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Listed: Nico Muhly + Greg Malcolm

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Dusted Features

Every Friday, Dusted Magazine publishes a series of music-related lists compiled by our favorite artists. This week: Composer Nico Muhly and Kiwi guitarist Greg Malcolm.

Listed: Nico Muhly + Greg Malcolm

Nico Muhly

Nico Muhly was born in Vermont in 1981 and raised in Providence, Rhode Island. He has amassed a string of commissions, collaborations, and premieres that would be notable for a composer twice his age. He has written orchestral pieces for the Boston Pops, the Chicago Symphony MusicNOW, the American Symphony Orchestra, the Juilliard Orchestra, the Boston University Tanglewood Institute Orchestra, and the American Ballet Theatre (for choreographer Benjamin Millepied). His works have been premiered on the BBC and at New York’s St. Thomas Church, Carnegie Hall, the Whitney Museum and the New York Public Library – the latter, a special collaboration with designer/illustrator Maira Kalman in honor of her illustrated edition of The Elements of Style. Finally, Muhly has worked extensively with Philip Glass as editor, keyboardist, and conductor for numerous film and stage projects, and contributed to projects by a striking constellation of pop figures, among them Rufus Wainwright, Antony (of Antony and the Johnsons), Björk, Teitur, Will Oldham, and The National. His upcoming release, Mothertongue include his closest collaborators—violist Nadia Sirota, folk singer Sam Amidon and, last but not least, Icelandic producer Valgeir Sigurđsson. Sigurđsson’s and Muhly’s view on musical relationships was, in part, the inspiration for Bedroom Community, the label Sigurđsson founded and which created both Mothertongue and its predecessor, Speaks Volumes, Muhly’s 2006 debut.

1. Teitur - “Havnin er ein lítil bygd” (from Káta Horniđ, TUTL)
This is a weird ’60s style song about Tórshavn, the capital of the Faroe Islands. It's got one of the most appealing little guitar moves ever, and a really satisfying chorus. It is also Exactly the Right Length.

2. The Dream feat. Rihanna - “Livin' a Lie” (from Lovehate (Def Jam)
I am physically not capable of getting through a day without listening to this song. I figured out what it is: the chorus doesn't arrive at the main chord until a few bars in, so you have this delicious anticipation followed by only a half-resolution. It's like getting three little salmon roes and desperately wanting more.

3. Oum Kalthoum - “Tab en-nasim al-Alil” (from Al-Sett, Buda)
I love the way her voice interacts with the strings. The strings either play soft, and behind her, like a halo, or super loud and in your face.

4. David Lang - Cheating Lying Stealing (Cantaloupe)
I can't get enough of this piece. It's got this really jagged footprint and these brake drums on either side of the stage that sound like punishments.

5. John Taverner - Dum Transisset Sabbatum
There are many recordings but I prefer The Tallis Scholars (Gimell). In this motet, three women anoint Jesus' body. On the word, "aromatam" (spices), the texture opens up and sounds like a spiritual for a second.

6. Kevin Volans - “Kneeling Dance” (from Piano Circus, (Decca)
Energetic, six pianos, what more do you want?

7. Son Lux - “Betray” (from At War with Walls & Mazes, Anticon)
Somebody wrote somewhere that this album sounded like my music? So I bought it and secretly loved it. Actually, not so secretly. It's great. Anytime you have low flute trills, I'm already a fan.

8. Final Fantasy - “The C.N. Tower Belongs to the Dead”
There are two versions of this but I prefer the one with the slightly lengthy introduction cribbed from Charles Ives to be found on the Many Lives -> 49 MP EP (Tomlab) This, along with some Purcell and the opening to John Adams's Nixon in China, is the best compositional use of a scale I have ever heard. Plus it has the very line, "We can see your house from here," which is touching, a little Christy, and funny.

9. John Adams - Nixon in China (Nonesuch)
The beginning is a series of cascading scales out of which little piano and horn plinks emerge. Gorgeous, portentous.

10. Henry Purcell - “The Plaint”
This is built on scales, but all in reverse, and they just cycle through the whole song. There are many recordings of this, but the most touching, I think, is the late Lorraine Hunt Lieberson's recording from EMI Classics’ The Fairy-Queen. She puts a lot of weight behind the high notes, which contrasts perfectly with the plucking bass below.

