Keep in Touch is a lament, a sort of chaconne divided up into sections by more freely composed cadenzas for the viola. But the chaconne, a musical form based around a repeated cycle of chords, is not only the domain of composers like Bach and Purcell—one is as likely to hear the form on a Nina Simone record, and Antony Hegarty, the bluesily androgynous vocalist we hear in the electronic component of this piece, is a performer from the Simone school.
Every dimension of the piece accentuates what Muhly calls the “in-betweenness” of these two strange voices: Antony’s singing and the equally sweet falsetto of the viola. The solo part, with its bow-scrapes and awkward passagework, affectionately emphasises the instrument’s flaws, its unevennesses of tone, and its idiosyncratic character as the neglected middle child of the fiddle family. (Even the percussion on the electronic track is constructed from the little noises a violist usually makes only by accident.) And Antony’s voice, so stately on his own records, is here reduced to abrupt, extemporaneous gestures—mirroring, not alleviating, the viola’s isolation.
© 2007 Daniel Johnson
It is important that the viola be lightly amplified in order to achieve a good balance with the pre-recorded materials. Although the best results have been with a microphone clipped to the bridge, anything to subtly boost the viola’s volume is appropriate provided that both the viola and the pre-recorded elements come out of the same speakers. Because it is usually cumbersome for the violist to trigger the tape start in bar 46 herself, an assistant and/or engineer should be on hand.
© 2007 Nico Muhly
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