Nico Muhly is a virtuoso of keeping in touch, a hub for the vast network of friends and collaborators around the world that he's constantly checking in on with with personal or musical questions or scandalously inappropriate humor. Even when he is the only person awake in a hotel room in the middle of the night on a strange continent, there is someone, somewhere, that he can ping—What's going on? What's happening? How about now?—to satisfy his his need for human connection.
Keep in Touch, especially in its original version, was premised on the fear of never quite managing to make that connection. Its two soloists—violist Nadia Sirota, of Alarm Will Sound, and vocalist ANOHNI, of Antony and the Johnsons—were recorded separately, so that Anohni was virtually present, her part constructed from pass after pass of vocal improvisations, while Nadia's was added later, all in one long, live take.
But in reality, Nico's connection with the musicians on Keep in Touch—not just Nadia and Anohni, but also electronic musician Valgeir Sigurðsson, who realized and recorded the 2006 release—was never really broken. It was one of Nico's earliest collaborations with these singular musicians, with whom he has returned to the studio many times in the intervening decade. Nadia especially remains one of Nico's closest friends, even as their ever-more-hectic working schedules means that they're more likely to see each other IRL about once a month, rather than once a week.
The Alarm Will Sound version of Keep in Touch here was created by another of Nico's close friends, AWS percussionist Chris Thompson, who has managed to approximate every one of Valgeir's samples and Anohni's vocalizations, no matter how seemingly inimitable, for live performance. In a sense, it is of a piece with AWS's transcriptions of Aphex Twin or of the Beatles' musique concrète "Revolution 9," offering a new perspective on the compositional craft that went into an electronic piece by connecting it to the tradition of notated music. Here, a work for viola and tape becomes a miniature viola concerto for Nadia, Chris and their Alarm Will Sound bandmates.
Buy your copy of Keep in Touch from Bedroom Community here.
Terror is often the first response to unfamiliarity, and some of the boldest forays into the unfamiliar have launched under the banner of Modernism. Listening to new sounds can be akin to watching a horror movie—with ears covered rather than eyes—but given time, what was once disturbing can become intriguing.
Alarm Will Sound ventures into the outer reaches of propriety on Modernists. The album is bookended by tributes to two masterworks of modern recorded sound that have been arranged for the ensemble: “Revolution 9” by The Beatles (arranged by Matt Marks) and “Poème électronique” by Edgard Varèse (arranged by Evan Hause). Each piece is strange and otherworldly in its own way, with a provocative history of upsetting as many, if not more, listeners than they have won over.
The 23-piece band led by Alan Pierson, AWS Artistic Director, also performs work written for the ensemble by Wolfgang Rihm, Charles Wuorinen, AWS pianist John Orfe, and Augusta Read Thomas (whose “Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour” features vocal performances by Kirsten Sollek and Caleb Burhans).
As the Denver Post has noted, “Alarm Will Sound has grabbed the future of classical music and made it now—merging styles, erasing boundaries, championing experimentation and obviously having fun along the way.” This joyful and adventurous spirit fuels the beating heart of the Modernists album.
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Nearly one-third of Alarm Will Sound’s performers are composers too. John Orfe, our pianist, wrote us this piece based on John Dowland’s Flow My Teares.
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She would have played the cello if she’d had a choice, but her parents loved the violin and put one in her hands before she knew the difference. Courtney grew up in Kutztown, PA and wanted to be a veterinarian. But music took over early in high school and Courtney decided to go to Temple University. Sometimes music school isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be, though, and for Courtney, she says she became “un-enamored (is that a word?)” playing the same music over and over while trying to perfect excerpts for orchestral auditions. She tried music theory and pedagogy while at Eastman for her masters degree but went back to the violin for a DMA after getting swept up by the Ossia new-music crowd—maybe being a musician didn’t mean having to play in orchestra after all.
Courtney now lives in Brooklyn and freelances in the city while teaching ear-training for half of every week at Peabody in Baltimore. She never got away from her veterinarian dreams and volunteers at the SPCA walking and taking care of dogs.
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