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Keep In Touch

from Speaks Volumes by Nico Muhly

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A love duet, let’s say, for viola and tape. But the title, KEEP IN TOUCH – these are words of parting; it’s a long-distance romance at best, the taped vocals and the viola not so much keeping each other company as mirroring each other’s isolation.

Nico explains that he intended the piece to be the exploration of an awkward “in-betweenness” shared by Antony’s voice and that of the viola, and every dimension of Keep in Touch emphasizes the strangeness of these two androgynous instruments. The viola is uncomfortably close, opening the piece with the first in a series of cadenzas – classical solos in a pseudo-improvisatory style – composed and recorded in such a way as to emphasize the instrument’s inconsistencies of tone. (Valgeir concocted the inner-ear scrapings of the percussion track from samples of pretermusical viola noise.) Antony’s vocals, so stately on his own records, are reduced to abrupt, extemporaneous gestures, mutilated by the electronic environment. To widen the gulf between the two soloists, Nico gave each of them as little exposure to the other’s performance as possible: Antony hadn’t heard the viola part when he laid down the vocals, and not until the last moment did Nadia rehearse with Antony’s half of the piece.

Formally, at least, the piece might seem designed to offer some measure of consolation. The chaconne (a classical piece built around a cyclical chord progression) is a traditional form for music of lamentation, maybe because of the sad reassurance in the return of familiar harmonies. But there’s something less than reassuring about this chaconne – the harmonic cycle takes a wrong turn somewhere, churning out some ferocious dissonances; consolation is thwarted, and the music, after a climax of thunderous trombone and percussion blasts, gradually dwindles to a single, lonely note from the viola.

— Daniel Johnson


from Speaks Volumes, released September 10, 2006
Nadia Sirota, viola
Antony, vocals
Kyle Covington, trombones
Viola recorded by Valgeir
Vocals & trombone recorded by Dan Bora


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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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