Greg Malcolm

The collaboration choices made by Christchurch, New Zealand-based guitarist Greg Malcolm are most apposite, attesting to an open minded spirit and almost preternaturally adaptable playing style: joining Jay Clarkson's Breathing Cage and playing on their Misericord masterpiece, from 1991; forming Surfing USSR with Marc Howe and Chris O'Connor (who now works with Sam Hamilton and Dean Roberts); improv sessions alongside Bruce Russell, Tetuzi Akiyama, and Toshimaru Nakamura. More recently, Malcolm's been developing his solo guitar performances, where he simultaneously plays two modified guitars and percussion. His recent discs, Hung and Swimming In It, are beautifully rendered sets of highly personal guitar composition/improvisation settings, and his readings of Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman" and Steve Lacy's "Blues For Aida", on the Corpus Hermeticum CD Homesick For Nowhere, have real holy grail potential. So go find 'em.

1. Joseph Spence - The Complete Folkways Recordings (1958) (Smithsonian Folkways)
An amazing guitarist from the Bahamas. He kept the beat with a heavy foot stomp as he used the tunes as the basis for extended rhythmic and melodic variations. Wonderful playful phrasing, grunting out the words in his own special way. I love this CD and I can play it at family functions.

2. Charlemagne Palestine - Strumming Music (Dunya)
Clouds of harmonics are built up through his repetitive playing on a Bosendorfer piano. It completely draws me in to the sound and the ghosts that it creates. Makes me wonder how much I am hearing that is actually being played and how much is created from what has been played. Magical.

3. V/A - Music!: The Berlin Phonogramm-Archive 1900-2000 (Wergo)
Maybe my favorite CD boxset of all time. It’s a a four-disc set of recordings from around the world. The first disc is all taken from wax disc recordings. So buried under beautiful surface noise, you have things like a recording of gamelan from 1910. A heavenly melody, soaked noise … really my sort of thing. Pre-computer glitch music, maybe. In one track, the technical hitches cause the rotation speed to drop in one place, so that the singers voice is driven much higher than normal. It sounds like tape manipulation to me. It also comes with a full booklet often explaining the extra musical ideas around each of the tracks. Conceptual art in everyday life and without the wank.

4. Conlon Nancarrow - Studies for Player Piano (Wergo)
Pre-computer programmed music. Not sure if I really hear the 19/20 beats and varying tempo canons, but I love the effect and the sound of the metallic hammer player. Not eggheady at all, it’s quite playful with elements of more popular music like jazz and blues at times. Amazing, but no good at family functions.

5. Atrium Musicae de Madrid - Musique de le Grece Antique (Harmonia Mundi, France)
Supposedly a recreation of the music of ancient Greece. The farther back in time you go, the more modern things sound. Very strange penny lane.

6. Ivor Cutler - Velvet Donkey (Virgin)
Hard to describe … but very special. A mixture of strange songs accompanied by his harmonium and spoken stories. Milky tea pyschedelia, maybe. I would often play Ivor on my student radio show years ago. People seem to either love it or hate it. I love this one, and Prince Ivor, too

7. Conrad Bauer - Flüchtiges Glück (Riskant)
A Berlin-based trombone player that I fell in love with. Just one of those weird records that I stumbled upon in New Zealand in my early 20s. Recorded in a water reservoir with a longggg natural reverb. Conny has a great melodic sense and some times the notes flow over each other, creating beautiful chordal mirages. Sometimes you just hear a rhythmic pattern with noise, be it his in breath while circular breathing or growling multiphonics while overblowing. Very important in my research for my soon to be released book "Circular Breathing for Guitarists."

8. Harry Partch - Delusion of the Fury (Innova)
Harry Partch, considered equal temperament to be a mis-tuning or error in concept over many years, built all his own instruments, which tuned to just intonation and divided the octave into 42 divisions. The resulting music sounds other worldly to me and very beautiful in places. I also have a tape of him describing his instruments and philosophies, called Harry Partch in Monologue, which is great. He was a pretty intense and bitter character, but created some of my favorite music of last century. Once saw a concert of Harry Partch instruments and music when I lived in Berlin. The instruments all looked beautiful, although he described himself as a musician seduced into carpentry.

9. Joëlle Léandre - Taxi!
A French double bass player whose record I found in a second-hand record store in Auckland that I loved when I was 22 years old (and still love now). A hard-to-classify mixture of melody tunes and improv noise. t inspired me in my own music … I could do what ever I found interest in.

10. Elizabeth Cotton - Freight Train and Other North Carolina Folk Songs and Tunes (Smithsonian Folkways)
The amazing Elizabeth Cotten … a gorgeous CD. Great playing and upside-down, too. It’s interesting how she became known only through a series of coincidences and started her performing career latter in life.

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