Nico Muhly, wunderkind, comes home

By PHILIP EIL  |  September 26, 2012

The residency is more than just a hometown hero's welcome, Gooley says. As virtuosos on piano and computer keyboards, Muhly and Brubaker are both "model[s] of how to be a younger musician today," he says. The visit will also lift the lid off Brown's "Electronic Music and Multimedia Experiments" PhD program, where students enroll in classes like "Inventing Boundaries in Sonic and Video Art" and "Human-Computer Interaction in Installation and Performance"

In conversations with Gooley, Brubaker, and Muhly before the residency, there was a consensus that the walls between musical genres are increasingly irrelevant. Muhly pointed to one particularly useless barrier: the walls in bygone record stores that separated classical music from everything else. "There was this sense that you had to walk into this special, cordoned off area," he said. "It felt like you were buying porn, right?" He was speaking over the phone from an airport in Salt Lake City, on a layover after a performance of music written for a Los Angeles dance troupe. He was on his way to meet with a choir in Austin, Texas about a piece it had commissioned.

The Brown residency, he said, is an example of the kind of "joyfully lateral" ways that listeners arrive at new music these days. "If I say, 'Oh, I write classical music,' what does that even mean anymore?" he said. His collaborations with everyone from Björk to ballet dancers defy labels like "indie classical," which he particularly loathes.

Describing his composing, though, Muhly was quite traditional. "It involves sitting at some sort of flat surface with a piece of paper in front of me," he said. "So, today, for instance, I'll have three hours tonight at this hotel, in Texas, so I'll scribble out some things."

"It's a very simple process," he went on. "I can do it on an airline tray table . . . I just did, in fact, do it on an airline tray table."

For more information about the Muhly/Brubaker residency, go to brown.edu/music. To reserve tickets for Friday's concert (maximum two per person), email ashley_lundh@brown.edu.

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