NICO MUHLY Mothertongue (Bedroom Community) Rating: NNNN While Björk reinvents herself as a composer and increasingly forgets music is actually for listening to, her pianist (and more importantly Philip Glass protege and virtuoso composer) Nico Muhly seems hell-bent on making records that are at once out-there contemporary and utterly listenable. Granted, we do experience what may be the first known recording of whale meat splashing in a bowl (along with the sound of a comb being dragged through tangled hair and a mezzo-soprano chanting her address and Zip code), but these three suites get under your skin in a good way, none more so than the final track, a haunting gothic tale of sororicide sung by fellow Vermonter Sam Amidon. Muhly joins Final Fantasy at the Music Hall, Wednesday (August 27).
I’m drawn to minimalism of the non-linear sort, mostly for the phenomenological feeling it inspires within me of the mathematical sublime, a feeling that Nico Muhly’s Mothertongue is particularly good at evoking. In fact, I don’t think it’s much of an exaggeration to place Muhly in an esteemed pantheon including people like Steve Reich, Terry Riley and Michael Nyman, even if he is still very much in his formative phase. The question then is, what is this feeling of the mathematical sublime and why is Mothertongue good at eliciting it? The concept of the sublime has a long history, but I’m mainly referring to Immanuel Kant’s understanding of it in his third Critique, in which he explains the feeling of the mathematical sublime as a kind of failure of aesthetic estimation, an inability to grasp natural phenomena of a great magnitude, or in other words, the mathematical sublime is a feeling generated by a kind of dissonance between our senses and our Reason.