Wunderkind Nico Muhly's latest release, Mothertongue, is a formidable object, one that I'm actually terrified to write about. As with the best poetry and visual works of art, I find my response to classical music unbearably difficult to put into words--especially a form of avant-garde classical composition like this, as abstract as it is visceral. Description and analysis just seem flat in comparison to the work itself.
Still under 30, Muhly's collaborators include Phillip Glass, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and Björk. His works have premiered at Carnegie Hall and the Whitney Museum. Mothertongue is his second "solo" release.
Organized in three segments--Mothertongue, Wonders, and The Only Tune--this recording finds Muhly collaborating with mezzo-soprano Abigail Fischer, Icelandic vocalist and trombone player Helgi Hrafn Jonsson, and the American folk artist Sam Amidon for three distinct works that form a triptych.
The Mothertongue section, in four parts, conveys a dislocation or perhaps an interconnectedness depending on interpretation, with Fischer and chorus singing, in a furious almost staccato, various addresses scattered across the globe, accompanied by strings and ambient overlays.
Wonders, in three parts, is rooted in harpsichord, voice and trombone. There are fewer layers here, yet somehow more chaos, perhaps from the discordant shifts.
The Only Tune, also three parts, explores Americana with banjo and Amidon's woeful vocals. Amidon's singing and banjo are textured with all things stringy, at times languid and others raucous. Percussion plays a large part here as well, recalling cantankerous moments of Tom Waits.
Please, go listen to the entirety of Mothertongue. After doing so, you'll really wish you could go out and see these compositions performed live in their transformative glory.
the photos up top are from a cool video on youtube of Nico joining Valgeir Sigurðsson on "Focal Point"--enjoy it here