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MusicNOW Continues Tonight!

Last night The Books and Kronos Quartet absolutely killed at Memorial Hall to kick off this years MusicNOW festival. And tonight the fest continues with some good news and some bad news as well.

The bad news is that Tiomane Diabate's wife went into unexpected labor and there are some serious complications, so he will not be performing tonight.

The good news is that Kronos are playing again as scheduled, and will be playing a Steve Reich piece tonight and premiering a piece by Bryce Dessner as well. They will have an extended set with The Books performing before hand again!

And if you missed the impromptu performance downstairs last night, Bryce and Aaron Dessner, Richard Reed Parry of Arcade Fire and Tyondai Braxton of Battles set up and played a really cool piece as well. Some video is below.

Word is that this will happen again tonight, so get there early and enjoy!

MusicNOW Interview with Kronos Quartet

In anticipation of this years MusicNOW festival here in Cincinnati, I had an opportunity to speak with David Harrington, one of the founding members of the Kronos Quartet. Kronos is playing a two night residency for this years festival on Wednesday and Thursday night.

ENS - David, the Kronos Quartet started over 35 years ago and yet today still continue to be one of the most innovative and experimental groups around, how have you kept things so fresh for so long?

David Harrington - Well, for me, keeping my ears open 24 hours a day is something I've been trying to do since I was a kid. It's not that difficult to be inspired. There are so many wonderful things going on in the world of music right now, I can't even believe I'm able to be a part of this, it's so thrilling and exciting. And I never know where the next interesting thing is going to come from.

Actually, right now there is an 18 year old musician we are going to be working with who is very close to our headquarters in San Fransisco. Things in the world of music have never been as exciting as they are now.

ENS - And you have worked with a lot of younger composers in the past few years, talk a bit about your effort to work with composers under the age of 30.

David Harrington - Yes, well what's happened in the last several years since the 30th year of Kronos, we started a call for scores from composers under the age of 30. And the idea was that alot of times the youngest Chaturbate composers are a bit too shy and might think Kronos would not be interested in their music, and that there might be a disconnect between us and some of them and we decided to change that a bit.

We have now had 4 under 30 commissions in the last 5 years, a couple from the United States, one from Mexico and one from Isreal and we now have 4 amazing new pieces. The perspectives from these varying age groups to me really provides a balance that is more in line with reality. And trying to align oneself with reality is really a lot about what it's like to be a musician. What I'm trying to do is find music that feels right to play. It allows me to feel totally balanced. As much as I would love to have pieces written by some of the masters that have been writing it for so long, like Steve Reich, Terry Riley, or Henrich Goretsky, people we have ongoing relationships with, but it seems to be important to capture the sounds and the viewpoints and feelings of people from many different perspectives. I'm always looking for a way for our concerts and pieces to feel aligned.

ENS - Speaking of the pieces you do David, how do you decide what to work with and on, considering you are probably overwhelmed with options?

David Harrington - For the last 35 years, I have kind of been the point person when it comes to new projects for Kronos. And if it magnetizes my ear I have been very fortunate that the other members of Kronos have given me a huge license to be myself and explore. When you do something like that for this long, you start feeling so fortunate to be a part of this vast community of people interested in being a part of a musical experience.

For example, in Cincinnati we will be playing a piece i heard on this incredible CD, its a re-release of some early 78' recordings. Its a CD called Black Mirror, the music recorded in NY in 1918 by a Greek Singer who's name is Marika Papagika. We will be playing one of his songs and its just so beautiful. You know after you experience music like that you can't imagine your life without it.

There are incredible difficulties in the world, but there are some very amazing things as well and I'm going to be concentrating on those.

ENS - You mentioned your Cincinnati appearance at MusicNOW, tell us about getting to know Bryce Dessner and what else we can expect from your performance.

David Harrington - First of all, I should say that getting to know Bryce has been a wonderful aspect of being included in the festival. I did not know him before but he is a very generous musician and has put me in touch with several really fantastic musicians.

Tyondai Braxton (Battles) and Richard Reed Parry have written some new pieces we will be playing the first night, and we are really looking forward to rehearsing with them and including their music in our concerts. I'm really looking forward to it. It's going to be interesting too because we will only be working with Richard the day before and Tyondai the day of the performance. So on those two pieces it's going to be as fresh as it can get.

On March 12th we will be playing several pieces from our next album, as well as "Dark Was The Night" from the Red Hot compilation. And, when we found out Toumane (Diabate) was going to be there, well, he is one of my all time favorite musicians, we wanted to play something that would lead into his work.

ENS - You mentioned the Dark Was The Night compilation, how did you get involved and why did you choose the Blind Willie Johnson cover?

