Bedroom Community

Press Reviews for Drones

Over the past few years, young composer Nico Muhly has evolved from indie rock collaborator to classical music’s default wunderkind. Since 2010, old-school label Decca has released three wide-screen Muhly works: I Drink the Air Before MeA Good Understanding, and Seeing is Believing. In the process, Muhly has written for larger groups of musicians and focused on vocal arrangements. On this trio of EPs from the Bedroom Community label, Muhly returns to shorter works, each built around a specific instrument.

Muhly has described the concept behind the pieces as “something not unlike singing along with one’s vacuum cleaner, or with the subtle but constant humming found in most dwelling-places.” And across these three EPs, the players remain mostly consistent: Nadia Sirota on viola, Bruce Brubaker on piano, Muhly on drones and piano, and Pekka Kuusisto on violin. Sirota is a longtime collaborator of Muhly’s, having recorded several of his compositions on her 2009 album, first things first. (At a concert earlier this year at the Park Avenue Armory, Muhly spoke exuberantly of his fondness for writing pieces for the violist.)

If there’s a loose commonality to these works, it’s the way melodies struggle to form in the shadow of chaos, with Drones & Piano‘s “Part III (The 8th Tune)” being the prime example. Sometimes Muhly’s approach is looser; Drones & Violin‘s “Part II Material in Sevenths” features a frenetic, urbane piano melody that recalls Steve Reich’s “City Life.”

Drones & Viola may be the most cohesive of the bunch. “Part I Material in D” opens on an empathic note, with Muhly’s piano and Sirota’s viola alternating coldly taut figures with unadorned warmth. By the end of “Part IV Material in a Long Cadence,” that resolution has given way to uncertainty, the viola emanating long notes that sit uneasily beside one another. It’s also the starkest in terms of instrumentation, with only Sirota and Brubaker credited.

Though the scale of these EPs isn’t as wide as some of Muhly’s other recent works, it feels every bit as immediate. What is noteworthy here is the way songcraft repeatedly emerges from tension. Muhly’s explorations never fail to find somethingworthwhile.

Tobias Carroll

Dusted (October 5th 2012)

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Released on 12 November 2012
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I Drink The Air Before Me
Released on 6 September 2010
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Speaks Volumes
Released on 25 November 2006
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