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Album Review

Composer Nico Muhly's follow-up to his 2006 debut, Speaks Volumes, offers a very interesting set of cross-genre compositions. Call it post-classical if you will. The unifying thread on Mothertongue is language — all three multi-part compositions feature singing or reciting voices. The use of electro-acoustics is also common to all three — found sounds and field recordings pop up in all three, and not always gracefully or in a way that makes sense. Finally, and most importantly to his fans, his lush string textures are found throughout. The title track "Mothertongue" is a dense four-part piece where two female singers recite what sounds like numbers and addresses in a thick, multilayered texture, a cross between the puzzling numbers stations broadcasts and a Philip Glass tension-building device. The piece goes through a set of atmospheres that feel a bit disjointed but are nonetheless very lush. "Wonders" is more disconcerting, bringing together recitations, noisier textures, and strings. "The Only Tune" features Sam Amidon singing and playing banjo on two folk tunes that have been deconstructed to snippets, refracted through electro-acoustics, and paired with strings, vibes, and celeste, among other instruments. Throughout its 16-minute duration, Muhly keeps moving layers from foreground to background and back: Amidon's lead vocal, its refractions, the straightforward accompaniment, his lush orchestral arrangements, electronics — creating all kinds of contrasting effects between the ancient and modern, "serious" and "folk" music, the simplicity of song and the endless possibilities available to the modern composer (i.e. one who embraces all instruments, not just the orchestral ones, and who is willing to use atonal playing and noise-like textures). That last piece is worth the price of admission to Mothertongue. That said, despite their shortcomings, the two other works are worth hearing, too. ~ François Couture, Rovi


Born: 26 August 1981 in Vermont

Genre: Classical

Years Active: '00s, '10s

A contemporary classical composer and conductor, Nico Muhly was born in Vermont in 1981. After graduating from Columbia University, Muhly went on to earn a Master's degree in music from Juilliard. He worked on a number of well-received projects, including a cantata on the Elements of Style by Strunk & White. Muhly also included film scoring on his résumé, beginning with Choking Man in 2006 and Joshua in 2008. His abilities to move from genre to genre soon paid off, and Muhly began working with some...
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Mothertongue, Nico Muhly
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