David Harrington - It's been one of my very favorite pieces of American music since I first heard it. And so Bryce and I were talking about MusicNOW and he mentioned the Red Hot compilation. He asked if there was anything I wanted to record that I have not done yet. I quickly said yes and told him we had this amazing version of Dark Was The Night and felt we could record it better than we had been playing it live, and he said that they had been thinking of including that song on the compilation already, which i had no idea about. After we decided to do it our sound engineer suggested i should restringing my violin with guitar strings. We recorded it that way and will perform it that was at MusicNOW as well. I actually have to run out today and get my violin re-strung for the event! But as far as the Red Hot compilation goes it should be said that it's very hard to sequence that many artists and I think they did a beautiful job on the album and for me it's just really something I'm very proud to be a part of.

MusicNOW Interview with The Books

In advance of their performance at the Music Now Festival this week, I had the opportunity to chat with Nick Zammuto, one half of experimental music duo The Books. It's been a while since any news came out of The Books camp, as Zammuto and his musical counterpart Paul de Jong took 2008 off to focus on other things, namely their families. I discussed the importance of family, their return to the stage and studio, and what drives the duo to create the soundscapes for which they are now widely known.

ENS - I know 2008 was a restful year for you guys, so I wanted to see what you were up to last year?

Zammuto - We've basically been spending time with our families. Last year went beautifully, as we're both more in love with our families than we have even been before, and things are really solid for both of us on that front. I relocated with my family just across the border in Vermont, and my wife and I are a bit of homesteaders now. We live on 16 acres of open fields, so we've been doing a lot of farming and construction work, and refreshing my compositional mind as it relates to music.

ENS - So living on the farm has given you a break, so to say, from the city life and you've been able to relax and come to the music more naturally.

Zammuto - Definitely. It's something that my soul really craves. Like most people, I have trouble dealing with noise. So, it was a natural move for us and has really helped in terms of getting me back on track with music. I renovated an old tractor garage to create a music studio, so the peace and quiet of the farm has done wonders for my ability to rehearse, record, and play music free from distraction. Practically speaking, my commute is 40 footsteps now, (laughs) so that's kind of convenient.

ENS - And I know that you were also involved in some other projects during your break from music. Could you talk about those?

Zammuto - I edited a film about the Biosphere 2 Project near Tucson, Arizona. The Books were writing the soundtrack for the documentary, and I took over the editing of the film this year, which has really developed a new set of skills for me. The new work that we're doing, of which we'll debut about five or six new tracks at our visit to the Music Now Festival, is a bit of a departure from our earlier work as we're conceiving of the video and audio simultaneously. It's a bit of chicken and egg concept, as it's not like music video and not like writing a soundtrack. They're conceived together from the beginning now which has been an amazing experience to combine those two media. The results of which have been really satisfying for us. Our show has evolved over time and the visual component has become like another member of the band on Livejasmin stage.

ENS - With your approach to music you use a lot of samples from a wide variety of places. What is your approach to video like, now that that has become such an important part of The Books?

Zammuto - The approach is actually identical. Rather than expressing something personal, we've always searched for universal themes and elements in the samples we use. We've been compiling video tapes from thrift shops all around the country, and we have a massive library that we use as the basis for our video, similar to the audio side of things.

ENS - You mentioned debuting new tracks. So does that mean a new record is in the works?

Zammuto - I think that's safe to say, though we're not 100% finished with all of the work on it. And we may work on a DVD later, incorporating some of the visual elements I was talking about. But, for now, it's a record that will hopefully be strong enough to stand on its own. (laughs)

ENS - I'm sure it will. You also touched on the Music Now Festival, which is a very important part of the music scene in Cincinnati every year. From outside the performer's perspective, it seems like there is a certain collective energy about performing at this Festival. Having performed at it before, and with your upcoming performance only a few days away, can you touch on that aspect of the Festival?

Zammuto - There is most definitely a collaborative feel to the Music Now Festival. The way we got there a few years ago was through the Dessner brothers and their band Clogs. We had done a collaboration with them where we had played a double bill all across the UK. We played on some of their songs and they played on some of ours.

The Music Now Festival seemed like a perfect place to bring some of that spirit to the stage, and it turned out to work exceptionally well in that environment. So when Bryce asked us to play again this year, we were very excited, especially when we found out we would be sharing the same stage with the Kronos Quartet. To be opening for that outstanding group of musicians is really a lifelong dream that will be realized for both Paul and I.

ENS - The Music Now Festival also seems like the type of environment that truly values artistic expression. So you guys will certainly fit right in.

Zammuto - The whole zeitgeist in this country has changed over the last year for a multitude of reasons. The spirit of the moment right now is just completely different, which is obvious to everybody. Artists are really searching for the role that they serve in society. Personally, Paul and I have experienced radical change in our lives at the same time that our music has found a truer audience.

To experience that was simultaneously refreshing and frightening, as our livelihood is now tied to our art. We have more riding on this now than our own personal stake. We have families.

And so, as artists, we feel exceptionally driven to create something meaningful. Our performances show us that there is a purpose we can serve, that there is an audience and a community we're speaking to. That will undoubtedly continue to evolve, but as long as we're open to it, we'll survive.