Violist and Q2 host Nadia Sirota is back here once again taking a break from the activity-filled life she has for a few seconds to talk about Drones & Viola, the second installment of Nico Muhly‘s Drones series of digital EPs, which is set to drop on Monday, July 23rd (Below is an excerpt from the recording you can hear now to tide you over). We also talked about working with her longtime friends and colleagues Muhly and producer Valgeir Sigurðsson.
CM: Can you talk about the Drones project, and particularly this new piece Drones & Viola?
Nadia: So this piece, Drones & Viola, is an extension of a couple of different projects. Nico’s been sort of puzzling out drones for the past couple of years, really pushing what harmonically and energetically can go with or against a static note. He’s compared this process to singing over the sound of a vacuum cleaner, but its obviously a little more involved than that; usually, while vacuuming, you don’t really go for elegant structure. In this drones project, Nico has really fleshed-out the ideas into full-on little pieces. They are, in a way, etudes in cadences, maybe? The drone is sort of the cadential pedal note embroidered so extensively beyond its original purpose.
These pieces in particular, Drones & Viola, are also an extension of a set of viola-heavy works Nico and I have been collaborating on since we’ve known each other. An Etude written a few years ago, called variably “Etude 2”, “Period Instrument”, or “Varied Carols” contains a heavy dose of drones, and as I worked on it over the years, the performance evolved into a really bizarre little exercise in the continual re-interpretatio of something which is pretty static. Or, actually, entirely static. My notes (which are the not-drone part) are basically reacting to this static thing as if its intent has completely shifted. In recontextualizing the drone, the drone takes on different colors and characters. The four new pieces which comprise Drones & Viola take this idea and run with it. They each have a totally different character and intent.
Nico Muhly: Drones & Viola (Part II: Material in a Handsome Stack; Nadia Sirota, viola; Bruce Brubaker, piano)
CM: Can you give us your impressions of the work of Nico Muhly? His work is very heavily in demand, even for people outside of the classical world.
Nadia: I love Nico. We went to college together and I heard that he was prolific and if your recital program was coming in too short, he could totally whip something up for you. I asked him to do just this and it turned out that he was totally brilliant and fun and great to work with and the rest is kind of history. He’s a wonderful person who writes wonderful music and is wonderful to work with, so, ya know, that tends to work.
CM: What is it about Valgeir Sigurðsson and Greenhouse Studios in Iceland that everybody wants to work with these days between you guys, Björk and Hilary Hahn? It seems to be a magical place for recording artists.
Nadia: Valgeir has created a beautiful, wonderfully productive studio that’s also relaxing and full of good people. If you go there to record, you can stay in rooms at the studio, so the whole process of working there feels like, I dunno, camp? Or like holidays? It’s a confusing thing to put into words. I kind of Jedi Mind-Tricked Bruce Brubaker into recording Drones & Viola with me. We were both working at the Greenhouse last summer, him on Drones & Piano, and me on an album project, and I sort of secretly just pulled us both into the studio really quickly to “try some stuff out.” Which is kind of great. There’s something about that studio where you don’t feel like you are getting any work done, but then you look around and you’ve recorded like three records and a soda commercial. Greenhouse is just one of those magic places on earth where your job doesn’t really feel like work at all, just like organizing some elaborate party or baking project.