Becoming a prolific composer in the contemporary classical field at the comparatively tender age of 31 is just the tip of the iceberg where Nico Muhly is concerned. Bucking the notion that these days you have to be an eccentric over-60 to have really got anywhere in the genre is no mean feat, but there's no doubt that Muhly has talent that backs up his increasingly impressive CV. As well as an astounding amount of solo work behind him that includes operas, film scores, choral works and percussion pieces among many others, he has collaborated with the likes of Bjork, Jonsi, Antony & The Johnsons, Grizzly Bear, The National and even Usher to name but a few.
This might be why he's been lifted out of the niche usually inhabited by his contemporary classical counterparts - the unusual arrangements on works such as Grizzly Bear's Veckatimest and his frantic minimalism on Jonsi's Go were prominent features of those albums and perhaps garnered more mainstream attention towards Muhly than would often be afforded to a young experimental composer. But his latest work, the four track EP Drones & Violin, may be a little lost on those without an established interest in the domain he initially rose from.
This is the latest installment in his Drones series which, by his own explanation, are based on the internalisation of the humming sounds generated by everyday objects, such as "singing along with one's vacuum cleaner." Wether you think that's an absurd notion or not, you can kind of hear what he's getting at. 'Part I Material In Eb' sets the tone with a piano sustaining droned notes underneath a violin dancing slowly around it. It feels a little dark but soon segues into the much grander sounding 'Part II Material In Sevenths', initially featuring lush piano stabs with the violin now playing the drone. But as it progresses the piano begins to gather an increasing sense of simulated randomness which also prevails in the erratic third track 'Part III Material In Two Keys' and instances like this certainly run the risk of being a little alienating to some. 'Part IV Material With Shifting Drones' brings the EP to a close with a momentarily warmer feel; a suspenseful piano line eventually complemented by chugging motifs from the violin, at times reminiscent of Steve Reich's Different Trains.
Overall it certainly demonstrates that Nico Muhly has an intriguing creative mind; it's an interesting work and yet another addition to his diverse back catalogue. But to be honest you kind of get the impression that you have to be already into this sort of thing to fully appreciate it and it won't form an easy entry point to those unfamiliar with the rest of his music.