Message from the Artist: Nico Muhly

Archives, Friends, Patterns is an evening of music written for friends. The first part of the evening focuses on the music of Philip Glass. Much of his early work was written for a core group of his friends, comprising woodwinds, keyboards, and voices. Having his own ensemble allowed him to explore musical processes which would be quite difficult to achieve with ensembles of strangers, and therefore, much of his music from the 70’s and early 80’s feels shimmeringly cosy: an ensemble of friends working as a community to make music. I’ve tried, here, to take some of Philip’s lesser-known works (taken from the film score Étoile Polaire, the epic Another Look at HarmonyMonsters of Grace, and the CIVIL warS, the last two collaborations with director Robert Wilson) and re-arrange them for an ensemble of my friends. Although the sonic language is different, the fundamental philosophy of collaboration and community music-making remains the same.

The second part of the evening has a more convoluted origin story. In the 1930’s, the Canadian composer and musicologist Colin McPhee went to Bali, and made transcriptions of gamelan music. He transformed this music — deeply compromised by the almost Colonial processes on which most ethnomusicology relies — into music for two pianos, which he and the composer Benjamin Britten recorded in Brooklyn in the 1940’s. McPhee’s transcriptions and other work deeply informed the musical language of Britten’s work in the 1960’s and 1970’s, particularly after a trip Britten and his partner, Peter Pears, took to Bali in 1957. Thomas Bartlett, one of my oldest friends and collaborators, shares an obsession with the McPhee & Britten recordings, heartbreakingly foxed and worn in their transfer to the digital format, and we decided to write a set of songs loosely based on them. These songs are, collectively, part of a project called Peter Pears; here, we present the songs interspersed with the aforementioned gamelan transcriptions.

The final part of the evening is the smallest and most personal: a collection of drone-based music, played by two friends I’ve known for the better part of two decades: violinist Lisa Liu and violist Nadia Sirota. My Drones cycle is simple: a combination of any instruments create a drone consisting, usually, of two notes, over which I wrote long lines, athletic activity, and lyrical episodes. The community comes together, makes a simple noise together, and one member steps out for reflection, movement, and action.

—Nico Muhly