing process for myself. And production-wise, I am
very happy with the more minimal guys I have produced together with. But
remix-wise, why not?

As published in Totally Dublin, March 2009


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