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It Goes Without Saying

from Speaks Volumes by Nico Muhly

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Here again, in IT GOES WITHOUT SAYING organism vs. mechanism. Valgeir’s electronics are “organic” in two senses of the word: first, for all their precision, they’re still designed to sound like the noises of something alive much more than they sound like music made with machines; second, they seem to share a certain sonic DNA with the other instruments in the piece. While there are chillier, metallic noises on the palette – samples ranging from a unique set of tiny bells to an ordinary kitchen whisk – most prominent are the woody clicks sampled from the keys of the clarinet and the pedals of the harmonium – the “silent” mechanisms usually concealed beneath the music.

The piece develops according to these same, dual organic principles. Among the acoustic instruments, the harmonium wheezes, and the clarinets beep and tootle, with a woody, pneumatic corporeality, so that the timbre is both entirely human and entirely of a piece. From the initial drone, the clarinets and electronics enter furtively, building the material of the piece from small, replicating cells into a lively and elaborate texture.

The minutely wrought surface is stretched over the simplest possible formal contour, the drone undergirding the piece progressing from C to F and back again. The second section begins when the harmonium collapses under its own sweaty dissonances, and the harmonic crisis precipitates a timbral one: a shocking burst of industrial noise, dominating rather than complementing its acoustic surroundings; the cello gives an icy, ominous tremolo on that low F. Finally, when the machine noises die away and we return to the tonal center, the mellow, woody clicking returns, and the gentle chiming of the celeste lets the clarinets know that they’re free once more to gambol in the sunny and spacious key of C.

— Daniel Johnson


from Speaks Volumes, released September 10, 2006
Carol McGonnell, clarinets
Hildur Ingveldardóttir Guðnadóttir, cello
Nico, harmonium & celeste


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Nico Muhly New York

Nico Muhly is a composer of orchestral music, stage works and sacred music. His work for film includes scores for for The Reader and the BBC adaptation of Howards End. Recordings of his works have been released by Decca and Nonesuch, and he is part of the artist-run record label Bedroom Community, which released his first two albums, Speaks Volumes and Mothertongue. ... more

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